What is the difference between a water terrarium and aquarium?

Water terrariums differ from aquariums in the animals and plants that they contain. They are home to aquatic frogs, snakes, caecilians and more. If you have only managed dry terrariums before then you will need to do some careful research and factor in new considerations. For example, all rock features must be held firm by sealant or you may soon face a broken home as powerful frog legs drive stone against glass.

The critical thing to get right is preparing clean, chlorine-free water, and preventing the build up of harmful chemicals such as ammonia, and nitrates. Making sure you don’t overstock is the first step to maintaining clean water. After that it comes down to regularly changing small portions of water and effective filtration. It is possible to set up a mini-ecosystem that filters itself, but many hobbyists just go for a mechanical filter.

You should wash the aquarium and everything that will go inside it in clean water to remove all traces of potentially harmful chemicals. All the rocks that will be used as display features must then be held firm with sealant. Once you have put 50% the water in the aquatic portion of the tank you will need to de-chlorinate it if this has not already been done. After planting your choice of plants, and adding the substrate, you can add the remaining water. The heating and filters are the last things to be set up. You should leave the tank for a few days before adding your pets to allow it to stabilize and ensure that it runs at the right temperature.

The Terrapin and the Leaf 1

A multi-pronged approach to water filtration gives you the best chance of keeping the water clean. At the regular partial water changes, the replacement water should be the same temperature as that in the aquarium. Aquatic plants can do a lot to help filtration by providing oxygen. These can be supplemented by nitrate removal solutions that you can purchase at your local pet store. Mechanical filters can be under gravel, or cylinders that attach to the side of the tank. The latter can come as foam cartridge corner filters driven by a vibrator pump.

Unlike the fish enthusiast you are going to have to put thought into the damage that your specimens can cause. We have already mentioned the importance of setting any rocks in place, and you may want to abandon graded gravel since it will soon be flattened out by the movements of your pets. If you choose a submersible aquarium heater it must be a strong one that won’t break, and the top of the aquarium must be very tightly sealed.


Choosing the aquarium plants can become an absorbing hobby in itself, and if you are adventurous you can go out and collect them yourself. Eelgrass (Sagittaria), fanworts (Cabomba), Amazon sword plants (Echinodorous), lace plants (Ctryptocoryne), and hornwort (Ceratophyllum) are just some of the plants that you can select.

The types of pets that you will find yourself enjoying in aquatic environments include dwarf sirens (Pseudobranchus axanthus), African clawed frogs (Xenopus laevis), and caecilians. Caecilians are fascinating snake-like creatures than enjoy burrowing in the gravel. Some other pets that you can consider purchasing are:

  • Tentacled snake (Erpeton tentaculatum)
  • Matamata (Chelus fimbriayus)
  • Paradox frog (Pseudis paradoxa)
  • Dwarf underwater frogs (Hymenochirus curtipes)
  • Fire-bellied toad (Bombina orientalis)
  • Alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii)
  • Water scorpion (Nepidae)
  • Fishing spiders (Pisauridae)
  • Suriname toads (Pipa parva)
  • Japanese fire-bellied newt (Cynops pyrrhogaster)
  • Eastern newts (Notophthalmus)

For some of these species you will need to provide an area above the water where they can rest from time to time. A fully semiaquatic terrarium is a more challenging affair, especially when it comes to keeping it clean. You tend to find that the planted land areas seep into the water that you are trying to keep clean. The aquariums can be divided by a glass panel, or just have a separate large dish for the water feature. A sloping glass divider can provide the most beautiful effect, and is worth the extra effort involved in keeping it clean.

Some of the animals that do well in a semiaquatic terrarium include the ever popular green tree frog (Hyla cinerea) and various toads, such as American Leopard Frogs (Rana Pipiens Complex).

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