The Amazon river basin is home to the famous Discus of the Symphysodon species. They are found in the quite river branches in what is called black water. This water has a brown tea color like tint to it due to the tannin secreted from submerged tree branches and has a ph (acidity) of 5.0-6.0. Normal tap water has a ph of around 9.0. These branches also make a perfect home and shelter for Discus.
They are naturally shy fish and scare easily, one of the reasons they are easily stressed out in an aquarium and thus develop diseases and “seem” fragile. I say that they seem fragile, but they’re not. Given the correct water conditions, some shelter and quality food, they are truly “at home” in the aquarium. They like large aquariums and some friends. A tank of around 300L could easily hold 6-8 adults with other tank mates such as Cory catfish or even Clown loaches. A good idea is to add some smaller species such as Cardinal Tetras. Be sure that they are of a reasonable size when adding them to the Discus aquarium or they will easily all become instant pray to opportunistic Discus always on the lookout for live foods.
Conditioning your tap water to the desired ph of 6.0 – 7.5 is essential for healthy Discus. Most pet stores sell good quality granular peat aka blackpeat. For a 300L aquarium, add 150-200g of peat to the filtration system, and thereafter monitor the ph every other day. The ph will slowly stabilize around a soft 6.0-7.0. The water will slowly take on a weak tea-like color. This is what you want, but some aquarists don’t like this natural coloring of the water. It is possible to filter out the tint without really loosing the benefits it provides. Adding some activated carbon to the filtration process will slowly rid the water of the black water tint, but may also remove some of the valuable trace elements it provides.
Adding some driftwood to the aquarium adds a nice natural touch, and also adds to the softening of the water. Java ferns attached to the driftwood give some added shelter and oxygen to the aquarium. Good lighting and possibly some added CO2 will make them flourish. Discus don’t really fancy plants as a meal, but love them as hiding places when they feel the need.
Once your Discus are settled in the tank they will start eating normally. They actually have very healthy appetites. Be sure that they get used to dried flake or granular food. These usually contain lots of vitamins to keep them fighting fit. And they do fight. A large tank will keep this to a minimum, but if it gets too bad, consider removing a troublemaker. Usually this will be the dominant male. I if he, or she even, picks only on a single fish, let it be. If he causes trouble all around the tank, he has to go.
When setting-up a new Discus aquarium, buy around 6-8 juveniles and raise them together. If at all possible, source them from different vendors. This is to ensure that they are from different bloodlines. Ask the seller where he sources them from. When a breeding pair develops, this will ensure that they will have strong healthy offspring.
Discus fish are sometimes referred to as the King of the Aquarium. They are beautiful, friendly creatures, and come in all the colors of the rainbow. Treat them well and they are as tough as any other freshwater aquarium fish.
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