Vivarium vs. Terrarium

Vivarium vs. Terrarium

The terms vivarium and terrarium may seem strange to you if you are not familiar with the upkeep animals, such as reptiles. Many people find it challenging to differentiate between the two terms.

Additionally, the two words are often used interchangeably, making it hard to distinguish between them. If you are in such a scenario, don’t worry; we will help you figure out the difference.

What is a terrarium?

A terrarium is a hybrid tank that is used to house aquatic and land animals. Terrariums are made to resemble plants’ natural environment. A terrarium is a little garden in a transparent container where plants, soil, air, and water combine to coexist.

What is a vivarium?

The term vivarium originates from the Latin word “vivere”, which means to live. Therefore, a vivarium can be defined as anything used to make a pet’s home. Moreover, the word vivarium refers to any reptile tank made of glass, plastic, or wood. To put it simply, anything where your reptile can live is a vivarium. If that is the case, a terrarium is a form of a vivarium.

Note that when animals are added to a terrarium, the container turns into a vivarium.

So, what is the difference between a terrarium and a vivarium?

A terrarium is a container that houses plants, while a vivarium is a tank that houses animals.

To help you understand a terrarium and a vivarium, we have developed quick comparison charts hereunder.

Quick comparison chart for Vivarium vs. Terrarium

Here is a quick comparison chart showing the inhabitants of terrarium and viavarium.




Sometimes there is water Presence of little or no water
Plants Sometimes there are plants Usually houses plants
Aquatic animals Sometimes No
Terrestrial animals Sometimes they are kept Sometimes they are kept
Semi-aquatic animals Sometimes


How a terrarium environment looks like

A terrarium refers to a low-humid environment where plants can be kept. Since a terrarium is a greenhouse that replicates plants’ natural environment, it can be used to house certain species of animals.

Terrarium comes in two types – open and closed. Here is an overview of the two types of terrariums.

Open terrarium

These are terrariums that sometimes house land animals, such as lizards. This tank needs adequate ventilation, which is why they bear a mesh venting panel at the top and lower parts. Animals that can be housed in a terrarium include snails, scorpions, spiders, ants, etc.

Sealed terrarium

A sealed terrarium is usually used for plants. When a glass container is sealed, it becomes an ecosystem where plants, air, and water work through photosynthesis, respiration, and cycling. Note that a sealed terrarium has an opening door that allows its upkeep.

How to maintain a terrarium

Although terrariums are low-upkeep containers, a small quantity of support is needed to keep the plants inside sound.

One approach to maintaining a terrarium is to trim overgrowth to reduce congestion and eliminate any earthy colored and yellow leaves that show up, as that can be an indication of illness.  If you have a closed terrarium, you’ll occasionally need to open the top to permit some outside air to circulate.

At times, gnats can overrun terrariums. You can frequently manage that issue by utilizing bug sprays, avoid overwatering your plants, and use rocks and stones to stop gnats. Nonetheless, if that procedure fizzles, it’s ideal for eliminating the affected plant.

Types of vivarium

As you have already seen, a vivarium is a general term that’s used to portray a container in which animals and /or plants are kept for study or as pets. There are many different types of vivarium, as described below.


The term mossarium refers to a mini self-sustaining ecosystem in which mosses are cultivated. Mosses are rootless plants that absorb the water and nutrients that they need through their leaves. Moss typically grows in damp, shady environments with little light.

The environmental condition in the mossarium is kept moist to allow the growth of Mosses. Note that as the water evaporates, it condenses on the glass container walls, forming droplets that are absorbed by the mosses growing inside.


An oceanarium refers to a saltwater aquarium used for exhibiting marine animals and plants.


A paludarium is an ecosystem where both plants and aquatic species live. It is ideal for keeping animals, such as fish, reptiles, frogs, and salamanders.


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


As the name suggests, an insectarium is used for keeping insects for study purposes or as pets. For example, many school laboratories keep a simple insectarium containing stick insects.


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

How to choose the right terrarium

Reptile terrariums can be found in different shapes and sizes. If you intend to buy one, consider the location of the opening for easy maintenance, and also determine whether there is a false bottom. Make sure you choose a size that will allow your pet to move freely.

Note that crawling reptiles like a long ground surface area, which will allow them to get around easily. Additionally, bear in mind that a taller terrarium will enable climbing reptiles to move about on plants or other vertical accessories.

Large terrariums are ideal in instances where there may be a power outage. With a big size, the microcosm will more effectively maintain a perfect condition if the system regulating temperature and humidity fails.

Bear in mind that small terrariums are riskier since a small change to the environment will have an instant effect on the animal.

Which is better? Glass or plastic?

Glass terrariums are the favorite to many because of their transparency and wear-resistance.

Plastic terrariums fade easily during cleaning as a result of animal-induced wear.

How to set up the inside of your reptile terrarium

When setting up the inside of your reptile terrarium, consider creating the hideouts. These are crucial spots for the pets, and you can create them using natural or artificial materials, such as rocks, hollow logs, burrowing substrates, hide boxes, and many more.

Vegetation for a reptile terrarium

Plants are a key component of any reptile habitat; hence they should be given priority inside a terrarium. However, the climate inside a terrarium may not be conducive to all plants; therefore, you may use artificial plants in the habitat. The essence of artificial plants is to replicate the animal’s natural habitat and provide an excellent place for their hideout.

Tips on how to build a perfect vivarium

Here are the tips on how to build a perfect vivarium.

Clean the plants or decor before placing them in a vivarium

It is vital to clean or sterilize rocks, logs, wood, leaf litter, and anything else you’ll be using that’s able to be sterilized. Failure to sterilize can attract pests or pathogens into your vivarium, causing trouble to animals or plants.

Avoid mixing different species in a single enclosure

Mixing species can result in co-habitant aggression, pathogen transmission, and unnecessary stress. This may lead to the death of the inhabitants or the creation of unnatural hybrids. However, experienced professionals may allow for the mixing of species if the situation warrants.

Select a durable vivarium substrate

Factors, such as aeration, drainage, resistance to breaking down, and PH balance should all be considered when choosing a vivarium substrate. Avoid using soil with “organic fertilizers” because cattle or chicken manure may be pathogens carriers into your vivarium.

Design your vivarium for specific inhabitant species in mind

You should design vivariums based on the species of inhabitants you want to house.  Once you have built it, it is not advisable to house inhabitants that were not planned for. Note that each animal species is unique, and the habitat in which they are housed should reflect this.

Quarantine or test your inhabitants before adding them to a vivarium

It is vital to quarantine a newly acquired pet before you introduce it to its permanent home. This will help you ascertain that no health issues will present themselves while preventing possible contamination to other animals.

Additionally, it is advisable to let a vet conduct faecal testing for newly acquired pets even though they show no symptoms. This will ensure the animal is healthy before finishing the quarantine period.

Consult a vet in your area before acquiring animals

Keeping an exotic pet can be tricky if you don’t know how to go about it. It is recommended to consult a vet in your area for crucial information regarding the pet. Getting professional advice can make a significant difference in the long run. Before you contact a vet, find out their pricing and choose the cost-effective one. More importantly, ask about exotic visit and faecal test fees.


So, now you are informed that vivarium is any container that’s used to create a habitat in which animals, insects, and plants can be studied. A terrarium is used to house land-growing plant species and some small creatures, such as insects, frogs, snails, etc.

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