What is a vararium? A vararium is an enclosed structure for the purpose of studying animals or plants. Personally I am against the keeping of animals in enclosed structures. I believe it to be cruel and inhumane; if the animal does not have the room to carry out all its daily requirements that are so necessary for wellbeing and happiness in the wild. In saying that many insects thrive in vivaria.

Let’s look at some of the common types of vararium animals.

The amphibarium simulates a water habitat for frogs . They imitate a river, a lake, a swamp or a sea habitat. They represent a wallum with a small submerged area for reproduction. Plants on the land will use some carbon dioxide within the system, and will provide areas for the frogs to hide, forage and copulate. It should be noted that many frogs are cannibalistic and these species should be kept separated.

The aquarium simulates a water habitat for fish. They imitate a river, a lake, a swamp or a sea habitat. They represent the submerged area of these natural habitats. Plants in the water will use some nitrogen and carbon dioxide present within the system, and will provide areas for organisms like fish to hide, forage and breed.

The arachniarium simulates a dry often barren habitat for spiders . They imitate tree trunks or open spaced habitats. They can represent a forest a rock wall, a rockery, open space habitats or holes in the ground. Plants on will utilize most or all the carbon dioxide within the system, and will provide areas for the spiders to hide, forage and copulate. It should be noted that most spiders are cannibalistic especially the larger females and these species should be kept separated.

The formicarium simulates a dry often barren habitat for ants to colonize . They can imitate a tree trunk, holes in the ground or even rocks and crevices. Plants on will utilize most of the carbon dioxide and formaldehyde within the system, and will provide areas for the ants to hide, forage and store their excess food.

The faunarium or insectarium simulates many types of habitats for insects to colonizes , pupate and copulate. They can imitate a tree trunk, holes in the ground, rockeries and crevices mimicking tropical under stories to deserts. Plants will use some to most of the carbon dioxide within the system, and will provide areas for the insects to hide, forage and store their excess food. A faunarium differs in that it usually is used to raise insects as food for another animal. It should be noted that some insect specie are cannibalistic and should be kept separated.

The paludarium simulates a semi aquatic enclosure simulating a rain forest , swamp , wallum or other wetland environment. It also can be seen as an aquarium interconnected with a terrarium, having both the underwater area as well as the shoreline. They are often used to grow small terrestrial orchids and or carnivorous plants.

The riparium simulates a system that recreates the moist habitats found along the edges of lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, creeks or rivulets. This zone hosts marginal plants, which are rooted in the saturated soil at the edge of the water, but hold their leaves up in the air. Riparia have a significant land portion. They encourage mainly epiphytic or lithophytic plants which are either attached to tree trunks or float on the water’s surface.

The terrarium is used to house plants only or reptiles. It simulates a dry habitat like a desert or savannah scene compared to the paludarium or riparium. A terrarium can also be formed to create a temperate woodland habitat, and even a dry rainforest like habitat. This can be created with pebbles, leaf litter and soil. By misting the terrarium, a natural water cycle occurs within the environment by condensation forming on the lid causing precipitation. Many kinds of plants are suitable for these habitats including native Violets and most succulents.

Setting up the vivarium

Lighting: A lighting system is necessary and has to be adapted to the requirements of the animal and or plant species being raised or grown. For example, certain reptiles in their natural environment need to heat themselves by the sun, so various bulbs may be necessary to simulate this in a terrarium.

Diurnal animals require a source of Ultra Violate light synthesize vitamin D for the assimilation of calcium for bone construction. This UV light can be provided by specialized fluorescent tubes or daylight bulbs recreate the reptile’s natural environment.

A day/night timer may be needed to simulate the alternation of day and night. The duration of the simulated day and night depends on the conditions in the natural habitat of the species and the season desired.

Temperature: The temperature can be a very important parameter particularly for that specie that have adapt to very specific conditions in their natural habitat.

Heating can be provided by several means, all of which are usually controlled by a thermostat. These include heating lamps or infrared lamps, hot plates and heat mats, providing heat at the base or sides of a terrarium, heating cords or heat mats placed beneath the substrate or heat rocks . Many plants and animals need the equipment that generates or produces warm or cold air to the inside of the vivarium.

Similar to lighting, a decrease in temperature might be needed for the simulated night periods, thus keeping living species healthy. Such variation need to be coherent to those found in the natural habitats of the species. Thermo-control systems are often used to regulate light cycles and heating, as well as humidity (coupled to built-in misting or rain systems). Light-dependent resistors or photo-diodes connected to the lighting are frequently used to simulate daytime, evening and nighttime light cycles, as well as timers to switch lighting and heating on and off when necessary.

Humidity: Following the temperature control many plants and animals have limited tolerance to the variation in soil and air moisture.

The regulation of humidity can be achieved by regular water pulverization, water evaporation inside, from a basin, or circulation of water, automated pulverization systems and humidifiers

Ventilation and openings: Access to the inside of the vivarium is required for the purpose of maintenance. Cleanliness is paramount for vivarium plants and animals in order to maintaining health, vigor and reproduction cycles. It is also important to have access to feeding stations. In the case of many small animals; vivaria that open from the front is far more preferable because accessing a vivaria from the top is associated with the presence of predators and will cause unnecessary stress to the animal. I see this daily as I add food scraps to my open insectariums and the small vinegar flies swarm in all directions to escape. Shortly afterwards they all return to the safety of the vivarium and permanent sweet food supply. (P.S. My wife thinks I am crazy keeping the vinegar flies but they maintain the health of the small composting station indoors for my indoor plants.)

Ventilation is not just important for circulating air, but also for preventing the growth of mold and development and spread of harmful bacteria. This is especially important in warm, humid vivarium. The traditional method consists of placing a suction fan and ventilation slits for very low level continual air circulation of fresh air.

Making a Successful Terrarium

1. Selecting a container that is right takes some thought. This is one of the most important aspects of a terrarium. Browse through the local nursery, home improvement store or second hand shop and look for something that is dramatic or different. It could be anything that will hold soil and water. Think outside the box or should I say rectangle aquarium. Wine bottles look good but are difficult or should I say challenging to plant up and maintenance is almost impossible should an algae bloom begin.

2. Select 3, 5 or 7 different plants of equal size making sure you have a variety of leaf shapes. Think leaves, think broad leaves. Think color and texture of the leaves along with your decor. Think small as you do not want rainforest giants breaking out of their containers and they will quickly outgrow their terrarium. This is especially true when it comes to selecting ferns as they cannot be pruned to maintain a small size satisfactorily. As you are browsing for your plants place them side by side to see what they will look like in an arrangement. Does it look attractive? Do the plants compliment each other? Move the pots around and look for attractive arrangements.

It may be possible to grow almost anything in a terrarium the right plant is critical. It is important to select plants that will thrive in the type of terrarium you are creating. If you are making a closed terrarium, choose plants that like to be moist. Also make sure to choose plants for the amount of light they will be exposed to. Low or medium light plants generally work best, but make sure if you get a medium light plant, you are actually giving it that light level.

Succulents generally thrive in high light, low moisture environments that are relatively cold to relatively hot. If you put them in a closed terrarium you are asking for trouble. You can solve this dilemma by simply creating an open glass saucer garden without a top. Deep saucers in fact make wonderful terrarium for succulents.

Materials to Purchase

1. So now we have our container.

2. Our plants are sitting on the work bench or kitchen table on wet days which always raises the ire of my wife.

3. 1 bag of potting soil.

4. 1 small bag of stones for the bottom of the terrarium. You can select small stones the size of marbles from your backyard or along the road and save a bit of money.

Making the humid Terrarium:

1. Place a20mm to 25mm layer of stones in the bottom of your terrarium

2. Fill the container about one third to half with the potting soil which has previously had about 10% fresh compost mixed in.

3. Remove the plants from their plastic tubes and arrange them in your terrarium. Move this arrangement around looking for something that pleases you.

4. Once you have found an arrangement you like fill the rest of the container with potting soil and gently tap it down so it is firm and the plants are supported.

5. Gently water with half strength of seaweed or fish emulsion solution so the mix is moist not wet.

6. Place the terrarium in a place with moderate or occasional sunlight. Too much light will cause algal blooms among the stones at the bottom. This is a real balancing act to get right

To add further interest you could add a 30mm layer of Sphagnum Moss over the surface. The Sphagnum Moss will turn green and add like the plants will grow and thrive. The Sphagnum Moss also has the advantage of being an anti bactericide and algaecide which will assist in suppressing algal blooms.

Caring for your terrarium:

A terrarium is really easy to care for. Check on it every day and stick your finger in the soil. If it is dry then water it. Examine the bottom of the terrarium. If there is water among the stones then you should not water it for a few days.

Too much light It is easy to roast plants living in terrariums. The glass can act like a magnifying glass and burn your plants. Temperatures can get really hot inside your jar and before you know it; your terrarium can get as hot as a sauna. Most plants just can’t take this kind of heat, so it is best to keep terrariums out of direct sun. This will also help to suppress algal blooms.

Too little light All plants need some light to survive. There are lots of great low light plants. Use grow lights or fluorescent lights outfitted with one warm and one cool bulb if the plants are in the middle of a room. Placing the terrarium near a southern facing window usually works well.

Too Close to Radiators The heat of a radiator can kill your plants quickly. Think of how fast a car with the windows closed sitting in the sun can get hot. If you put your terrarium on or near a radiator that is what conditions will be like inside the terrarium and most plants will call it a day.

Straggliness Keep an eye on your terrarium plants and when they get leggy, prune them back. The pruning’s usually make excellent cutting material.

Leaving dying plants If a plant is looking bad in your terrarium get rid of it fast or remove dead or dying leaves. If the plant is diseased, take it out immediately as it can infect other plants. If a plant is just plain ugly, it can ruin the look of your whole terrarium so take that out too. Simply dig the plant out with a knife, terrarium tool or long spoon, being careful not to disturb the roots of other plants. Replace the plant with one of a similar size and light requirement, making sure to surround the roots with soil, leaving no air pockets.

Dirty glass The glass of your terrarium will need regular cleaning. This is best done with a sheet of news paper with a little mentholated spirits or alcohol that does not smear the glass. Do not use any cleaning products on the inside of the terrarium because it will change the composition of the soil and maybe be toxic to your plants.

Over watering It is easy to over water terrariums. One way to prevent it is to use a spray bottle instead of pouring water. It is easier to lightly water if you spray. If you do over water, try to absorb any extra with paper towel. Leave the top of your terrarium off until it has dried out.

Do not Fertilize Most terrariums do not need any fertilizer at all after the initial application. Because you want to keep your plants small, you shouldn’t feed them, which will cause new growth and the plants will quickly outgrow their confined space.

Further Comments from Members:

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