The aquatic terrarium or paludarium

The aquatic terrarium, aqua-terrarium or paludarium (lat. palus = swamp) is basically The rainforest terrarium combined with an aquarium. Breathtaking tropical landscapes with waterfalls and streams or lakes can be built in large aqua-terrariums.

The maintenance, design features and technical equipment usually required for an aquarium are also used for the aquatic section of the paludarium.

The water section of the paludarium

An aquarium in the terrarium

Larger water sections in the terrarium, which are more than just drinking bowls, are to be treated as an aquarium. For example you will need a filtering system to keep the water clean, clear and low on bacteria at all times. In the JBL website category “Essentials/Aquarium” you’ll find all the relevant information about aquariums.


What types of aquariums are available? Which technology is suitable for your aquarium? You will find the answers in the JBL Themeworld Aquarium.

For turtles

Aquariums with large floor areas and low heights are suitable. The depth of the water needs to correspond approximately to twice the length of the turtles’ shell. The right terrarium size is described in more detail in an expert report about the minimum requirements for the keeping of reptiles (1997): Minimum requirements for reptiles according to the BMEL (Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture) . Here the terrarium length is the shell length times 5 and the result divided by 2 is the terrarium width. The resulting sizes always refer to 2 animals. Additionally to the water section a terrestrial section needs to be calculated. For more than 2 animals please add about 10 % more floor area for each further animal.

Good water quality can be attained by filtering the water with an internal filter (e.g. a JBL CRISTALPROFI i100 greenline ) which can also be mounted horizontally. A water conditioner ( JBL Biotopol T ) has to be added to fresh tap water to neutralise all of the harmful substances within it. A partial water change of a third of the water volume ought to be carried out every two weeks. The aquatic section is often difficult to plant, because the turtles like to eat a lot of plant varieties.

The terrestrial section needs to be set up so the animals can climb up easily and provide enough space for all the animals at the same time. A terrestrial section can also be made of cork, wood or rocks. Mount a heat source at a sufficient distance over the terrestrial part. The substrate of the terrestrial section should always have a minimum depth of twice the female’s shell width.

Marsh plants are very well suited as decorations, even if the animals nibble on the leaves occasionally. The water temperature of around 25 °C can be kept constant by an automatic heating element (e.g. the JBL PROTEMP S 100 ) which maintains this temperature. As substrate we recommend JBL Sansibar RIVER or quartz gravel with medium grain size.

Free-range keeping

Since most turtles originate from the subtropics or tropics, free-range keeping depends on the local climatic conditions. If it becomes too cold outside the turtles need to be brought inside into an indoor aquatic terrarium. The European pond turtles (Emys orbicularis) are hardy, but they are a protected species. Only animals with a breeding certificate may be kept in private hands.

Paludariums for frogs, toads and newts

South America‘s incredibly brightly coloured poison dart frogs make almost every observer want to keep them with a bit of jungle in a beautiful aquatic terrarium.

A terrarium with a floor area of 60 x 40 cm is suitable. The height depends on the layout above the water section. The poison dart frogs only need a small water section. However a covering of leaves on the floor is very important. Part of the foliage needs to be dry! To drain off any water and help any wet leaves to dry out it is advisable to use an underlying substrate of expanded clay or JBL Manado . A spawning cave, some wood, e.g. JBL Mangrove for climbing, and rainforest plants form the design. For some species the reproduction of a small watercourse can be useful. Red-eyed leaf frogs need a bigger water section than poison dart frogs. Green tree frogs and other tree frog species need stable and large-leaved plants. And since these frogs only eat living insects the terrariums have to be hermetically sealed. But a means of ventilation is also important. So please don’t just cover a terrarium with a pane of glass, there's more to a frog terrarium than that!

There aren’t many general rules you can apply to your terrarium, since toads reach widely different sizes and come from very different habitats. Toads need a larger floor area (80 x 50 cm) than frogs and a lower height because they don’t climb much. The European fire-bellied toad is an exception which needs a 1/3 terrestrial and 2/3 water section.

Fire-bellied toad

Newts and salamanders in the aquatic terrarium

The most popular amphibians have to be axolotls. But because they never leave the water they don’t need an aquatic terrarium, they need a real aquarium. Of course they also can be kept in the water section of an aquatic terrarium if it is big enough.

Salamanders and newts are typical paludarium dwellers which need their terrarium divided into approximately a 1/3 terrestrial and a 2/3 water part. It is always very important to avoid waterlogging the moist section when setting it up. The water always needs to be able to run off downwards. That’s why it's important to form a base layer of expanded clay or JBL Manado , and create a leaf cover on top. Stones, wood, mosses and ferns provide further design features.


Amphibians don’t need any UV radiation, so the lighting can be selected to either create light without heat or light with heat development, depending on the animals’ requirements.


Lighting is one of the most important topics in terraristics. What do you need to consider?

If your amphibians start to require heat as well as light, you can either produce the heat via the lamp or separately with the help of heating mats or heat emitters.


How do you get your terrarium to the right temperature? Why does it need warm and cooler spots?

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