In the world of pets, the suffix -arium pops up a lot. Terrarium, vivarium, and aquarium are just some of the more common ones but there are many more.
Each of these ariums is home to living things but each requires different materials and care. Because it can be a bit dizzying to sort out what’s what, we’ve come up with a quick guide to help you keep things straight. Or at least as straight as possible.
To help ease you in, let’s start with some of the easier ariums you should know about. Then we’ll move on to the difference between terrariums and vivariums.
Aquariums are the most well-known arium. These habitats are completely filled with water – hence the root “aqua”, which is Latin for water.
Aquariums are used to raise animals that live in water, such as saltwater and freshwater fish, as well as crustaceans.
Unlike many other ariums, aquariums have large openings at the top that are often covered with a hood. This design helps keep the water in place, prevents temperature fluctuations, reduces evaporation, and stops fish from jumping out. The large opening also plays a role in oxygenating the water, as the water’s surface is how oxygen enters your tank.
While aquariums may seem like perfectly acceptable homes for land-dwelling and semi-aquatic creatures, this is often not the case. Especially for reptiles and amphibians.
You see, most reptiles and amphibians have a non-visual third eye on the top of their head that senses changes in light. This eye allows reptiles to manage their sun exposure but there’s another more important purpose …
In the wild, the third eye helps detect predators that sneak up on them from above. This early warning system gives them a chance to react and escape sooner.
Aquariums will force you to pick up your pet from above, causing their natural instincts to kick in. This can unnecessarily stress your pet out. Not to mention, there’s always a risk of tipping the habitat when reaching in through the top.
In addition, if your enclosure came with an aquarium hood, you’ll have to invest in a screen lid and proper lighting to replace it. You’ll also have to ensure this lid is secured in place, otherwise, your pet could escape. And even then, you miss out on the additional ventilation built into other types of ariums that we’re going to talk about below.
The next arium we’re going to talk to you about is a paludarium.
Paludariums are newer to the pet scene and have only become popular in more recent years.
The root of paludarium is “palus,” which is Latin for swamp or marsh. So it only makes sense that a paludarium is a habitat with both earth and aquatic elements that resembles exactly that – a swamp or marsh.
Paludariums are roughly 80% land and 20% water and often have a water feature like a waterfall. They’re used to house semi-aquatic creatures that spend their time both on land and in the water. This includes salamanders, newts, frogs, and toads, as well as Chinese water dragons, crested geckos, green anoles, and garter snakes.
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While you could use an aquarium for your paludarium, most use enclosures that open from the front. This makes it easier to tend to the space and eliminates the need to reach down into the enclosure to grab your pet from above.
To accommodate all of the dirt, sand, water, and other materials, there’s usually a solid piece of glass along the lower front portion of the enclosure. This can vary in depth from one enclosure to the next. The more substrate or water you plan on having in your enclosure, the deeper this should be. The doors will be above this section, with a ventilation strip between the two or improved air circulation.
Ripariums are like paludariums, in that they have both earth and aquatic elements. But in a riparium, water has a more prominent role and there’s only a small piece of land. (Roughly 20% land and 80% water.)
That’s because “riparius” is Latin for coastal, riverbank, or shore. As such, the environment within a riparium best resembles these locations. This makes these habitats perfect for animals like Crayfish, snails, freshwater crabs, dwarf shrimp, axolotls and guppies, as well as some species of frogs and salamanders.
Because there’s more water in ripariums, many people use enclosures with openings at the top of the tanks.
As you have likely already figured out, insectariums are used to raise insects, spiders, worms, and other bugs. This includes pets like beetles, spiders, and stick bugs. But they’re also used to house and raise feeder bugs like crickets and caterpillars.
Insects, like isopods and springtails, are sometimes found in other habitats, such as terrariums (which we will talk about in a second). But in these habitats, the insects have a secondary role – they help create a self-sustaining environment by cleaning, adding nutrients or controlling pests that aren’t supposed to be there.
This means that those habitats aren’t insectariums. To be an insectarium, the habitat should prioritize the health and survival of the insect or invertebrate living there.
Insectariums come in many shapes and sizes to accommodate different types of bugs.
Vivariums Vs Terrariums
As promised, it’s time to look at vivariums and terrariums.
These two come up a lot for us because they’re commonly associated with reptiles. (And we love reptiles!)
But vivariums and terrariums are also the most confusing of all the habitats and are often the topic of regular debate.
So let’s dive in and see if we can add some clarity …
Continuing with our lessons in Latin, the root of vivarium is “vivus”, which means alive. This leads us to our first point of contention and confusion.
To some “alive” specifically refers only to animals. For others, it refers to all living things, including plants. For the purpose of the article, we’re going to go with the common dictionary definition, which refers to habitats used to raise and keep animals, not plants. (This helps simplify the situation, though it may not be enough to win a heated debate.)
So, a vivarium is a habitat for an animal. They’re generally enclosed and provide a semi-natural, stable, controlled environment.
Aquariums, paludarium, and the other ariums that we’ve talked about today are also vivariums. They're just optimized for specific biomes. An aquarium is a vivarium with a water environment, a paludarium is a vivarium with a marshy habitat, etc.
While plants can be grown in a vivarium to help create a more natural environment for your pet, vivariums optimize the environment for the animals living there.
If your habitat is designed for plants to thrive, you have a terrarium, which we’ll talk about next.
Terrariums became popular in Victorian times but have picked up more traction over the past few years.
The Latin root of terrarium is “Terra,” which means earth in Latin. That means that a terrarium should be dominated by land. There are no water features in a true terrarium, though they usually need to be watered to thrive.
Terrariums are like mini greenhouses. They were traditionally used to house plants and plants only. (Though, as we mentioned in the insectarium section, they sometimes have bugs to help create a self-sustaining environment.)
Vivariums & Terrariums In The Reptile World
Here’s where things get even more complicated (sorry) …
In the pet world, vivariums and terrariums both refer to houses for reptiles. Though, depending on who you talk to, the purpose of each can change.
Some believe that a terrarium is for reptiles that need a warmer or more arid climate while vivariums are for more humid environments with soil substrate and oftentimes living plants.
Others believe the complete opposite – vivariums are homes for reptiles that live in arid climates while terrariums are glass enclosures designed for more tropical reptiles.
You see why it can all get a bit overwhelming.
The good news is, many pet suppliers have chosen to call all reptile habitats terrariums. This helps simplify the buying process for many people, especially those who are new to owning reptiles.
Before we talk about when you do (and don’t) need to worry about using the right arium, let’s look at a few final habitats.
There are lots of other ariums you may come across in your lifetime. Many of these have nothing to do with keeping pets (like a mossarium, which houses moss). But there are some other ariums that you may see in the pet world.
Here are some other common ariums related to reptiles, amphibians, bugs, and other living things:
Formicarium - ant farm
Florarium - for plants, synonymous with plant terrariums
Faunarium - coined by Exo Terra, a faunarium is a plastic terrarium for transport, temporary housing, or quarantining of reptiles, amphibians, mice, and insects
Herpetarium - exhibition space for reptiles and amphibians; often found in zoos
Serpentarium - an enclosure for snakes, usually for the purpose of an exhibition at a zoo or reptile park
The Importance Of Using The Right Atrium
While knowing the proper name for your pet’s enclosure can help with research, it’s not the end of the world if you get them a little mixed up.
At the end of the day, the word you use is less important. What IS important is how you set up your habitat to ensure that your pet is comfortable and healthy.
A snake has different needs than a lizard; a bearded dragon has different needs than a crested gecko. So, when looking for a habitat to house your new pet, be sure to research the specific species you plan on buying. This will tell you what their habitat requires.
From there you can begin your search for the proper elements. And, of course, you can always seek help from local experts if you’re still finding it difficult to build the perfect habitat.