What is a terrarium? An introduction to terrarium basics

A terrarium is an enclosed space that is home to a particular type of plant or animal, or a simulation of a particular type of ecosystem.  The word “terrarium” actually means “dry environment that requires little moisture.”  So, making terrariums is a great hobby for people who love nature but perhaps may not be the best with plants. Terrariums get by just fine with very little care, and are usually fairly close to being self-sustaining.

A terrarium case made by Exo Terra

A terrarium case made by Exo Terra

Terrariums are a kind of vivarium, just like insectariums and aquariums.  One reason that building a terrarium is gratifying is that terrariums can have tons of variation!  They can contain carnivorous plants, desert plants, mosses and lichens, and can even be completely lifeless.  Animals that are adapted to life in a terrarium include salamanders, snakes, tarantulas. Terrariums are ideal for both children and adults, and there is an active online community solely for help with construction for showing off your creations.  The only thing limiting you and your terrariums is your imagination.

Although there is no one right way to build a terrarium, you will need a handful of basic supplies.  First, find a container (glass containers are more popular) with openings for watering, ventilation and feeding as necessary.  Because terrariums are almost completely enclosed, you’ll need to a base layer of drainage material in your container, such as activated charcoal or pebbles.  You also need a suitable soil for your plants, should you decide to include some.

Tiny terrarium made in a lightbulb

Tiny terrarium made in a lightbulb - Flickr user jennerosity

Lastly, keep in mind the needs of every living thing that will call your terrarium home.  For example, snakes need space to bask, and maybe a light source, while newts and salamanders need a space with moisture and hiding places with cool temperatures.  At the same time, many varieties of plants can be good terrarium inhabitants individually, but cannot coexist in the same space due to incompatible soil requirements.

Have fun imagining and creating your terrarium, and remember there are countless online resources for help and inspiration.

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