Terrarium Vs Aquarium Vs Vivarium

Most people are familiar with the use of the term aquarium as another word for a fish tank. But what is a nursery? And what is a terrarium? To show you the crucial differences between a terrarium and an aquarium, we have compiled this informative article.

In this guide, we explain the differences and similarities between a terrarium, an aquarium, and a vivarium, as well as show you how you could incorporate one of these various mini-ecosystems into your home.

Quick Comparison Chart

Here is a comparison chart illustrating aquarium, terrarium, and vivarium inhabitants in general.

Health problem Aquarium Nursery terrarium
same container Yes Sometimes Sometimes
Ambient Water Varied generally arid
Humidity Varied Bass
CO2 injections Sometimes Sometimes Nope
Water Yes Sometimes no / little
Land Nope Sometimes Yes
Floors Sometimes Sometimes Sometimes
Aquatic animals Sometimes Sometimes Nope
semi-aquatic animals Nope Sometimes Nope
Land animals Nope Sometimes Sometimes

What is a nursery?

According to the RAE dictionary, the term «nursery» is defined as:

Place where fish, molluscs or other animals are kept or raised in the water.

Nurseries come in many different forms and are named according to the kind of habitat they provide and the kind of creatures that live in the environment. These biotopes are used to house fish, corals, crustaceans, reptiles, plants and amphibians, and each of them has its own name.

What is a terrarium?

The term «terrarium» comes from the Latin word «Terra», which in our language would be «earth». The suffix «arium» is applied to any noun that describes an artificially developed habitat in which plants or animals are sustained. For example, you can see that the word «aquarium» precisely means a habitat that has water (aqua) inside it, so it will be used to house aquatic creatures and plants.

accidental discovery

According to historical records, the first terrarium was created by accident in 1842 by renowned botanist Nathaniel Bagshaw, an English physician.

Dr. Bagshaw was studying the behavior of insects and kept his samples in glass jars. He left one of the jars unattended, with the result that a random plant spore germinated and grew into a plant. That jar became the world’s first terrarium!

terrarium environment

A terrarium is eminently a dry environment with little humidity that has live plants inside. In essence, a terrarium is a small greenhouse that reproduces the natural environment and habitat of plants. Terrariums can also be used to hold some species of animals.

There are two types of terrariums; sealed and open.

sealed terrariums

A sealed terrarium should only be used for plants. A sealed glass container is a self-sustaining ecosystem where living plants, growing medium, air, and water work together through the water period, photosynthesis, and respiration. Mentioning the above, a terrarium has a door that opens, which leaves the care at the moment it is required.

Please note that it is only possible to grow terrestrial plants in a terrarium.

open terrariums

Terrariums are sometimes used to house small land animals, such as lizards and the like. These types of containers require airflow, so they are usually outfitted with a mesh ventilation panel at the top and often at the bottom of the sides as well.

The animal species that are usually in a terrarium contain land snails, land crabs, spiders, ants, lizards, praying mantises and scorpions.

Can a terrarium be used as an aquarium?

If you plan to set up an aquarium from scratch, be very careful that you don’t purchase a terrarium by mistake. Some terrariums may look like a classic glass fish bowl or fish tank, but are often made of much narrower glass and are not designed to withstand the pressure and weight of the water and substrate.

How to maintain a terrarium

Terrariums generally require little care, other than a small amount of care is needed to support healthy plants inside.

Cut back tall growth to keep the terrarium from becoming cluttered and suppress any brassy and yellow leaves that appear, as they have the potential to be a sign of pathology or pest infestation. If you have a closed terrarium, you will need to occasionally remove the lid to allow some clean air to circulate.

Occasionally, gnats or mealybugs have the potential to infest terrariums. You can often deal with that by using insecticides, avoiding overwatering your plants, and using rocks and pebbles to deter mosquitoes. However, if that strategy fails, it is preferable to remove the affected plant.

What is an aquarium?

An aquarium is the apt term used to describe a container made of glass, acrylic or plastic that is used to house fish, corals, sponges, invertebrates and aquatic plants.

Modern aquariums are outfitted with a filtration system to keep the water clean and free of harmful toxins, a heater to keep the water fiery for tropical fish, and a lighting unit to encourage the development of live plants.

Who invented the aquarium?

The first aquariums are believed to have been seen in the mid-18th century in England, where glass bowls were used to hold goldfish imported from the Orient. But it was almost a hundred years later that fish farmers understood more about how to maintain a healthy closed ecosystem that was home to fish and aquatic plants.

The first recognizable glass aquarium was created in 1832 by a French naturalist. Jeanne Villepreux-Power. However, before the carefully designed aquarium became commonplace in homes, large display aquariums were created as exhibits open to the public. Many large cities around the world followed the example of Regent’s Park Aquarium in London, England, which opened in 1853.

Famous circus owner PT Barnum opened the first US exhibit aquarium in 1856 at the American Museum in New York City. The fish-keeping gates were opened, and before World War II, there were 45 public aquariums in cities around the world.

How to keep an aquarium

Even a small nano aquarium needs regular care to maintain a safe and healthy environment for the fish and other creatures that live there.

Each week, you will need to shed up to 25% of the water in the tank and vacuum the aquarium gravel to remove fish waste, uneaten food, and general detritus. If you have live plants in your setup, they will need to be trimmed and tidied up to prevent overgrowth. And once a month or so, you’ll need to rinse the filter media in the tank water to remove the sludge that would otherwise clog the filter.

Differences between terrariums and aquariums

So, there are a number of important differences between terrariums and aquariums:


Terrariums are generally made of glass. Aquariums can be made of glass, plastic or acrylic.

Crucially, glass used in aquarium construction is stronger than glass used to create terrariums, as it must withstand the pressure and weight of water, substrate, etc. inland. Consequently, aquariums are generally heavier and less portable than terrariums.


Terrariums can be bowl-shaped, multi-sided, square, or rectangular. Aquariums are generally bowl-shaped, rectangular, cuboid, arch-fronted, and multi-sided, and are often taller than terrariums.


Terrariums are often open to the front, allowing air to circulate around the plants and providing access for maintenance. However, some terrariums are enclosed, and those that contain creatures, such as spiders, lizards, and the like, are enclosed with mesh inserts to allow air circulation and prevent occupants from escaping.

Aquariums are often completely enclosed to prevent water evaporation, keep residents safe inside, and prevent dust and debris from falling into the water.


Because terrariums are not designed to hold water, they are not sealed. Aquariums must be properly sealed and completely waterproof to prevent leaks and cracks.

Other types of nurseries

So, you’ve learned that a vivarium is a general term used to describe a container in which animals or plants are kept for study or as pets. In addition to aquariums and terrariums, there are many other types of vivariums, each with its own name:


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

Mossarium is the name given to a self-sufficient mini-ecosystem in which mosses are grown. The environment inside the mosario is kept humid. As the water evaporates, it condenses on the walls of the glass container, forming droplets that are absorbed by the mosses that grow inside.


An oceanarium is a saltwater aquarium used to display sea 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, mudhoppers, and the like.


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


As you may have guessed, an insectary is used to keep insects for study purposes or as pets. For example, many school science labs maintain a simple insectary containing stick insects.


A formicarium is a nursery used to house ant colonies.


Again, you guessed it! A penguinarium is a nursery designed to simulate the natural environment of penguins.


A dolphinarium is an aquarium where dolphins are kept, often as part of an oceanarium complex.

In conclusion

So now you know that a vivarium is any container used to create a habitat in which animals, insects, and plants can be studied. A terrarium is used to house plant species that grow on the ground and some small creatures, such as insects, frogs, snails, and the like. And an aquarium is a waterproof vivarium that contains fish, aquatic creatures, and plants.

I hope you enjoyed our guide and learned a lot! If you did, remember to share this article with your friends and feel free to share your thoughts in the comment box below.

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