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Aquariums, terrariums, and all types of vivariums use the Latin suffix* -arium, meaning container. Latin prefixes** at the front tell us what they’re designed to contain:

    • Vivere means to live.
    • Aqua means water. 
    • Terra means earth. 


Aquariums (sticklers say aquaria)

These are water-filled tanks or bowls for keeping living aquatic animals and plants on display. At least one side of an aquarium and often all four sides will be made of glass for easy viewing. If what you’re calling an aquarium is sealed air-tight, it’s a terrarium full of water.


These were originally airtight, self-contained, closed-loop ecosystems designed to replicate natural environmental processes. The moisture inside evaporates from the soil during the day and condenses on the glass walls at night before trickling back down to water the plants in the morning. If what you’re calling a terrarium doesn’t have a top, it might be a repurposed aquarium.


Vivariums are enclosed areas for keeping living plants and animals for observation and research. They need to be natural environments that encourage natural behaviors. The more natural the area around them, the more the animals behave naturally.

Scientists and honor students are the only ones who know these two:


Ripa means bank (freshwater) or shore (seawater). These vivariums are shallow, mostly aquatic containers of submerged and immersed plants with hardscape materials emerging from the water, such as riverbanks or shorelines. These aquatic environments can house fish but not semi-aquatic animals.


Palus means marsh (tidal seawater) or swamp (backwaters). These vivariums are semi-aquatic enclosures containing water and land. Tankarium.com says paludariums generally replicate the naturally-occurring ecosystems favored by amphibians and reptiles. You can think of paludariums as adding land to an aquarium or water to a terrarium.

Despite his best efforts, Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward was unable to grow ferns indoors

The problem was all the smoke, ash, soot, and dirt in the air of this dark, dank, and coal-fired city with dung-filled streets. Ward accidentally discovered that tightly-sealed glass cases admitted light while controlling temperature, humidity, and air quality. He started manufacturing them and Ward’s cases were a big hit at London’s 1851 Great Exhibition. 

Many bought his little greenhouses to put in front of windows to provide a pleasant sight that could be thought of as the televisions of their day. Explorers and adventures brought them along into the wilds to box and ship plant specimens back to England. Where once only one in ten survived those journeys, with Ward’s climate-controlled box, nine of ten arrived intact.

The only living things in the earliest aquariums were aquatic plants

Tanks of water were illuminated by natural light and the temperature of the waters changed with the temperature of the room. The sides were not made of glass, so all observations were made from above the tank. Aquatic creatures died quickly until scientists learned aquatic creatures stayed alive longer when their tanks were kept clean and the water was changed regularly.

Who invented the aquarium?

What is most likely is that many different cultures kept marine animals in ponds and pools. Aquariumslab.com says the first glass aquarium was invented by Jeanne Villepreux-Power, a French naturalist who studied marine life. She found a way to keep living creatures alive in comfortable environments where their natural behavior could be observed through the glass. Villepreux-Power studied octopi, squid, and cuttlefish, all active predatory mollusks. The smallest of these cephalopods is an inch-long squid and the largest is a 30 feet long, 1,000-pound squid.

The smallest fish tank holds two teaspoons of water

The 10-million-gallon Georgia Aquarium is the largest in the United States. The ongoing competition to be the world’s biggest is led by Singapore, Japan, Spain, and Abu Dhabi.

Qualitymarine.com says Philip Henry Gosse coined the term aquarium because aquatic vivarium was so clumsy

Many agree Gosse’s displays of glass-sided microcosms at London’s Great Exhibition in 1851 brought aquariums out of laboratories and into people’s homes. Gosse’s book Actinologia Britannica: A History of the British Sea-anemones and Corals is filled with Gosse’s finely detailed drawings of sea anemones, crustaceans, and mollusks as observed in his aquariums. You can take a look here.

Fish farming 

Aquaculture refers to the farming of all aquatic organisms, plants, and sea vegetables. Piscis- means fish and -culture means growing, so pisciculture refers to hatching fish from eggs in man-made enclosures designed for optimum breeding conditions.

Above is a fish farm in Indiana where they grow genetically-engineered salmon

Scientists inject growth hormones from one salmon into another, creating a hybrid that cuts the harvest cycle from 36 to 18 months. Think of that, mothers of the world – a 4 ½ month pregnancy.

Pew Trusts says more than half of the world’s seafood is farmed in captivity.

The Environmental Defense Fund says “Global fishery exports now earn more revenue than any other traded food commodity, including rice, cocoa or coffee.” The San Francisco Chronicle says more than one-third of all global seafood in now ground into feed.

Fishmeal is the generic term for cheap, concentrated protein

The University of Florida Department of Fisheries says fishmeal is made by separating the solids from the oil and water, then cooking, sterilizing, pressing centrifuging, drying, and stabilizing what’s left by adding antioxidants. Millions of tons of fish are ground into a coarse powder every year and are used primarily to feed fish (69%), pigs (23%), and poultry (5%).

What do vivariums have to do with focus groups?

The rooms used for the gathering of a dozen or so strangers to talk to each other for two hours are enclosed spaces prepared for (human) animals under quasi-natural conditions where they can be observed and studied — vivariums.

When the strangers are led into conference rooms, they see really large mirrors on one or more walls

Behind those mirrors sit researchers, clients, videographers, and observers who are looking through coated glass from their side of the one-way mirror, which is also called a two-way mirror, go figure. Both terms refer to a transparent mirror that is reflective on one side so people can see without being seen.

The prevailing theory among focus group advocates holds that the special mirrors prevent these strangers from feeling like they’re creatures inside terrariums being studied by invisible observers. Dev Patnaik calls focus groups “a customer terrarium,” with people taken out of their natural surroundings and put behind glass. Joseph Pine and James Gilmore, authors of The Experience Economy, call focus groups “the great lie.” They say focus groups should be dumped and real customers observed in real settings instead. Here’s a very short example of observing customers in real settings, titled Doing the Laundry, from the March 29, 2017 issue.

Focus group facilities are natural environments in the same way zoos are natural environments for wild animals  

How natural can twelve strangers be when they’re sitting under bright lights in a mirrored room for two hours while being led by a moderator with everything admittedly audio- and video- recorded to talk about digestive distress or washing machines or radon detectors?


Who said “Pool, pond, pond’d be good for you,” and who did he say it to?


*Suffix is the back half of a compound word. **Prefix is the front half.


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