Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A Basic Guide to Setting Up a Paludarium

A paludarium is a tank consisting of land, water, and air elements. Often paludaria contain live plants and animals. It is an attempt to put an ecosystem in a container. Paludaria are ideal, fairly low maintenance projects that can satisfy adults and children alike. They can be especially fun for home schooled children or those who have an interest in ecology and biology.

The Idea


What you plan to include in your paludarium most dictates the materials you will need. Do you plan to use it for a snake or anole? Would you like fish or amphibians? Would you like a “community tank” with several different types of animals? Do you want to focus on a particular geographic region?


The internet is a good place to gather information regarding various types of fish, amphibians, and reptiles. By researching as much as you can to begin with, you can develop a balanced community plan. Try to choose plants and animals that have the same requirements, that way they can all coexist with minimal stress.


The Tank


The tank is the most basic, and probably the most important, piece of equipment. Within it you will have a small world. For this reason, you need to choose the tank that best corresponds to your needs. For instance, if you plan to have tree frogs or other animals that prefer to climb you will want a tank that is taller than it is wide. If instead you wish to have a ground dwelling reptile or large fish, you will want a large bottom surface area to give it maximum space.


While acrylic tanks are increasing in popularity, they can wear down fairly quickly. Glass tanks are much sturdier in the long run, although the extra weight is certainly a downside. In addition to the tank, you will want a stand that has been designed to support your tank’s weight and style.


The Hardware


The other hardware you need for your tank is dictated by your preferences and your animal’s needs. If you have a reptile, you will need a heat lamp or warming pad to provide a basking area. Any water element should have a small filter to prevent fouling. If you have any tropical amphibians or fish it would be wise to buy a small heater as well. Just for fun, you can buy a small water pump and some airline tubing to create a small waterfall or river. Waterfall kits can also be purchased from online suppliers.


Basic Décor


Try to keep your paludarium as natural looking as possible. Use rocks and driftwood to arrange a setting where there is land emerging from the water. You can either use natural stones and driftwood, or you can purchase the extremely life-like resin replicas made by aquarium companies. Either will be appealing to the eye.


Substrate will be dictated by the needs of your animals. If you plan to plant live plants, use a plant substrate such as Flourite. Naturally colored gravel is also an ideal bottom for you water element.


Setting up


If you have an animal that requires a land area and separate water area, such as a reptile, you can divide your aquarium with a Plexiglas or acrylic divider epoxied in place. Make sure the epoxy or sealant used is aquarium safe. One side can be water and the other land, with no mixing between them.


An easier method is the emergent land method as mentioned above. The rocks and driftwood can be stacked so that there are islands of land coming out of the water. This is ideal for small amphibians such as salamanders, newts, or frogs.


After putting down your gravel substrate, stack your rocks and wood in an aesthetically pleasing manner. Also put your tank hardware in place at this time. Play with several designs until you find one you like. Also, make sure everything is either well balanced or well secured so that nothing collapses on your animals. When this is done, you may add your water.


Adding Greenery


Greenery can either be live aquatic plants or the skillfully made silk variety. Either way, you are striving for a natural look so avoid the cheap hard plastic plants. If you are obtaining live plants, make sure that they are meant to be aquatic or in high humidity environments. Plants sold at some nurseries are not truly tropical and will die and decay rapidly in your paludarium.


Arrange your plants at the bottom of the tank as well as on the driftwood and rocks. If you have climbing vines you can place them on the sides of your tank so that they give an appearance of a plant covered cliff or wall. If you have critters that like to climb, you may need extra fastenings as opposed to just the suction cups supplied. Apparently, fishing line does well although I have not used it myself.


Adding Critters


Now that you have a habitat set up for your animals you can move them in. So as not to overload your filter, only introduce a small number at a time. Additionally do not overstock your tank. If you crowd too many animals into too small an area you will struggle with cleanliness, parasites, and illness.


My Paludarium


As an example, I will explain my own set up. I am using a twenty gallon glass tank to contain my paludarium. The back wall is made of natural cork bark attached with liberal amounts of aquarium sealant. My method was the emergent land technique, which can be seen with the stacking of the rocks, as well as the cork bark island. This paludarium has been functioning well for one month.


The aquatic plants, which are slowly establishing themselves, are in a substrate of Flourite. You can see Anacharis in the back, dwarf hairgrass in the front and Anubias on the driftwood. There is also Java Moss under the rock.


Land plants include Pilea cadieri at the top of the rocks and lemon button fern in a planter on the back wall. Hopefully, both plants will fill out to increase the amount of greenery on the land. I also have some mosses that I gathered from my pasture, which are filling out nicely on the rock.


For hardware I have a small filter, heater, and submersible pump to power a waterfall. The waterfall also acts to aerate the water for the fish.


Residents are a black mystery snail, six rosy red minnows, and two fire belly toads.


Some Advice


There were some things no one mentioned when I was doing my research. Here is what I have discovered.


Make your hardware accessible: If you construct a cave over your pump, you will not be able to reach the pump to clean it or adjust the setting. It seems obvious now, but apparently not when I was in the construction phase.


Bugs happen: I had to pull my fish out of the tank to treat them for itch. When they were gone there was no one to eat the mosquito larvae. (This was prior to adding the toads.) I was breeding mosquitoes until I was able to re-introduce the fish into the system. Some visitors will move in on their own, you can solve those problems according to your inclinations.


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