I have built multiple aquariums and paludariums over the years and thought this would be a good place to do a step by step instructions on what I did.
Note: There are so many different things that can be used during construction to make this work. This is just what I used. Please do your research before putting in animals or plants to make sure you are building it correctly. I have always loved aquariums and terrariums, so why not put them together into one?! The home that I am building is for 3 fire bellied toads (FBT). FBTs are really hardy and easy to care for. I love the colours of the FBT. I wanted to create something that was as natural as possible using no fake plants to make this work. To make this work, and have plants, FBTs, and fish survive, all materials need to be animal/pond/aquarium safe! To help keep the humidity up in the Paludarium, I will have a waterfall feature to help keep water moving and get moisture in the air.
Step 1: Materials
65 Gallon tank and stand
Great Stuff Foam
Eggcrate (light diffuser)
Aquarium safe silicone
Fire Bellied Toads
Step 2: Building the Land
As I will be creating my own waterfall, I created this area first. I took eggcrate, using a wirecutter, began cutting to shape. Using zip ties to attach the pieces together to create a box. After creating the waterfall area, I cut more eggcrate and using zip ties created an elevated land area.
Note: at this point, I ensured that I would be able to reach my hand in. This is important as I will be housing my pump/filter and water heater in here to keep it hidden and the Paludarium looking natural
Step 3: Adding Mesh to Eggcrate
Once the land is built and the waterfall is built. I took mesh from a screendoor and laid it over the eggcrate, using zipties to secure it in place. This will allow the water to flow behind the waterfall and stop fish/animals from getting behind. It will also prevent substrate from falling into the water from the land area. Once in place, trim excess.
Step 4: Planning and Placement
After getting the eggcrate in place, I wanted to figure out where I would be planting plants and placing the rock structure. The rock structure will help the FBTs get in and out of the water with ease.
Step 5: Here Comes the Foam
Once I was happy with where the placement of everything would be, it is time to foam!
It is important to note that you do not want to just spray it anywhere and do not spray a lot in one area.The foam will expand and will need time to cure before adding more and carving it.
While spraying the foam, I held the pots in the place for the plants and sprayed around it.
Once done, let it cure for 8 hours or more (I usually give it 1-2 days or sometimes longer depending on how busy I am with work, etc)
For the waterfall feature, I used great stuff foam to build a shelf where I would be able create a pool. The purpose of the pool would be for the pump to bring water from the bottom to the top of the waterfall. The pool would fill up and spill over down into the water. This allows a place for the FBTs to hang out and still be in water without being in deep water.
Note: Since I will be adding a waterfall feature to this, you will see a plastic hose sticking out. It is important that this stays clear and able to grab after the foam has been put on. This will make it easier to setup the waterfall.
Step 6: Carving
This step takes time and patience. The next step will be adding silicone and substrate to the background (all over the great stuff foam). To ensure that the silicone sticks better, you will need to cut up all the foam as the foam underneath is more rugged.
Using a small sharp knife, begin carving and shaping the background to your desired look.
Note: I have had this happen lots of times where after carving the background, I was unhappy with how it looked, or felt there needed to be more depth to it. Once you are done carving, you may need to repeat the last couple of steps by adding more foam and carving until desired look is achieved.
Step 7: Silcone and Substrate to Background
Since we will be using silicone for this step, if possible do this outside, in a garage, or a very well ventilated area
Using gloves, I rubbed silicone all over the background and pressed the substrate to the walls. I used black silicone incase there were areas that did not stick well or if the substrate falls off, it can still be hidden.
For the waterfall, I used aquarium rock instead of substrate. Following the same process, I put silicone all over the waterfall and pressed aquarium rock to it.
Note: to make this step easier, if it is possible, lay the tank on its back. This will help keep the substrate/rocks in place
Step 8: Adding Equipment, Water, Plants
As stated in an earlier step, I want to keep this looking as natural as possible, hiding all the equipment.
After placing the aquarium rock in the tank, I filled it up with water to the desired level. Placing the water heater and pump behind the waterfall, and connecting the tube from the waterfall to the filter/pump. This allows the water to be filtered and then pumped out the waterfall to the rest of the tank.
Connect lamps and turn on all the equipment for a test run. At this point, I check to make sure that there are no leaks anywhere, water is flowing properly through the pump and waterfall feature, and make sure all the lights are working.
After placing more decorative rocks, I began adding various water plants.
Note: Take time with this stage to achieve the look you want. Keep in mind, that these plants will grow and will take over the tank with time. In my experience, you will spend a lot of time here. This will because of changing the plants layout and positions.
Step 9: Adding Plants
Similar to the last step, I add some potting soil into the planters and add my plants. Since I planned where my plants will go during the planning stage, I will not be spending a lot of time on this step re-arranging the plants like I did with the water plants.
Step 10: Water Cycling
Just like an aquarium, the water needs to be cycled to ensure the right levels of bacteria, PH levels, etc are all correct for life to thrive.
There are numerous ways to do this, and I would recommend doing some research into the different ways and reasons for this. The way that I do it may not be the most ideal way of doing it, or even the proper way of doing. With that being said, I have built multiple paludariums and aquariums and have 100% success doing it this way.
After adding the water, plants, and get all the equipment running, I do not add anything to do it (animals).
I let it run as though is something living there. Meaning, my lights are set for 12 hour timers (this is to simulate night and day). I keep the land area, and plants moist by spraying them with water every day. I top up the water whenever it is needed.
I continue this cycle for about a month. At this point, I will take a small fish from my aquarium and put it in to test the water. I leave it like this for another week to ensure that the fish that I put in is still alive and doing well. Note that for this entire period, I am constantly checking the tank to make sure that there is still life
Step 11: Adding Livestock
Once the water is cycled and I am confident that I can move to the final stage, I then put in some fish, ghost shrimp, and of course the fire bellied toads
Step 12: After Thoughts
I had this setup and running for a few months and got tired of having to use a spray bottle to keep everything moist, especially if I was gone for a long period of time or for a day. I got myself a misting system which works great. It has a water reservoir and a timer. At specific times throughout the day, it would spray water into the water (think of misting systems at a grocery store). This allowed me to manage the humidity better while promoting growth.
CalebL40 made it!