Paludarium Set-up Guide: Plants Fish and Reptiles!

Paludariums are a type of tall glass enclosure designed to allow for a large body of water followed by a land area and canopy. They have gained a lot of popularity since the advent of bio-active enclosures and can be a beautifully complex addition to a keepers collection. Due to the inevitable high humidity, they are typically used to house arboreal geckos, arboreal frogs and semi-aquatic amphibians. We currently have 1 on display in each of our stores. At our Northampton Reptile and Fish Centre, we have a slim and tall ZooMed paludarium with a lot of vines and hardwood decorations housing tetras in the lower submerged section and a mourning gecko breeding colony in the top section.

Paludariums look very intricate and can be intimidating to new hobbyists but if initially treated as 2 separate enclosures (an aquarium and terrarium) they can be quite easy to set up.

Initial paludarium setup:

We will normally start by adding our land area and hard decor. Depending on your paludarium the land area could be pre-installed or it might be an elevated tray sold separately. The hard decor is normally structural pieces comprising of cork, hardwood decorations or any resin ornaments you might want to use. To keep the pieces in place we may stick them together with sealing resin, attach them with zip ties or lengths of plastic vine decorations, just be careful to make sure they are placed in a way that your pets will not become trapped. Following the hard decor, we then add any hardware we might need in the submerged section (filter, water heater, aerator, decorations etc.). Once everything is in place a substrate can be added, we normally use pebbles, riverbed sand or a mixture of the two for the submerged section. A small amount of dechlorinated water can be added at this time to begin to get the bedding settled, perhaps 1/3-1/2 of the space depending on the size of the enclosure.

Northampton Reptile and Fish Centres paludarium

Images of the canopy and submerges area in our display paludarium

Setting up the land area:

While the submerged section is settling we add any additional heating, lighting and peripherals required for the species that will inhabit the land area and canopy. For the most part, these will be arboreal amphibians or geckos that don’t need too much additional heating. Depending on the size of the enclosure the following would species would be a great choice: crested geckos, gargoyle geckos, giant day geckos, mourning geckos, whites tree frogs, green or grey tree frogs, milk frogs, red-eye tree frogs etc. In the case of all of these species, the heating and lighting can be fitted to the outside of the enclosure. A heat mat covering one side panel of glass (from the start of the land section to the top of the enclosure) and controlled by an on/off thermostat would be perfect for heating. To monitor temperatures we would recommend using a digital probe thermostat to keep an eye on your warm and cold ends. The probe for these can be attached to the glass panel being heated and the glass panel directly opposite. A UVB/LED canopy or compact top canopy with a combination of LED and UVB bulbs would be perfect for the lighting. If you are unsure of what would be best for your pet please ask us for a recommendation. If you would like to add misting systems this would be a good time to fit the tubing and nozzles. If possible, consider where plants will be within the enclosure and aim the misters at plants most likely to catch water and most in need of misting. When misting the enclosure used RO or distilled water where possible as this is best for a lot of plants and will reduce mineral staining on the glass.

Once your hardware is in place you can add bedding to your land area. We recommend a small drainage layer at the base of the land area. This should be separated by a mesh or fleece sheet then buried in nutrient-rich soil. To recycle any waste that is hitting the land area, springtails or dwarf white woodlice can be added as a cleaner crew. Many jungle plants could be added to this section but we would recommend selecting at least 1-2 vine species and a centrepiece plant like a bromeliad. Over time the vines will cover the floor section or grow up any hard decorations within reach and are a great way to fill the entire enclosure with foliage. If you would like to add plants to taller areas of the enclosure air plants can be adhered to ornaments and epiphytes can be grafted to cork or softwood decorations.

Finishing off the submerged area:

Now that the top section is complete we can return to our submerged section. The remainder of the water should now be added to the enclosure. To reduce the amount of substrate disturbed by this we recommend pouring the water in through a plant pot, colander or any other implement with fine holes to distribute water. underwater plants or floating plants can be added before or after adding the water. Once the section is completely submerged you can turn on all of the enclosure’s hardware and begin the testing period.

Normally, if adding fish we would recommend 2 weeks of testing before any animals are added. This time will also greatly benefit your plants allowing them to root in and adjust to the enclosure, it will also help expose any errors in plant placement and allow you to move some plants around before they are likely to be disturbed. After the 14 days have passed and you are happy that the plants are thriving and that heating, lighting, filtration are all working perfectly you can add your animals. We would recommend starting with a few fish or shrimp to begin with. You can add more over time but you should always do so in small batches to make sure that water levels are not disturbed too drastically and each group has time to acclimatise. The animal or animals being added to the top section can be added simultaneously or any time after the fish or shrimp have been added to the bottom section. Unlike the submerged section we would advise sticking to a single species to inhabit the top section.

Northampton Reptile Centres paludarium

Refilling the submerged area in our large display paludarium

Additional information:

The paludarium set up should be designed to include all of the things you love but as with any exotic pet enclosure, the animal’s requirements should come first. Before picking a paludarium or deciding on any hardware, plants and decorations. If you aren’t sure what would be best for the species you need please contact us. For recommendations regarding amphibians or reptiles please call our reptile specialists on 01604753823. For questions regarding the fish or aquatic plants please call our fish experts on 01327350088. Alternatively, you can reach us via email at sales@reptilecentre.com.

Keys things to keep an eye on in the first few weeks would be that the plants are not drying out or wilting. If they begin to go limp you should consider how much water they are getting and whether they are getting enough light. If they are drying out the plant should be moved to a less bright or hot section of the enclosure or be sprayed more regularly.

Bonus video from ZooMed:

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