How to Choose a Vivarium or Tropical Terrarium

Keeping reptiles and amphibians in living terrariums has rapidly increased in popularity over the last decade. A cage that combines live plants and animals together looks attractive and may be beneficial for certain species. This article is about helping you know what to look for in the different types of terrariums and vivariums available and the types of things that you should consider adding to your terrarium. Once you have worked out these things, purchase them and then proceed to our article on how to set up a vivarium.


  1. Image titled Choose a Vivarium or Tropical Terrarium Step 1
    Consider the need for constant humidity. Look for a terrarium that ensures this. To create constant humidity that you have to make a setup like the one in this image, with hydrogen clay pellets and a screen with the substrate on top of it so that when you pour too much water, it will all go down to the pellets and trap the water to make constant humidity.
  2. Image titled Choose a Vivarium or Tropical Terrarium Step 2
    Make sure that the terrarium is waterproof. Tropical terrariums are moist, and it’s important that the bottom portion of the cage is waterproof so that excess water does not leak out.
    • Standard glass or acrylic aquariums work well and are widely available.
    • Specialty reptile tanks with sliding or hinged front doors also are a good choice. They work particularly well for terrariums that house skittish animals which may be frightened by a hand entering from above like with a standard glass aquarium.
  3. Image titled Choose a Vivarium or Tropical Terrarium Step 3
    Realize that the size of the cage that is used will limit what types of plants are used and what features can be included inside the terrarium. Larger enclosures are preferred, because they provide you with more options.
  4. Image titled Choose a Vivarium or Tropical Terrarium Step 4
    Consider adding cork bark. Cork bark forms an attractive background to which epiphytic plants can be attached. Bark flats are sold at many pet stores. One of the best qualities of cork bark is that it is waterproof and last a long time in moist conditions. Natural cork bark flats are usually curved to some degree and leave a small gap between the middle of each piece of bark and the glass. This empty space should be filled with soil or gravel to prevent animals in the cage from becoming trapped between the glass and the bark.
    • Alternatively, pressed cork bark panels can be purchased from specialty terrarium supply companies which are completely flat and won’t leave a gap between the glass and the bark.
  5. Image titled Choose a Vivarium or Tropical Terrarium Step 5
    Ensure that drainage will be adequate in your choice of terrarium and soil/bedding. Tropical terrariums will last longer if a drainage area is created below the soil or bedding so that extra water can drain through the soil into a reservoir. Without this drainage area most soils become waterlogged quickly and will need to be changed often, disturbing the biological cycles that occur within. The drainage area can be created a number of ways:
    • Gravel is cheap and can be purchased at almost all pet stores. Using 2 or 3 inches (5 cm to 7.5 cm) of medium to large gravel beneath the soil is an easy way to create a drainage area. Unfortunately, gravel isn’t practical to use in all situations because it is heavy.
    • In large terrariums it’s generally best to use a lighter substrate beneath the soil. LECA (lightweight expanded clay aggregate) is an excellent substitution for gravel. It can be purchased through some garden centers and hydroponics supply stores in the United States under the brand name Hydroton.
    • A false bottom is also a good way to provide a lightweight drainage area. Over the drainage area a layer of fiberglass window screening can be placed so that the soil does not slowly fall below into the water.
  6. Image titled Choose a Vivarium or Tropical Terrarium Step 6
    Consider which live plants you will add. Live plants make terrariums what they are. They add a dimension of life and color that can’t be replicated with artificial plants. Different types of plants require different environments to live in just like animals Epiphytic plants can be grown on backgrounds or pieces of wood in the cage to create an arboreal area for small animals to climb


  • The exo terra glass cage is a good tank.


  • Always remember when mixing different species that it may be dangerous. Make sure to research what can be mixed.

Things You'll Need

  • live plants
  • Cork Bark
  • Vivarium/Terrarium
  • Substrate

Article Info

Categories: Amphibian