Difference in Aquarium, Terrarium, and Vivarium

Most people are familiar with using the term aquarium as another word for a fish tank. But what is a vivarium? And what is a terrarium? These three tank are used for some species such as aquatic, semi- aquatic and terrestrial species. You may find a pet store insist that you buy a vivarium for a turtle and terrarium for a tortoise or other reptiles.


An aquarium is a container made of glass, acrylic, or plastic that’s used to house fish, corals, sponges, invertebrates, and aquatic plants. These days, most of aquariums are fitted with a filtration system to keep the water clean and free from harmful toxins, a heater to keep the water warm for tropical fish, and a lighting unit to promote live plant growth.

Aquarium requires regular maintenance to keep the environment safe and healthy for the fish and other creatures that live there. If you have live plants in your setup, they will require trimming and tidying up to prevent overgrowth. Once a month or so, the filter media in tank water needed to be rinse to remove sludge that would otherwise clog the filter.

ethnic woman looking at fish in aquarium
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A terrarium is primarily a dry environment with low humidity that contains living plants. In essence, a terrarium is a small greenhouse that replicates the plants’ natural environment and habitat. Terrariums can also be used to keep certain species of animals too.

Terrariums are generally low-maintenance, although a small amount of maintenance is required to keep the plants inside healthy. Trim away overgrowth to prevent the terrarium from becoming overcrowded, and remove any brown and yellow leaves that appear, as that can be a sign of disease or pest infestation. If you have a closed terrarium, you’ll need to remove the lid every so often to allow some fresh air to circulate.

Sometimes, gnats or mealybugs can infest terrariums. You can often deal with that problem by using insecticides, avoid overwatering your plants, and use rocks and pebbles to deter gnats. However, if that strategy fails, it’s best to remove the affected plant.


There are two types of terrarium, sealed and open.

Sealed Terrariums

A sealed terrarium is to be used only for plants. A sealed glass container is a self-sustainable ecosystem where the living plants, growing medium, air, and water all work together through water cycling, photosynthesis, and respiration. That said, a terrarium does have an opening door, allowing for maintenance when necessary. Some terrariums may resemble a traditional glass fish tank or bowl, but they are often made of thinner glass and are not designed to take the pressure and weight of water and substrate.

Note that only land plants can be grown in a terrarium.

clear glass terrarium jar with mossy plants
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Open Terrariums

Sometimes, terrariums are used to house small land animals, such as lizards and the like. These types of containers need an airflow, so they are usually fitted with a mesh venting panel at the top and often to the lower part of the sides, too. Animal species that are commonly housed in a terrarium include land snails, land crabs, spiders, ants, lizards, praying mantises, and scorpions.


A vivarium can be anything you use to make a home for your pet. A vivarium is the umbrella term for any type of reptile tank made from glass, plastic or wood. Basically anything your reptile can live in is a vivarium. Even a terrarium is a vivarium and aquarium also a vivarium.

There are many other kinds of vivarium, each with their own name:


Mosses are rootless plants that absorb the water and nutrients that they need through their leaves. Moss typically grows in damp, shady environments with limited light.

A mossarium is the name given to a mini self-sustaining ecosystem in which mosses are cultivated. The environment inside the mossarium is kept moist. As the water evaporates, it condenses on the walls of the glass container, forming droplets that are absorbed by the mosses growing inside.


An oceanarium is a saltwater aquarium that’s used for displaying marine creatures and plants. The world’s first large public oceanarium was built in 1938 near St. Augustine, Florida.


A paludarium contains both plants and semi-aquatic or aquatic species, usually amphibians, fish, or reptiles, such as killifish, tree frogs, salamanders, mudskippers, and the like.


A riparium is a planted tank that may contain wetland habitat, streams, and a shoreline where marginal plants can grow, including emersed and terrestrial species.


An insectarium is used for keeping insects for study purposes or as pets. For example, many school science labs keep a simple insectarium containing stick insects.


A vivarium that’s used to house ant colonies.


A penguinarium is a vivarium that’s designed to simulate the natural environment of penguins.


An aquarium where dolphins are kept, often as part of an oceanarium complex.

Click here to see some weird facts about animals.

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