I may be wrong but when someone mentions the word discus, the first thought that enter our mind is the disc that is thrown in track and field events. I want to talk about a much different type of discus…the cichlid fish from the Amazon River Basin. The Discus makes up the genus symphysodon. As of now the genus symphysodon consists of three different species of discus: the common discus(symphysodon aequifasciatus), the Heckel discus(symphysodon discus) and the newest addition being the Tarzoo(symphysodon tarzoo).
Discus’ are similar to Angelfish(Pterophyllum), with one major exception and that being that discus’ do not have extended finnage that is associated with angelfish, giving the discus a more rounded shape. On average a discus will attain a size of 8-10 inches in length, making this a larger cichlid that should be addressed by the enthusiast planning on housing a discus in a captive environment. It is best to purchase a tall and deep tank as opposed to a long, shorter and narrow tank due to their swimming habits. The coloration and patterns evident with discus’ is truly remarkable. Colors associated with discus’ are normally green, blue, red and brown and various shades in between with numerous blotches and a unique array of multi directional lines. These lines and blotches are of contrasting colors to that of its body.
Discus’ are opportunistic omnivores that will feed on a multitude of invertebrates and plant matter. Frozen blood worms, krill and beef heart is a great variety of proteinaceous foods widely accepted by discus’. Spirulina algae is a fine choice to get them some vegetable matter in their diet. This can be provided through frozen spirulina and brine shrimp combination food or can be introduced through flake and pellet vegetable foods. They can be finicky, initially, making it difficult to feed them, especially when acclimating them to new foods. It is best to ask your pet shop what they have been feeding the discus so you can copy that regimen and increase the chances that your discus will not have a hard time adapting to your feeding habits. It is common for a discus to go off feed for a couple of weeks or so, before it will start eating. Don’t be to concerned about this as this is often a common occurrence and when hungry enough, the discus will start to eat. Be careful when feeding live foods as you run the risk of introducing parasites and bacteria into the water and your fish. If you are overly concerned about this event taking place, you could offer frozen and freeze-dried items such as tubifex, blood or black worms and mosquito larvae.
Proper water quality is important in maintaining a discus aquarium. A soft and slightly acidic water is ideal(pH of 5.5-6.5) and a temperature around 85 degrees. They don’t handle deviations from this, especially over a short period of time. Captive bred discus’ can be kept in a higher pH tank, however, it is best to have an acidic water parameter as ammonia can not form in acidic water which is toxic to any fish species. Ammonium is the only bi-product at that pH level or lower which is more easily tolerated by discus’, and is not poisonous to them.
A efficient and effective filtration routine is pertinent to the success of your discus to rid the tank of excess nutrients and waste. A heavily populated tank of live plants is also beneficial. Frequent small water changes weekly can prove to be a viable solution in maintaining proper water chemistry using RO(reverse osmosis) water, that reduces contaminants being entered into your tanks water through the use of everyday tap water. Before adding a discus, it is crucial that your tank has cycled completely. If this rule is not adhered to fully, you will run the risk of your livestock dying due to elevated levels of ammonia, nitrites and nitrates! It is better to give your tank more time to be safe, than to quickly assume your tank is ready given the general amount of time that has been assessed to your tanks cycling process.
The best lighting to bring out the true vibrant colors of discus is a subdued lighting though they will be able to handle many lighting intensities.
The discus is a great fish to incorporate into a aquarium environment. They are often shy and peaceful fish that will do best when kept with angelfish and tetras. Reducing stress such as water issues, disturbances and the wrong type of cohabitants, should help to ensure that your discus will be healthy and offer you enjoyment for many years to come.