Ferns in a Paludarium

What is a Paludarium and How to Build a Paludarium?

A paludarium, derived from the Latin word "palus" meaning marsh, is a unique and captivating ecosystem that combines elements of both terrestrial and aquatic environments. It's a fascinating blend of a terrarium and an aquarium, creating a miniature wetland habitat within the confines of a single enclosed space. This harmonious fusion of land and water not only offers a visually stunning display but also provides a remarkable opportunity to observe and appreciate the intricate interactions between various plant and animal species.

In this comprehensive guide, we'll delve into the intricacies of paludariums, exploring their components, construction techniques, and the diverse array of plants and animals that thrive within these mesmerizing micro-habitats. Whether you're a seasoned hobbyist or a newcomer to the world of paludariums, this article will equip you with the knowledge and inspiration to create your own masterpiece. So, let's embark on this captivating journey and unravel the secrets of building a paludarium that will leave you awestruck!

What Is a Paludarium?

What is a Paludarium and How to Build a Paludarium?
A small paludarium

A paludarium is a self-contained ecosystem that mimics the natural transition zone between land and water, often found in wetlands, swamps, or riverbanks. Unlike a traditional aquarium or terrarium, a paludarium seamlessly integrates both terrestrial and aquatic environments within a single enclosure. This unique combination creates a habitat that not only caters to the needs of various plant and animal species but also showcases the intricate relationships and interdependencies that exist within these diverse ecosystems.

Mapping Out a Paludarium for Beginners

For beginners embarking on their paludarium journey, it's essential to understand the fundamental components and considerations involved in creating a thriving and visually appealing habitat. A well-designed paludarium should strike a delicate balance between the terrestrial and aquatic sections, ensuring that both environments receive adequate lighting, ventilation, and moisture levels.

One of the key aspects to consider is the overall layout and design of the paludarium. This involves determining the size and shape of the enclosure, as well as the distribution of land and water areas. It's crucial to allocate sufficient space for both environments to thrive, while ensuring that the overall aesthetic appeal is not compromised.

Paludarium vs Riparium: What's the difference?


The Definitive Guide to Creating a Paludarium (Tank, Plants and Building  Suggestions) | Fishkeeping World

A wide paludarium

Riparium Aquarium Style | All About Planted Aquariums

A riparium

While paludariums and ripariums share similarities in combining terrestrial and aquatic environments, there is a distinct difference between the two. A riparium focuses primarily on the aquatic aspect, with a smaller terrestrial section, typically featuring plants that can tolerate wet conditions and partial submersion. On the other hand, a paludarium places a stronger emphasis on the terrestrial component, with a larger land area complemented by a water feature or pool.

This distinction is essential when selecting appropriate plant and animal species for each habitat type, as well as determining the specific requirements for lighting, ventilation, and water management.

Essential Components for Building a Paludarium

To create a successful and thriving paludarium, several key components must be carefully considered and incorporated into the design. These essential elements not only contribute to the overall aesthetic appeal but also play a crucial role in maintaining a healthy and balanced ecosystem.

Best Paludarium Tanks

Choosing the right tank is the foundation upon which your paludarium will be built. When selecting a tank, consider the following factors:

  Nano Paludarium Tank Wide Paludarium Tank Tall Paludarium Tank
  • Approx. 18-80L
  • Perfect for limited space
  • Approx. 150 - >500L
  • Extensive terrestial are
  • Approx. 56 - 180L
  • Best for waterfalls
  • Easier to maintain
  • Energy-efficient
  • Requires less equipment
  • Allows a wide array of species
  • Ample space
  • Dramatic and visually striking display
  • Best for multi-level paludariums
  • Less choices on animals and plant
  • Water meter may fluctuate a lot
  • Challenging to maintain
  • Hard to ensure adequate lighting and circulation
  • Uneven light penetration
  • Maintenance can be hard

Best Paludarium Substrate & Soil

The substrate and soil you choose will play a critical role in the health and growth of your plants, as well as the overall water quality within the paludarium. Consider the following options:

  • Aquarium Gravel or Sand: For the aquatic section, use gravel or sand designed for aquariums, as these materials are inert and won't alter water chemistry.
  • Potting Soil or Coconut Fiber: For the terrestrial section, use a well-draining potting soil or coconut fiber, which will provide nutrients and anchor plants.
  • Activated Carbon or Lava Rock: These materials can be added to the substrate to help control excess nutrients and maintain water quality.

Drainage / Raised Bed

To ensure proper drainage and prevent waterlogging in the terrestrial section, it's essential to incorporate a drainage system or raised bed. This can be achieved by:

  • False Bottom: Creating a false bottom using egg crate or plastic mesh, allowing excess water to drain into the aquatic section.
  • Raised Planter Box: Constructing a raised planter box or terraced areas using materials like foam, rocks, or driftwood to separate the land from the water.

Hardscape Items

Hardscape elements play a crucial role in creating a visually appealing and naturalistic paludarium. Consider incorporating:

  • Driftwood: Driftwood pieces can add texture, depth, and a naturalistic aesthetic to your paludarium.
  • Rocks and Stones: Carefully selected rocks and stones can be used to create interesting landscapes, terraces, or water features.
  • Branches and Twigs: Incorporating branches and twigs can provide perches and hiding spots for animals, as well as add visual interest.

Hardware Additions

Depending on the size and complexity of your paludarium, you may need to incorporate various hardware components to maintain optimal conditions:

  • Lighting System: Appropriate lighting is essential for plant growth and should mimic natural conditions, considering both terrestrial and aquatic lighting needs.
  • Filtration and Water Circulation: A filtration system and water pump can help maintain water quality and create a natural flow within the aquatic section.
  • Heating and Cooling: Depending on the species you plan to keep, you may need to incorporate heating or cooling systems to maintain the desired temperature range.
  • Humidity and Ventilation: Adequate ventilation and humidity control are crucial for maintaining a healthy environment within the paludarium.

Step-by-Step Guide to Building a Paludarium

Now that we've covered the essential components, let's dive into the step-by-step process of constructing your very own paludarium masterpiece. If you need some visual help, here's a video:

How to create a paludarium

What is a Paludarium and How to Build a Paludarium?
An aquatic section of a paludarium

Step 1: Build the Land

The first step in building a paludarium is to create the land area where your terrestrial plants will grow. Use foam board or other aqua-safe materials to sculpt the desired land shape within your tank.

Step 2: Add the Mesh to the Tank

Place a mesh barrier between the land and water areas to prevent soil from mixing with the water. This will help maintain the cleanliness of the water and provide a stable base for your plants.

Step 3: Plan Your Paludarium Structure

Before adding any substrate or plants, plan out the structure of your paludarium. Consider the placement of hardscape items, such as rocks and driftwood, to create a natural-looking environment.

Step 4: Set the Foam

Secure the foam structure in place using silicone or another adhesive to ensure it stays in position. The foam will serve as the foundation for your land area and provide support for your plants.

Step 5: Carve the Foam

Carve the foam to create varying elevations and contours in your land area. This will add visual interest and mimic the natural terrain found in wetland environments.

What is a Paludarium and How to Build a Paludarium?

Carve the foam

Step 6: Add the Silicone and Substrate

Apply a layer of silicone to the foam surface to enhance its realism and cover it with a suitable natural substrate for planting your terrestrial flora.

Step 7: Add Your Equipment, Water, and Plants

Install any necessary equipment, such as lighting and filtration systems, and fill the water section of your paludarium. Finally, plant your chosen terrestrial plants and introduce any desired aquatic species to complete your mini ecosystem.

What is a Paludarium and How to Build a Paludarium?

An almost finished paludarium

By following these steps and paying attention to detail, you can create a stunning paludarium that will be a focal point in your home. 

Best types of Paludarium Substrate and Soil

What is a Paludarium and How to Build a Paludarium?

Two different soils in two sections

When setting up a paludarium, choosing the right substrate and soil is crucial to providing the necessary nutrients for plants and creating a naturalistic appearance that is essential for the health of both the plants and animals in your paludarium.

The best types of substrate for a paludarium are those that can support plant growth while also providing a suitable environment for aquatic animals. Here are some factors to consider when selecting the substrate and soil for your paludarium:

  • Substrate for Planting: Choose a substrate that is rich in nutrients to support plant growth. A mix of organic potting soil, sand, and gravel can provide the right balance of nutrients and drainage for plants to thrive.
  • Aquatic Section: For the aquatic section of your paludarium, consider using a nutrient-rich substrate such as aqua soil or clay-based substrate. These substrates can provide essential nutrients for aquatic plants to grow and thrive.
  • Drainage Layer: It's important to include a drainage layer at the bottom of your paludarium to prevent waterlogging. Use materials like gravel or hydroton balls to create a drainage layer that allows excess water to flow out easily.
  • Moss and Epiphytes: Incorporating moss and epiphytic plants like bromeliads can add a natural touch to your paludarium. Attach these plants to driftwood or rocks using fishing line or glue to create a lush and diverse environment.
  • Humidity Control: Consider adding a layer of sphagnum moss or peat moss on top of the substrate to help retain moisture and create a humid environment for plants that require higher humidity levels.


What is a Paludarium and How to Build a Paludarium?

A paludarium imitates a riverbed

Best Types of Plants & Animals

When it comes to selecting plants and animals for your paludarium, there are several factors to consider to ensure a thriving ecosystem. Here are some tips on choosing the best plants and animals for your paludarium:

Choosing the Best Plants for Paludarium

Select plants that thrive in both aquatic and terrestrial environments to create a balanced ecosystem. Consider plants like pothos, peace lilies, and ferns that can adapt to varying moisture levels and lighting conditions.

What is a Paludarium and How to Build a Paludarium?

Peace lilies is a great choice for humid builds

Selecting the Best Fish and Invertebrates for a Paludarium

Choose fish and invertebrates that are compatible with the plants and other inhabitants of your paludarium. Consider species like dwarf shrimp, ghost shrimp, and small fish that can coexist peacefully in the confined space of a paludarium.

By carefully selecting plants and animals that complement each other and the environment you've created, you can enjoy a harmonious and visually appealing paludarium in your home. Remember these two biggest elements:

  • Compatibility: Ensure that the species you select are compatible with each other and won't exhibit aggressive behavior in the confined space of the paludarium.
  • Feeding Requirements: Consider the dietary needs of the animals you choose and provide appropriate food sources to support their health and well-being.

What is a Paludarium and How to Build a Paludarium?

 Inside a wide paludarium


Building a paludarium is a rewarding and creative endeavor that allows you to combine elements of aquascaping and terrarium design to create a unique and captivating display. By carefully selecting the right tank, substrate, hardscape items, plants, and animals, you can construct a miniature ecosystem that brings a slice of nature into your home. Whether you're a beginner or experienced hobbyist, the step-by-step guide and tips provided in this article will help you create a stunning paludarium that both you and your aquatic and terrestrial inhabitants will enjoy for years to come.

What is a Paludarium and How to Build a Paludarium?
 A paludarium is a perfect choice if you like terrariums and aquariums


How do you separate land and water in a paludarium? 

In order to separate land and water in a paludarium, you can use a variety of materials such as glass, acrylic, or plastic dividers. These dividers can be siliconed or sealed in place to create a barrier between the aquatic and terrestrial sections of the paludarium. Another option is to use rocks, driftwood, or other natural materials to create a physical barrier between the land and water areas.

How do you prevent mold in a paludarium?

To prevent mold in a paludarium, it is important to maintain proper ventilation and airflow within the enclosure. Mold thrives in damp and stagnant conditions, so ensuring good air circulation can help prevent its growth. Additionally, using a substrate that promotes drainage and avoiding overwatering can also help prevent mold from developing. Regularly cleaning and removing any decaying plant matter or uneaten food can further reduce the risk of mold growth.

How do you keep a paludarium warm?

To keep a paludarium warm, you can use a combination of heating elements such as heat mats, ceramic heat emitters, or infrared bulbs. It is important to monitor the temperature levels closely to ensure that they remain within the appropriate range for the plants and animals in the paludarium. Using a thermostat can help regulate the temperature and prevent overheating. Additionally, placing the paludarium in a warm room away from drafts can also help maintain a stable temperature.

What can be kept in a paludarium?

A paludarium provides a unique habitat that can support a variety of plants and animals. In the terrestrial section, you can keep a range of plant species such as ferns, mosses, orchids, bromeliads, and carnivorous plants. For the aquatic section, you can house fish, shrimp, snails, frogs, newts, or even small turtles. It is important to research and select species that are compatible with the conditions and size of your paludarium.

What is the difference between a terrarium and a paludarium?

The main difference between a terrarium and a paludarium lies in the presence of water. A terrarium is a closed container designed to house plants in a controlled environment without the addition of water. On the other hand, a paludarium is a type of vivarium that features both terrestrial and aquatic sections, allowing for the cultivation of plants and the keeping of aquatic animals. Paludariums typically have a water feature, such as a pond or stream, integrated into the design, creating a more complex ecosystem compared to a terrarium.

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