Most importantly, they are one of the few
small crabs available to the hobby that do not
require brackish water to survive or reproduce.
A Little History
I had been reading a lot about vivarium
construction a few years back and was really
impressed with how people were using various
materials innovatively to create incredibly
natural-looking vivariums. Vivarium builders
use a variety of natural and synthetic materials
to recreate different habitats, and they tend
to cover a lot more of the tank surface with
hardscape items than most other aquarium
builders do. I loved the look of the foam
and concrete backgrounds a lot of people
were making, but they seemed heavy, brittle,
expensive, and time consuming to make.
One material that caught my eye was cork
bark. Cork is lightweight, water resistant, and
easy to work with. It’s non-toxic and doesn’t rot
when exposed to water for extended periods
of time. In vivariums, it is most often used to
simulate tree trunks, but it can also provide the
impression of an eroded riverbank environment
or flooded forest, especially when covered in
dripping green mosses and tiny plants. The
more I read, the more I wondered why I hadn’t
seen much cork used in aquariums.
I started researching the use of cork and
found a tank that really inspired me. It was
a simple solution; the builder wrapped cork
all around as a drip-wall growing medium for
mosses and created a nearly fully green wall.
It was a perfect showcase for his Norman’s
lampeyes. Seeing a video of the tank online
piqued my curiosity for using cork, and my
eyes were opened to the potential it held as a
I had a few pieces of natural cork tube lying
around, a submersible pump, and an extra
5½-gallon tank. I decided to build a small drip
wall to test how well the cork would hold up
underwater. It was really simple to construct,
requiring just a few pieces of cork siliconed
directly to the glass. I attached a spray bar to
the pump and pointed it at the cork to create
a constant drip over the surface. I laid a mat
of Hemianthus callitrichoides over a few areas,
and tucked some Riccardia in cracks here and
there. It came together really quickly.
I found that even after the first six months,
the cork was attached as firmly as on day
one and was doing a great job as a drip wall
and planter. The H. callitrichoides had really
taken off and was spreading all over the cork.
During the first few months of operation, the
bark released a lot of tannins into the water,
which I had to remove through frequent water
and fry. It has allowed me to witness some
interesting behaviors, such as shrimp and
snails climbing out of the water for algae,
but with less than 3 gallons of water, it
is really challenging to stock. I like cork
as the base material, but it’s time for
something a little larger.
Hemianthus callitrichoides and various
aquatic mosses grow emersed on cork in
this nano paludarium.
Planning a paludarium is truly the hardest
part. It can be painful to see a tank sitting
empty for so long, but there are many factors
Cork was used to capture the feel of a flooded forest floor, create raised planters, and hide
plumbing in a 20-gallon aquascape.
Riccardia is at home in the crevices
provided by cork planters.
changes, but once the material stabilized, it
provided a sturdy, natural-looking surface that
was great for growing plants and mosses.
The tank has been running for over
two years now and continues to be a
really enjoyable display. The cork is still
firmly attached and is holding up really
well. Nearly every inch of the cork is
growing something, be it H. callitrichoides,
Riccardia, algae, or mosses. The tiny tank
has been home to various tiny fish, inverts,
to consider that can’t be easily undone or
changed once you’ve got the tank running,
so it’s important to plan ahead. To reiterate, it
may be tempting to dive in and start building,
but don’t. Take a step back. Think about
what you want it to look like when you’re
done, and next year when it fully grows in.
You won’t be able to pull everything out like
you can with a planted aquarium. Consider
how you’re going to do routine maintenance
and water changes, or what you’d do if your
return line got clogged full of debris. These
are things you need to plan for.
Tropical Fish Hobbyist www.tfhmagazine.com