Difference between Aquarium, Terrarium, Riparium, and Paludarium?

Difference between Aquarium, Terrarium, Riparium, and Paludarium

Today we are going to clarify the difference between Aquarium, Terrarium, Riparium, and Paludarium.

It is not a secret that people often use the term “Aquarium” to describe any containers used for growing aquatic plants, land plants, or keeping any kind of animals. On the one hand, it is convenient. On the other, this approach adds a lot of confusion.

It will not be absolutely correct to say but the term ‘Aquarium’ became too broad to have meaning anymore. Today more than 100 million people worldwide have different biotopes* where they keep a wide range of plants, corals, fish, crabs, terrestrial crabs, land snails, scorpions, ants, snakes, lizards, etc.

Note: Biotop (from the Greek bios, “life” and topos, “place”.) or ‘the Habitat’ is an area of uniform environmental conditions providing a living place for a specific assemblage of plants and animals.

Obviously, all these animals and plants require different types of fauna to survive. Therefore, eventually, these different types of fauna/biotopes received their own names.

So, what is the difference between Aquarium, Terrarium, Riparium, and Paludarium?

Without further ado, let’s get started.

The difference between Aquarium, Terrarium, Riparium, and Paludarium

  Aquarium Paludarium Riparium Terrarium
Same Container Yes Yes Yes Sometimes
Environment Water Generally tropical Water Generally arid
Humidity High Normal Low
CO2 injections Sometimes Sometimes Sometimes No
Water Yes Yes Yes/Most No/Little
Land No Yes/Most Yes/Little Yes
Plants Sometimes Yes Yes Sometimes
Aquatic animals Sometimes Sometimes Sometimes No
Semi-aquatic animals No Sometimes No No
Terrestrial animals No Sometimes No Sometimes


First of all, I’d like to start off with Vivarium. The point is that Aquarium, Paludarium, Riparium, Terrarium, Florarium, Insectarium, etc. are different types of Vivarium.

A Vivarium is a Latin word (‘Vivere’’) meaning ‘To live’. Therefore, technically absolutely any enclosure for an animal or plant, designed to provide a stable environment, is a vivarium. It is basically the general term for any biotope tank.

Sometimes people use the term Vivariums to specifically describe the recreation of an ecosystem for a particular species with controlled environmental conditions on a smaller scale.

Note: I need to mention that some people do not include plants and say that vivariums are primarily for raising animals, not plants. Frankly saying, I do not agree with such an interpretation of this term. However, this is the point of personal perception and views.


Difference between Aquarium, Terrarium, Riparium, and PaludariumThe word ‘Aquarium’ was borrowed from Latin ‘Aquārium’, (neuter of aquārius) meaning ‘Pertaining to water’. Therefore, the aquarium is a tank of water in which live fish, other water creatures, and plants are kept.

So, the main features of any aquarium:
: Completely filled with water.

Animals: Fish, shrimp, aquatic crabs, crayfish, aquatic snails, etc.
Plants: Only aquatic plants.


Difference between Aquarium, Terrarium, Riparium, and PaludariumThe word ‘Terrarium’ also comes from Latin ‘Terra’ (meaning ‘Earth’) +‎ -arium (arium is a suffix occurring in nouns describing an artificial environment for plants or animals), by analogy with the aquarium.

History says that the first terrarium was accidentally created by botanist Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward in 1842 when he was studying insect behavior and left one of the jars unattended. A plant spore grew into a plant, and this jar resulted in the first terrarium in the world.

The main feature of the terrarium is a relatively dry environment with low humidity and live plants. In general, terrariums are essentially small greenhouses that replicate natural environments for the plants.

Sometimes people say that terrarium is a self-sustainable ecosystem with a living, growing plant inside a sealed container where water, plants, soil, and air combine to work through the natural processes of photosynthesis, respiration, and water cycling.

Well, it is not true.

It is important to differentiate between different types of glass enclosures. There are two types of terrarium: sealed and open. Actually, the most helpful aspect of terrariums is their front-opening door.

It will be inhumane to seal lizards, chameleons, snakes, etc. in a bottle! Glass terrariums are designed for airflow. That is why they often have screen mesh venting at the top of the container and venting at the lower portion of one of the sides, often the front.

Important: Do you know that aquariums often have a mark as terrariums because they are made of thinner glass? These ‘aquariums’ cannot handle the weight and pressure of being filled with water.

So, the main features of any terrarium:
: Completely waterless or with small bawl of water.

Animals: Land crabs, land snails, praying mantises, spiders, scorpions, ants, etc.
Plants: Only land plants. 


Difference between Aquarium, Terrarium, Riparium, and PaludariumPaludarium is also often called Aqua-terrarium. The word ‘Paludarium’ has Latin roots as well. It means Latin: palus = swamp or marsh.  It is specifically semi-aquatic.

In other words, paludarium is basically a terrarium with a body of water. This biotope has both aquatic and terrestrial features and extremely popular with aquatic enthusiasts. Paludarium allows simulating wetland or rainforest zones.

It is an enclosure for keeping aquatic, submersible, coastal, and terrestrial plants, and animals in high humidity (“swamp” conditions).

Due to the fact that the paludarium is dominated by flora with surface vegetative parts, there is no specific need for an additional supply of CO2. Plants grown emersed will have plenty of CO2 in the room air.

As a result, most aquatic plants in this variant of the vivarium grow large colored leaves that do not develop in a conventional aquarium. The stems and foliage of the plants can extend quite far beyond the surface of the water.  Often, many aquatic plants begin to bloom frequently.
Note: However, if some plants are grown underwater (submerged) then CO2 will be of great benefit.

So, the main features of any paludarium:
: Partially filled with water with high humidity.

Animals: Fish, shrimp, semi- and fully-aquatic crabs, crayfish, aquatic snails, land hermit crabs, land snails, praying mantises, spiders, scorpions, ants, etc.
Plants: Any plants. 

Read more about it in my articles “How to Set up Paludarium” and Paludarium Animals“.


Difference between Aquarium, Terrarium, Riparium, and PaludariumRiparium (from Latin riparian is translated as ‘Coastal’, ‘Bank’, or ‘Shore’) is a type of plant aquarium that is quite similar to the paludarium. However, it differs from the latter in the land area and the way flora planted.

The main goal of a riparium is to imitate a small shoreline or riverbank. Riparium does not have high and massive shores compared to paludarium. On the contrary, it has a very small piece of land at the sides of the enclosure.

In the paludarium, you can have all kinds of plants (submerged, floating, or terrestrial plants). Paludariums use a built-up hardscape to support the planting. While in riparium, the plants are usually planted in special floating containers that are attached to the rear wall of the artificial reservoir. Gradually growing, the flora covers the containers, making them hidden to the eye.

In addition, paludariums often contain aquatic turtles and various amphibians, while riparium is not suitable for these animals since there are almost no land areas in it. Riparium is best suited to keep fish, freshwater crabs, dwarf shrimp, crayfish, and snails.

Ripariums usually do not require high humidity. Therefore, they can be covered with a glass top or open to the air with no top at all. In fact, plants, which are growing out of the tank, often create the “WOW” effect.

So, the main features of any riparium:
: Almost completely filled with water.

Animals: Fish, shrimp, aquatic crabs, aquatic crayfish, aquatic snails, etc.
Plants: Any plants if there is enough land for them.

What else do We have?


Insectarium (from the Latin ‘Insectum’ – insect) – a special box (tank) made of glass or plastic designed to contain and breed insects, as well as other arthropods such as spiders, beetles, cockroaches, ants, bees, millipedes, centipedes, crickets, grasshoppers, stick insects, scorpions, and mantids.

Basically, Insectarium is another type of vivarium. The largest insectarium in the world is the Montreal insectarium, founded in 1990 by Canadian entomologist Georges Brossard.

Note: In my opinion, there is no real difference between an insectarium and a closed terrarium. The only feature is the type of animals kept there, for example, you will not see reptiles there.


Difference between Aquarium, Terrarium, Riparium, and PaludariumFormicarium (from the Latin. Formic – Ant) is also commonly referred to as an “Ant farm”. This is a type of vivarium that consists of ant colonies (nests). The plural form of formicarium is formicaria.

You will be surprised to know how many people in the world keep ant empires!
In the early 1900s, a French engineer Charles Janet made the very first ant formicarium to observe and study the ants. His concept of the 2D ant nest lays in the origins of a hobby.


Difference between Aquarium, Terrarium, Riparium, and PaludariumThe word ‘Mossarium’ was created by analogy with all the above-mentioned types of vivariums. Basically, it is a clear enclosure used to grow specifically moss or ‘A container of moss’. In addition, there are also three types of Mossarium: moss-terrarium, moss-aquarium, or moss-paludarium. There is no need to explain why they are called this way, right?

In Conclusion

The difference between Aquarium, Terrarium, Riparium, and Paludarium lies in the way all these types of vivarium are created. However, the easiest way is to look at the amount of water in the enclosure.

Aquarium – 100%, Riparium – 90 %, and more, Paludarium – 10-90% (more or less), Terrarium – almost no water at all.

Related Articles:

Do Bugs Make Good Pets?
Paludarium plants
How to Set up Paludarium

25 thoughts on “Difference between Aquarium, Terrarium, Riparium, and Paludarium?

  1. Thank you for the very informative post! This subject has been driving me batty! Excellent!

    1. Hi S A S,
      I am glad that it helped you 🙂
      Best regards,

      1. With the mossarium, I’ve seen where moss is shredded/blend with yogurt and smeared on objects – wood, ceramics, ect. and the moss grows.

  2. Well Prepared informative notes. Surely it motivates me to have any one terrarium in our home.

    1. Hi Arnold,
      Thank you so much for the lovely feedback. I am glad I was able to help 🙂
      Best regards,

  3. Thanks for the tip that I have to make sure that the humidity is low when setting up a terrarium. I’m thinking about browsing for plastic terrariums soon because I’d like to keep a reptile as a pet someday. Knowing which kinds of lizards would be best for my lifestyle will also help determine the size I should go for when setting up a terrarium.

    1. Hi Alice Carroll,
      I’d love to help you but I haven’t kept lizards yet. Sorry.
      Best regards,

  4. Thats just amazing, we were unknowingly referring most of them as vivarium. Now we updated our content likewise.

  5. I’m a bit of a procrastinator, but I’m so glad I took my time on this one. I’ve been contemplating using a 200 gallon aquarium tank as another form of vivarium since our python grew too large (requiring a new custom built habitat. But that was 3 years ago, and I’ve been “researching” all this time which types of plants I wanted to grow and what it takes to build the proper environment. Now that I have a better understanding of the environmental differences, I can make more appropriate choices of plant types that will have a better chance for success (given my “beginner” status).

    Okay, so my question now is since I’ve noticed a long upward crack in the rear glass panel that looks like my husband sealed with rubber or epoxy glue???, is my tank at all usable? Or, should I just chuck it and get another?

    1. Hi RobinW,
      I would not rick to fill it with water but you can definitely use it as a terrarium or paludarium.
      In these setups, there should not be pressure on the cracked glass.
      Best regards,

  6. Very well written, easy to understand, and so informative. Thank you

  7. Why would an aquarium have aquatic animals sometimes? Wouldn’t that always be the case? Not sure what’s missing there..

    1. Hi Bill,
      You might be surprised but some people do not keep animals in the aquariumsand prefer to have plant-only tanks.
      Best regards,

  8. Encyclopedia 🤓✌🏻….
    I used this data to prepare for my interview as I mentioned my hobby as fish keeping in DAF…

    1. Hi Tejas Prince,
      I am glad you found it useful 🙂
      Best regards,

    1. Hi Jendav,
      I am glad you liked it 🙂
      Best regards,

  9. i am officially in a rabbit hole! guppy fish and neon tetras, amano shrimp, hmm, maybe a cherry shrimp, there’s red blue yellow and oh, there’s a bee shrimp, wait, the crystals look nice, maybe i’ll get a java fern to go with my marimo moss ball, oh, i like the spike of the vals, what is that red plant? hmm the 1-2 cups are not cheap, maybe get stems, easier, i dream of red root floaters, wait what, there’s snails, what do they like to eat? flakes, brines, worms.. too much water, maybe i get a bowl, wait, a jar, a vase? maybe not too hard…vivarium?… what in the world! all the riums!!! i have a problem and i have never had the best time in my life. I AM HAPPY. MICHAEL, THANK YOU FOR THE INFORMATION. THANK YOU ALL!

    1. Hi mama Liza,
      You are welcome 🙂
      I hope you will find my site useful. I do my best!
      Best regards,

  10. So, what do you call a container for slugs and snails? I’m pretty sure I’ve heard of a specific name, but I can’t find it.

    1. Hi NK,
      Honestly, I don’t remember any specific term for this. Among all animals, perhaps only crabs are an exception, we commonly call it ‘crabitats.’ In all other cases, we usually refer to the type of biotope, depending on what kind of snail it is, for example, an aquarium, paludarium, or terrarium.
      Best regards,

  11. i randomly searched up the difference between all these types of vivariums (new word you just taught me) and this popped up – exactly what i was looking for! thank you!

    and yes im gonna use a random email for this mb

    1. Hi Random user,
      I’m glad to hear that you found the article helpful! 🙂
      Best regards,

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