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Making a Terrarium or a Diorama as a Science Project

written by: Tricia Edgar • edited by: Donna Cosmato • updated: 9/11/2012

Create a habitat by building a terrarium with live plants and animals or creating an artistic diorama. Both habitats encourage you to think about what food, water, shelter and space an animal needs to survive, and while providing an excellent learning experience, are great fun.

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    What Is a Habitat?

    A habitat is a home for an animal. Depending on the particular animal’s size and needs, a habitat can be large or small.

    In this activity, you will create a habitat for an animal. This habitat might be a real life home for a small animal, or it can be a visual and artistic depiction of a habitat for a larger animal such as a bear. Your goal is to understand what an animal home must contain, and it also helps you research and understand the needs of a particular animal.

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    The Elements of a Habitat for a Science Project

    Chameleon in its Habitat. Image by cleuschner of Stock Exchange 

    A habitat contains the necessities of life including food, water, shelter and space for the animal to roam. All of these elements should be present in your habitat. Do research on the particular animal to determine what it eats, how it gets its water, and what sort of shelter and amount of space it requires.

    Food comes in many different forms. Some animals are herbivores and eat only plants. Others are carnivores and eat animals. Omnivores eat both plants and animals, while detritivores eat up what we may consider to be waste products such as old leaves. Water does not need to come from a pond or a creek. It is present in the food that animals eat, and it is also present in the environment in forms such as dew and puddles.

    Shelter is the place where an animal hides, sleeps, or raises its young. Types of shelter include nests, holes, caves, or simply cones or pieces of log. Shelters are large or very small depending on the animal. Space is the place where an animal roams, often to find food and water, seek out new territory, or find a mate.

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    A Living Terrarium

    Creating a habitat for a live animal is a responsibility, but it can also be thrilling to do. Out of necessity, these live animals will be small and will often be invertebrates, which are animals without backbones. This habitat might be a pond aquarium with tadpoles or a terrarium with worms. If you decide to build a habitat that includes live animals and plants, you will require a terrarium, aquarium, or a jar with mesh placed over the top.

    Much thought must go into creating the conditions where these animals can live and thrive. If you decide to bring an animal indoors, go through the checklist above with care. Ensure that the animal has access to its natural food and hiding places and that there is good access to air and water in the container. Consider how much space the animal requires. Ideally, keep the animal outdoors in its natural temperature so that it is not shocked by the different indoor temperature. Keep it away from predators and ensure that the animal cannot escape.

    Do not capture animals that are scarce or very sensitive to environmental changes. After observing the animal in its habitat, it should be placed back into the wild in the location where you caught it.

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    Option: An Artistic Diorama

    The low-maintenance option is to create a habitat that is an artistic depiction of a real-life animal habitat. While this does not give you the opportunity to observe an animal, it requires less care but involves just as much thought as it does to create a terrarium.

    A small plastic bin or a shoebox works well as a small habitat. Create a diorama with a hand-painted background. Make food like grass and trees out of paper mache. Add other predator and prey animals if your chosen animal is a carnivore or an omnivore. Design this habitat in as much detail as you wish.

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    Creating a habitat for a science project involves a lot of thought about the needs of a particular animal. It is an excellent way to get to know an animal and its everyday needs, and learn how the environment meets the needs of that animal, by creating either an artistic diorama or a living terrarium.

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    World Wildlife Fund: Habitats, A Simple Explanation