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What Is a Bioactive Paludarium? Detailed Description

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Some of the tank systems you see nowadays are things of beauty. Many different ecosystems are available for you to replicate, each showcasing the unique flora and fauna from a particular region. From waterfalls with turtles to deserts with burrowing critters, the earth and sky are truly the limits — including bioactive paludariums!

A bioactive paludarium is a self-sustaining tank ecosystem including living creatures, water, and soil elements, replicating a tropical climate. Each element of the paludarium is chosen deliberately and carefully so that the resulting ecosystem can clean and maintain itself through natural cycles.

If you’re considering getting a bioactive paludarium for your home, read on as I discuss what you need to include in it and some things you should consider before the setup. Hopefully, you can start creating a bioactive paludarium in no time and provide the perfect home for your cute new critters. Let’s get started.

Differences Between Paludariums and Other Tank Ecosystems

If you took Latin at any point in your life, you might recognize that the suffix arium is the Latin for “receptacle.” With the prefix palud, meaning “marsh” or “swamp,” you can infer that a paludarium is an enclosed habitat housing both earth and water. 

This differs from other tank habitats that are more well-known, such as aquariums or terrariums. The section below contains a handy overview of what each of these ecosystems, by definition, includes within them.

Vivarium, Aquarium, Terrarium, and Paludarium

Here are some of the most common ariums:

life + receptacle
water + receptacle
land + receptacle
marsh + receptacle

Keep in mind this list isn’t exhaustive. Some ariums are highly specialized and even more specific than these four. 

Additionally, it’s worth noting that just because something is optional for an arium doesn’t mean it would be responsible or humane to not include them. 

For example, a vivarium only technically needs to include a life of some sort to be considered a vivarium; however, it would be cruel to enclose an animal in a tank without any elements of its natural habitat. When building any ecosystem, the comfort and happiness of your living parts should always be of the highest priority. 

How To Make Your Paludarium a Bioactive System

Any system discussed above can be made into a bioactive system if the right collection of parts is included in the tank. When a tank has these parts, the inner ecosystem will become self-cleaning and self-sustaining with very little outside maintenance. 

For the tank to go through all of the natural cycles that would occur in the actual ecosystem, you’ll need to include elements of that ecosystem, such as the native flora and fauna, or use machinery to replicate parts of the system.

Here are some of the key parts of creating a bioactive paludarium:

  • Substrate
  • Water
  • Flora, both land and aquatic
  • Habitat appropriate animals
  • Detritivores
  • Props, such as rocks, tree tubes, perches
  • Water filter

Some parts aren’t included here that may still be necessary, depending on the habitat you’re building, such as a water heater. These are little details you should keep in mind when building your bioactive paludarium. 

I’ll detail each of the listed parts in the subsequent parts of this section, explaining why they need to be included and some options available to you!

Prepare the Substrate for the Base of Your Paludarium

After selecting the tank, picking the substrate for your paludarium is the starting point. The substrate is the soil mixture that you use in the tank. Not just any dirt will do; it’s crucial for the life of your fauna and flora that you pick the correct mixture for their needs. 

Some substrates are for arid, dry climates. These mixtures will be too heavy for a marsh climate, requiring a lighter, more breathable substrate. If you use the wrong substrate, you could potentially just kill everything living in the tank. 

Decide What Detritivores You Want for Your Paludarium

The inclusion of detritivores, or cleaning crawlies, is one of the most important parts of any bioactive paludarium. Detritivores are creatures like springtails, worms, or isopods that feed on dead, organic waste. Their role in the ecosystem is to clean the habitat of excrement, decomposing material, and other dead things. 

Not only will they serve as your live-in cleaning crew, but they’re also responsible for fertilizing the soil and providing nutrition to your plant life. Their excrement is super nutritious!

Add Clean Moving Water to Your Tank

After you’ve created a substrate base, detritivores, and other base elements needed for the ecosystem you’re building, it’s time to add water. The amount of water needed will differ, depending on the build you’re creating. 

For example, a paludarium with fish will likely have more water than one with frogs. Determine the amount of water necessary for your paludarium before you start pouring it in to save you extra work later!

Give Your Critters Props for Sun Basking and Hidey-Holes

The base parts are all settled, so now it’s time to do some interior design and feng shui. Add things like branches, tree trunk tubes, and other props for your critters to play in and your plants to grow around. 

The most important thing to keep in mind is to arrange your props for your animals’ needs. Place some pieces (that you must include in your setup) so that animals that like to bathe under the warm light can sprawl out and soak up that warmth and others so that they can hide between some rocks or in a secret little cove.

Set Up Your Water Filtration System

Make sure that the water in your tank keeps moving and doesn’t grow stagnant. In the natural habitat, there are natural water cycles that maintain the constant movement of water. A water filter will keep the water moving throughout the tank and clean out the excess waste that was not naturally broken down. 

You have a few choices for water systems. Look into the options and choose the one with the right amount of maintenance for your needs!

Introduce Flora and Fauna to Your Tank

Now for the best part of any paludarium — the plants and animals! 

The plants and animals you include are entirely up to you. Just be sure that they complement each other, support their flourishing, and have been given the appropriate environment. 

There are mosses, ferns, and even orchids that love these ecosystems. Pairing those with animals, you can choose turtles, fish, frogs, lizards, and even dragons (bearded ones).

Key Takeaways

The first step of any bioactive paludarium is research and planning. You’re building a home for living, breathing things. This hobby is very rewarding and will give you and your paludarium friends plenty of joy for years to come, with the right build and attention to detail. 


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