What is an Aquarium?

Dana Hinders

An aquarium is a specially designed device that acts as an artificial habitat for water-dwelling animals. Although most people associate an aquarium with tropical fish, aquaria can also be used to house amphibians or large marine mammals. In addition, many aquaria contain a variety of plant species.

Frogs may be housed in an aquarium.
Frogs may be housed in an aquarium.

Public aquaria are popular tourist attractions throughout the world and frequently found in zoos or marine parks. They are made from reinforced concrete and plastics to create a tank that is large enough to hold an entire underwater ecosystem. For example, the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Illinois has a capacity of approximately two million gallons (7,570,823.6 liters). The Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, Georgia is the world's largest aquarium with more than eight million gallons (30,283,294.4 liters) of marine and fresh water.

Otters may be housed in an aquarium.
Otters may be housed in an aquarium.

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Most public aquaria can be considered biotopes, ecotypes, or ecotopes since they house plants, fish, and invertebrates that would only live together in a natural habitat. Sharks and whales are some of the most common species found in public aquaria, although otters, penguins, and other semi-aquatic animals are often quite popular. An aquarium that is designed to hold dolphins is called a dolphinarium.

A dolphinarium is an aquarium for dolphins.
A dolphinarium is an aquarium for dolphins.

If you want to enjoy observing fish and other marine life on a daily basis, you may wish to purchase a small home aquarium. Over 60 million people around the world own home aquaria, with almost 40 percent of hobbyists maintaining more than one aquarium. The smallest aquarium that is practical for home use is three gallons (11.36 liters), although you may choose to purchase a larger aquarium if you have the necessary space. Novelty aquaria designed to look like coffee tables, sinks, or other household items are another option to consider. If you wish, you can even make your own “MacQuarium” out of an old Apple Macintosh computer.

A zoo aquarium may house large marine mammals.
A zoo aquarium may house large marine mammals.

A home aquarium typically contains a water filtration system, a climate control device, and an artificial light. Most also have a hood available to reduce water evaporation and prevent debris from entering the tank. A home aquarium is typically made from glass panels joined with silicone, although acrylic and laminated glass aquaria are becoming increasingly popular since these materials are both durable and lightweight.

A home aquarium.
A home aquarium.

Home aquaria in a variety of styles can be purchased from any pet store. Prices will vary according to the size of the aquarium, the quality of materials used, and whether or not a stand is included. The store employees are typically trained to provide any assistance you need in selecting compatible fish for your aquarium.

Sharks may be found in a public aquarium.
Sharks may be found in a public aquarium.

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Discussion Comments


The Georgia marine aquarium is absolutely amazing. It even had beluga whales the last time I was there, although that was a few years ago. They were trying to breed them, but not having much success. It was still incredible to be able to see them so close through the glass.

They also had manatees, which were also a conservation effort.

I have to say though that the Monterey Bay aquarium is my favorite, simply because they have the best selection of jellyfish. Blue lit jellyfish are one of the most beautiful things in the world to see, and I fully recommend this aquarium (considered one of the best in the world) to everyone.


Be cautious in accepting advice from pet store employees about aquariums. Some of them are excellent, but others don't know what they are talking about. Keeping an aquarium, particularly one with plants, or a reef, is really complicated. It takes a huge amount of knowledge to properly advise someone on how to set up such a potentially complex ecosystem.

Pet store employees are simply not given enough training for this. They might even be told to push a particular species, simply because it is more expensive, or the store needs to get in new stock. Approach with caution.


And a terrarium, or vivarium, is basically just like an aquarium just without the water.

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