Planted tanks and paludariums have become a growing trend in recent years, and for good reason. These gorgeous, naturalistic setups are immediate attention grabbers that truly let the species shine in an enclosure that as beautiful and captivating as the reptile or amphibian themselves.
Lizards, frogs and salamanders are common choices for paludariums, but what about our legless friends? What are the best snakes for a paludarium?
Due to their often terrestrial nature, many snake species aren’t ideal for paludariums, However, semi-aquatic snakes such as ribbon snakes and rubber boas can make amazing additions to a well-designed paludarium, and species like anacondas can be fascinating inhabitants if you have the room.
In this article, we’ll go over the 6 best snakes for a paludarium as well as several snake-like critters that can thrive in this semi-aquatic setting.
What Is a Paludarium?
Most people have heard of aquariums, and many reptile owners know of the term terrarium. But the word paludarium is sure to get a few confused looks from even experienced herp owners.
Paludarium, derived from the Latin words “palus,” meaning swamp and “-arium” meaning enclosure, is effectively a vivarium that mimics a wetland environment. Unlike terrariums and aquariums, it involves both land and water components and typically encloses a variety of water-loving plants along with aquatic animals and semi-aquatic creatures.
The video below is an excellent example of a gorgeous paludarium.
What Makes A Snake Good For a Paludarium?
Snakes are an incredibly variable group of animals with equally varied care requirements and appropriate setups. Before going through specific species, we’ll cover which traits work best for living in paludarium.
Aquatic, Semi-Aquatic or Humidity-Loving
Simply put, you can’t expect all species to do well in a paludarium. If you put an arid species like a Kenyan sand-boa or Mexican rat snake in a humid paludarium, they are liable to be miserable and even get pneumonia and scale rot.
At the very least, you should choose a tropical or subtropical snake that will thrive in a humid setting close to water. Better yet, get an aquatic snake to explore the water portion of your paludarium or a semi-aquatic snake to take advantage of every inch.
Bioactive paludariums for frogs and fish are famously hands-off after set-up, but you’re going to be keeping a snake in a paludarium, you can expect to do a fair amount of maintenance. As a result, a snake that won’t try to bite you every time you put your hands in their enclosure makes things a lot easier.
Why It Can Be Difficult to House Snakes in A Paludarium
Snakes are fascinating and paludariums are gorgeous, so why aren’t they a more popular combination? Unfortunately, several key traits about certain members of the Serpentes suborder bar them from being ideal paludarium inhabitants.
Difficult Clean Up
Bluntly put, one of the most problematic aspects about housing a snake in a paludarium is snake poop. Snake poop contains plenty of nitrogenous wastes, and pretty much everything that will screw up your paludarium’s water parameters and become toxic to any aquatic inhabitants.
Granted, snakes don’t eat very often and consequently don’t poop very often, but it can be devastating to watch your carefully-constructed paludarium get screwed up if you don’t act quickly enough. Not to mention how difficult water-logged snake poop can be to clean!
It’s very possible to house a snake in a paludarium, but just be sure to tend to their messes!
Snakes Aren’t The Best Tank-Mates
For many owners, watching their snake eat is one of the most fascinating and enjoyable parts of owning these animals. Of course, things are slightly different when it’s your expensive half-moon dragon betta they’re munching down on, or worse, poison dart frog.
For many snakes, even the critical clean-up crew– that is, the isopods and other critters that help maintain your paludarium– are prime choices for a meal.
At the end of the day, much of the allure with having a paludarium lies in the ability to house a variety of gorgeous species together in a natural-looking enclosure. And seeing how snakes have evolved to be voracious predators before anything else, they don’t make the best tank mates.
But if you’re fine with letting your snake friend shine on its own or willing to let some occasional aquatic hunting of feeder fish supplement their diet, a snake can work well in a paludarium.
There Aren’t Many Aquatic or Semi-Aquatic Snakes
Despite what their name would imply, water snakes don’t actually spend very much time in water. Rather, they live near and occasionally hunt in the water. The number of snakes that can thrive in a highly aquatic set-up is very few, so you’ll need to dedicate a large portion of your paludarium to land.
And if you ask some paludarium owners, that sort of defeats the purpose! There are several key exceptions included in the list below, but it’s important to know that even so-called water snakes require a lot of land.
You Need A Lot Of Room
Due to the large amount of land required to house a snake, you’re going to need to set aside quite a bit of space for your paludarium. Compared to other slow moving and docile reptiles, the fast-moving snake is considered quite active.
For a smaller species such as a ribbon snake, 55 gallons are considered a standard starting size. And when it comes to behemoth anacondas, you’re going to need to offer zoo-like proportions.
But if you have plenty of time, space, and resources to dedicate to creating and maintaining a large paludarium, it can be very rewarding.
Best Snakes For A Paludarium
If the above traits don’t deter you from putting a snake in a paludarium, there are some great options available for paludariums of all shapes and sizes.
1. Ribbon Snake
- Typical Size: 16 to 28 inches (41 to 71 cm)
- Enclosure requirements: 55+ gallons
- Temperature: 75 to 85 F (24 to 29 C)
- Humidity: 40-60%
- Diet: Small fish, amphibians, and insects
- Life Expectancy: 10 years
Like their less aquatic cousin the garter snake, ribbon snakes are popular beginner snakes. But don’t let their small size or humble reputation deter you from considering this species.
With their energetic personalities and bright coloration, ribbon snakes are active inhabitants which will take advantage of every inch of their paludarium, land and water.
2. Green Tree Python
- Typical Size: 4 to 6 feet (1.2 to 1.8 meters)
- Enclosure requirements: 40-50 gallons
- Temperature: 75 to 88 degrees F (24 to 31 C)
- Humidity: 40-70%
- Diet: small mammals
- Life Expectancy: 15 to 20 years
Unlike the other snakes on this list, green tree pythons aren’t typically aquatic by any means. These brightly colored snakes typically prefer to spend their days mostly stationary atop a branch or vine in their famous coiled pattern.
Although they probably won’t go in the water of your paludarium or even the ground, these rainforest-dwelling pythons will benefit from the high humidity produced by water features. Plus, you may be able to get away with having some pretty aquatic animals or even isopods!
3. Rubber Boa
- Typical Size: 12 to 28 inches (30.5 to 71 cm)
- Enclosure requirements: 20-30 gallons
- Temperature: 70 to 83 F (21.1 to 28.3 C)
- Humidity: 50-60%
- Diet: Small mammals, birds, lizards… anything it can fit in its mouth!
- Life Expectancy: 20 to 30+ years
This peculiar-looking North American snake is adaptable in every sense of the word. In fact, it’s one of the few snake species that can withstand freezing temperatures in the wild! Even in captivity, rubber boas are known to be hardy and curious. They will gladly explore their entire enclosure by slithering, climbing, burrowing, and even swimming around in search of food.
Although a rubber boa may not be able to share the paludarium with others due to its dietary preferences (or lack thereof!) it is an incredibly docile and fascinating pet which can thrive in a paludarium setting.
4. Elephant Trunk Snake
- Typical Size: 5 to 7 feet (1.5 to 2.1 meters)
- Enclosure requirements: 150 gallons
- Temperature: 84 to 86 F (29 to 30 C)
- Humidity: Entirely aquatic.
- Diet: Fish and amphibians
- Life Expectancy: 5 years
Along with their peculiar appearance, elephant trunk snakes are an unusual species due to being almost entirely aquatic. While they may emerge frequently, elephant trunk snakes rarely go on land and instead hunt for aquatic prey.
Acquiring an elephant trunk snake is difficult due to their rarity, and most individuals are wild-caught. But if you can manage to get your hands on one of these strange creatures, they make a fascination addition to any paludarium.
5. Northern Water Snake
- Typical Size: 24 to 42 in. (61 to 107 cm)
- Enclosure size: 30 gallons
- Temperature: 70 to 85 F (21 to 29.4 C)
- Humidity: 40-60%
- Diet: fish and amphibians
- Life Expectancy: 9 years
Unlike many water snake species, Northern water snakes truly live up to their name as a semi-aquatic snake. These medium snakes may resemble the dangerous cotton mouth, but they are actually relatively harmless critters that lack any sort of venom.
It is active during the day and night, and will utilize different regions of the paludarium at different times of the day. It’s worth noting that this species is known to stand its ground and fiercely defend itself, and is therefore not a good choice for handling or beginners. They do have mild anti-coagulants in their saliva, so any bites should be disinfected. Lucky, this snake hunts using its surprisingly strong sense of smell, so feeding misses are unlikely.
6. Yellow Anaconda
- Typical Size: 10 to 14 feet (3 to 4.3 meters)
- Enclosure requirements: 8 x 3 x 3 plus water section.
- Temperature: 81 to 83 F (27 to 28 C)
- Humidity: 60-70%
- Diet: Fish, amphibians, and mammals
- Life Expectancy: 15 to 20 years
To say yellow anacondas are large is a bit of an understatement. Yellow anacondas are massive. Accordingly, a paludarium for a yellow anaconda must be incredibly large. Of course, this gives you the opportunity to create a gorgeous paludarium that your snake will love, complete with dozens of plant species and water features.
Take care not to mistake this species with its close relative, the green anaconda! Although they may share a similar name, green anacondas reach twice the length of yellow anacondas, at a whopping 20 to 30 feet. It’s difficult enough to house a yellow anaconda in a paludarium, but unless you have a zoo-like budget, putting a green anaconda in a paludarium is practically impossible.
Consider a Snake-Like Amphibian
If the maintenance of keeping a snake in a paludarium isn’t up your alley or if you’re eager to incorporate a variety of species, there are still plenty of amphibian and aquatic options to satisfy that legless itch.
Long Salamander Species
There are a variety of elongated salamander species such as spring salamanders and longtail salamanders that are classic picks for paludariums due to their beauty, good temperaments, and easy care.
While these amphibians have noticeable feet, adults salamanders tend to be excellent roommates to their fish friends, as they largely prefer invertebrates.
Alternatively, you can consider amphiumas, members of a genus of aquatic salamanders that look remarkably similar to snakes. This blind amphibian will feel its way around the water of your paludarium and adore any dark or cave-like feature.
These nearly legless creatures are rarely seen on land, meaning the land part of your paludarium can be home to a proper cleanup crew. That said, don’t be surprised if your amphiuma tries to take a bite of anything that gets too close to the water!
Caecillians are strange, eel-like amphibians that are entirely legless and easily confused for snakes or even large worms. Caecilians are shy yet eager hunters that will gladly accept almost any food it can swallow whole.
Depending on the species, caecillians are either highly aquatic or prefer to burrow into wet dirt, so be sure to have sturdy plants if you plan on housing a species that will dig up dirt.
Consider a Snake-Like Fish
If snakes and amphibians aren’t going to work, adding one of these snake-like fish to the aquatic section can brighten up your paludarium.
Kuhli loaches are snake-like bottom feeders who are popular with paludarium owners and aquarists alike for their peaceful disposition and adorable antics. These hardy, striped fish are excellent at cleaning up debris and do best in schools of five or more.
Kuhli loaches are pacifists that reach a maximum length of only four inches, so they can be kept alongside other peace-loving fish such as angelfish, danios, guppies, mollies, and more!
With their serpentine bodies, arrow-like head, prominent scales, and even lungs, reedfish are about as snake-like of a fish as it gets. Unlike kuhli loaches, however, these fish grow to be three feet long and therefore require plenty of room.
Reedfish typically need a 50 gallon tank in an aquarium setting, so expect to get a pretty large paludarium if you plan on keeping one of these unusual fish. If you are able to accommodate their large size, reedfish are inquisitive and rewarding pets.
Housing a snake in a paludarium certainly has its challenges, but if you pick the right species it’s absolutely possible to create a beautiful, snake-friendly enclosure. Keeping a snake in a paludarium involves a good amount of upkeep, and it’s understandable if you would rather go with a non-reptilian option such as a legless amphibian or eel-like fish.
No matter what animal you decide to go with, remember to design your paludarium carefully, do your research, and of course, have fun!