What Is A Terrarium?

What is a Terrarium or Vivarium?

Terrariums are enclosed glass or plastic containers which are designed to create a micro climate suitable for plants, typically. The term vivarium refers to a terrarium which is set up with animals in mind, and generally will house one or several of any number of species of smaller reptiles and amphibians.

Terrariums can be simple boxes, such as a fish aquarium with a glass lid on it, but they can also be very complex large constructions which take months or years to build and cost thousands of dollars. Some terrariums are controlled by computers, which along with additional equipment might simulate random thunderstorms in the tank, complete with thunder and lighting! If you have been to a zoo with large naturalistic enclosures for their reptiles and amphibians, you have seen a large vivarium.

A Few Notes on the history of Terrariums and Vivariums

The terrarium as we know it can be traced to the early eighteen hundreds, when simple glass containers began to be used to house plants, such as ferns and orchids, which otherwise had proven very difficult or impossible to keep alive. These “miniature greenhouses” protected the plants from the pollution that was pervasive in London during this time, and also allowed a higher humidity, and more stable temperatures. They became known as “Wardian cases” for Dr. Nathanial Ward, the man who seems to have been the first to develop them. Throughout the last half of the 1800's they became very popular with the upper classes of Victorian England, and to a lesser extent in the US.

At that time, as well as today, terrariums serve to bring a little bit of nature into our homes. Many people find great enjoyment and comfort in keeping tropical plants in a simple terrarium, while others go for more elaborate terrariums with orchids, carnivorous plants, or African violets.

Many terrarium keepers focus their interest on rain forest plants and animals, and the environment of the tropical forest is almost impossible to duplicate in our homes with out a terrarium or vivarium. For instance, some people have an interest in tiny orchids, epiphytic (growing on trees or other vegetation, without soil) little gems from the tropical forests of Central America, and create an orchid terrarium, or orchidarium. Others go in a different direction by housing dart frogs, tree frogs or a variety of smaller reptiles along with their terrarium plants. With a combination of good quality lighting, fans for ventilation, and misting systems, its possible to almost duplicate Mother Nature!

The recent history of terrariums, and more particularly vivariums, is closely interwoven with the history of the reptile and amphibian hobby in this country and Europe. European dart frog keepers were building large and elaborate terrariums in the 1970s, possibly earlier, and some hobbyists in the US followed suit, although the terrarium hobby has always been quite a bit further advanced in Europe than the US.
But the popularity of terrariums in the US is certainly on the rise. In recent years there have been some significant advances in the products available for the terrarium hobbyist, in particular compact fluorescent lighting has really been a great advance for smaller tanks, in the past you were quite limited on lighting for small and mid size terrariums. That combined with major advances in our knowledge regarding the care of many of these reptiles and amphibians has resulted in a surge of interest in keeping a little bit of nature in our homes!

Saurian Enterprises offers a variety of products oriented towards allowing you to build your own terrarium, as well as offering custom fabrication of larger terrariums for home and offices, zoos and museums. Please browse through the following pages for more information, or look over the selections in our terrarium supply area of the store!