A Paludarium, part 1

by Keri K. on September 26, 2009

For three years, I’ve shared my cubicle with a small jungle. That’s not a reference to my coworkers, or the mess on my desk, but a paludarium.

paludarium

My paludarium

The word paludarium stems from the Latin words “paludal” (relating to marshes) and “arium” (a place of, or connected to). That is, an environment that combines both water and land. The real fun of a paludarium terrarium is showcasing a tiny, growing garden with living inhabitants, like fish or amphibians.

I have seen some incredible paludariums and vivariums handmade by intrepid do-it-yourselfers. Lacking the time and drive to construct a mini ecosystem from rough materials, I was lucky to obtain a commercial setup with the background, lighting, and filtration already built-in – the Water’s Edge Bio-Habitat. This model has since been discontinued by the manufacturer, but it’s basically an Eclipse system with a molded rock-and-log background. Eclipse kits would be a great place to start if you want to build your own paludarium, as the filtration already provides a natural waterfall setup.

Since I had the land and water areas ready-made, I could move straight into choosing plants and animals. This can require a lot of research! You may envision a lush rainforest with fish swimming, salamanders crawling, and frogs hopping among the vines and flowers, but the reality is that few species are suited to sharing such a small environment. Salamanders and newts require cooler temperatures than tropical fish do. Many frogs secrete toxins, and will eagerly attempt to eat any tankmates if they don’t poison them first. Fish must stay very small, or be able to live singly. Even if different species at first seem to be “getting along,” the potential for disaster and loss of your animals is high.

So I had to resist the urge to overpopulate my new paludarium, and chose two firebelly toads (Bombina orientalis). I stopped by the local greenhouse and picked out  two small ferns, and was graciously given some ivy and pothos cuttings from around the office, as well as a bit of java fern for below the water’s surface. I added some natural-looking gravel substrate, and it was beautiful. The sound and movement of the waterfall had everybody stopping by, and finding the toads peeking out of the leaves was a fun surprise. It was a small, green haven, and a great place to “visit” if I needed a few peaceful moments out of the day.

My paludarium has really evolved in the past three years! I’ll go over some of the changes and additions I’ve made to mine, as well as what you can use to make your own paludarium, in another post.


Keri is a lead catalog designer for Drs. Foster and Smith and holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from UW-Stout. She shares a small home with her husband, two Chinese Crested dogs, two cats, two ferrets, several reptiles and amphibians, and 30-some gallons of freshwater planted aquariums. See more articles by Keri K.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Monica S. October 1, 2009 at 10:54 am

Kerri, I love your paludarium! AND, having met your co-workers (and being one myself) I think its safe to say that they (me included) add to the jungle atmosphere! I really enjoy stopping by your desk to discuss pond catalog changes with you, because that means I get to check out how things have changed in the “jungle”.

Martha R. Thomas October 23, 2009 at 11:22 pm

Have had, for decads, a strong desire for a paludarium with living animals. Had no idea one could even add fish unti I read your article. Now I’m determined at 72, to fulfill my lifelong wish at last. Tank you for your inspiration. Am going no to read Part 2.

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