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So you want to keep Discus?

Discussion in 'Discus' started by LemonDiscus, Aug 26, 2009.

  1. LemonDiscus

    LemonDiscus Thread Starter Active Member

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    Discus are growing in popularity in the aquarium hobby. There is something attractive about a round colorful fish swimming gracefully in the aquarium. They also create a nice attraction and conversation piece in your house as not many people see them, they are BY FAR not your common fish. This is mainly due to their VERY HIGH price!

    Here are some things to consider and ask yourself BEFORE buying your first Discus:

    What you need/have:
    The Tank
    Discus require a setup that not many have the ability to keep or afford. They require a larger tank due to they MUST be kept in a group of AT LEAST 6 in order to keep inter-species aggression down to a minimum and allow the "weakest" fish a fighting chance of survival.

    Discus also require ABOVE NORMAL water conditions meaning that even an acceptable level of contaminants such as Nitrates will stress and possibly kill this sensitive fish! As a rule of thumb each discus will require 10 gallons. This is a rule of thumb and IS NOT a science... Remember though that the more water you have the more contaminates it takes to pollute the water. This will save you work in the long run.. This means to keep a school of 6 discus which is the MINIMUM that should be together you will need a 55/60 gallon tank AT LEAST! Overstocking Discus is not a bad thing but that will increase maintenance exponentially which I will cover later.

    Taller tanks are better than long tanks as Discus are generally speaking mid-level swimmers. They also dont tend to swim back and forth as much as one might think... unless roaming for food discus generally stay in about the same area all the time. If there is a choice of a long or a tall DEFINITELY pick the TALL one!

    Discus when roaming for food like to search the substrate for "leftovers". It is not unusual to watch them "blow" around through the bottom moving the substrate to find a buried surprise. They CANNOT do this with gravel and for that reason SAND makes a better substrate IMO.

    The color of the discus will change depending on its environment... meaning you have a dark substrate the fish will appear darker. Dark discus are not appealing and typically dark discus means illness. So keeping an eye on the health of your fish and to display the fishes true colors it is BEST to keep a light substrate such as a very light brown or white. Sand however is MUCH harder to keep clean than any other substrate!

    Also another option although not as visually appealing but BY FAR MUCH easier to keep clean is a Bare Bottom (BB) tank. This allows you to vacuum out anything that falls to the bottom such as fish waste and uneaten food keeping the water quality at its highest.

    Many (mostly all) breeders raise their discus in a BB aquarium and MANY keepers choose to continue to do so... It is NOT foreign for a domesticated discus to see glass on the bottom and will most likely also not stress the fish as much.

    This area is a catch 22! Because of the water conditions needed to keep healthy discus the more filtration the better it seems... well, here is the catch 22... Discus dont like water movement. Because of the shape of their bodies they have a hard time in fast moving water. They prefer still water.

    IME Canister filters seem to provide the best balance of water movement and cleaning capabilities. Hang on Back (HOB) filters move the water in a motion that Discus DONT seem to like at all... they seem to tolerate the spray jet though of a canister and a spray bar (even though I have never had one) seems to be even a better idea.

    Water Parameters from the TAP
    Discus STRONGLY prefer PH neutral to slightly acidic. I DONT recommend using ANY chemicals to alter the PH! IF you want to bring PH down you should only use a bag of peat moss in your filter! This however wont buffer your water very much.

    IME - If you have a PH of OVER 7.2 out of the tap... Buy a Reverse Osmosis (RO) unit, buy RO water from the LFS or dont keep Discus.

    They also prefer soft water. IF you plan on them ever breeding, the eggs will DIE in hard water! YOU ABSOLUTELY have to have soft water to successfully hatch Discus eggs! Again peat moss in the filter will help soften the water.

    The more the better! I keep 3-4 in my 125... To hold a steady temp of 86 all year round is VERY hard on heaters. If you loose 1 and thats all you have you could cause MANY problems! Overkill on heating is not a bad thing... IF you have too many heaters you can turn the thermostats down on one or 2 and let 1 be a "primary" heater. If one dies, you still have heat in your tank...

    Discus Water Temp
    Juveniles (2.5" - 4") - YOU MUST keep the temp 86-88! This will help them stay disease free and grow at the rate they need to!
    Adults (4" + ) - 82 - 88.... they are more tolerant of the lower water temps but should NOT be kept below 82 degrees (I keep mine at 86).

    Ok, so you made it though all of what you need and got to this point.... what do you have to look forward to when and IF you do choose to keep Discus?
    Discus are Omnivores but prefer meaty foods. Here are a list of foods and an approximate price and the amount of time the food lasts with we will say 6 Discus... All of these foods should be stocked and fed on a DAILY basis with several small feedings per day rotating through each food.

    Food - Price - How long before out on average
    Frozen Bloodworms - $4.99 - 2-3 Weeks
    Frozen Brine Shrimp - $4.99 - 2-3 Weeks
    QUALITY Pellet Food - $25 - 3-5 Months
    Live Blackworms (per portion) - $1.50 - 2 days

    There are other things that you can do for feedings to such as making your own frozen foods for them which does cost a bit more and takes more time but once you get your fish on it you can give them things they normally dont take, administer oral medications and numerous other things... I am NOT going to go into recipes on here but do know that they exist and can be a GREAT staple diet for your discus!

    Water Changes
    IF you choose to buy juveniles YOU MUST change about 20%-50% of your water DAILY if you want them to grow correctly. Because of the frequent feedings the water goes bad FAST with the little ones! If they grow too slow they will be PERMANENTLY stunted! Although many live and breed being stunted is IS NOT what you want your "prized" fish to turn out like!

    Adults the water STILL needs to be changed 20%-50% at least 2-3 times a week.... again DAILY is OPTIMAL for growth and pairing/spawning of adults.

    Electric Bill
    Expect a spike due to the filters and heaters here....

    Discus are VERY prone to MANY illnesses! YOU MUST keep medicines at ALL TIMES just in case! Some medications are quite expensive and are needed more than you would think! DONT SKIMP ON THIS!!! YOU WILL LOOSE FISH!!!

    A few things keep at all times:
    Metronidazole - Treats Hex and HITH
    Praziquantal - Treats Flukes and other parasites (Prazi/Metro is sold together mixed and sold as API General Cure)
    Malachite Green/Formalin (Quick Cure) - Treats Ich/Velvet and others like this
    Methaline Blue - Fungus Treatment
    Epsom Salt - Fish Laxative (needed when internal parasites/hex attacks)
    Aquarium Salt - Fish Relaxant... Helps a sick Discus breather better

    An extra tank (10-20 gallons) with established filter and a heater kept BB to use as a Quarantine Tank (QT) to treat the fish! (You want this because some of the meds are VERY expensive and require sometimes 2 weeks of treatment each day! Save money by treating smaller amounts of water! Its WELL worth the cost of the tank in the long run!)

    Those are the ones I keep at all times... I also occasionally try other things as I run across the need for them...

    You still in for it and still want to get Discus? Ok, read on about what you should look for
    Body Shape
    Should be round and NOT football shaped
    Should be bright red or amber... if black... the fish is sick
    Also the eyes should not look large in comparison to the face... If they do look large it means the fish has been stunted. This is the hardest thing to get used to looking for as it takes time and experience to KNOW how big the eyes SHOULD be.
    Of course should not have damage
    It SHOULD NOT be showing its black stripes where you can see them from a mile away... they WILL show the black stripes however IF the substrate and or the background is dark... something to keep in mind... but you should ALWAYS see the fishes colors shining brightly!

    If the skin/scales look milky, the fish is sick... If the fish looks REALLY dark... the fish is sick...

    If the Discus is a Pigeon Blood (Marlboro Red and any variety that DOES NOT carry the genes for the black bars) the best specimens are the ones with the least amount of peppering in the colors (peppering are the little black dots in the coloration of the fish... Pigeon Bloods are NOTORIOUS for being peppered and the peppering is a DOMINANT gene meaning it almost WILL BE PASSED ON if you choose to breed it)
    Thickness (belly fat)
    If you see a specimen that looks REALLY thin... the fish is sick! Thin as in you can see the skeleton of the fish... it WONT live long and it is not normal they are that thin...

    When you are shopping for one you should see a little bit of pudge in the belly area! This means the fish is a healthy eater and should be clear of internal parasites

    Before you buy
    Find out tank parameters they are kept in and try to match it close while also taking in account the optimal conditions mentioned earlier... find a balance!

    Also find out what the fish have been eating and ASK THE PERSON TO FEED THEM FOR YOU!!!! You NEED to see that they are eating... The Discus should GREEDILY take the food! If it cowers and waits, that is the weakest fish in the tank and you dont want it!

    Be sure to buy the pellet food the Discus are used to while you are there! Discus dont take to changes well... you CAN change it later if you choose by weening them off of the one they are on and replacing it with something else... ALWAYS try pellet over frozen! Pellet/Granule is MUCH healthier and adds vitamins and minerals frozen foods DONT have!

    Again GET 6 or MORE and get them ALL AT ONE TIME! Dont buy one here and one there.... that is asking for problems!

    Ok, you have you fish home, its acclimation time
    I have found this to be the BEST acclimation method for Discus (and TRUST ME I have tried them ALL! :) )

    Place the fish with the water from where you got them in a 5 gallon bucket... of course take them out of the bag with the water...

    Get a cup and add 1 cup of water to the bucket every 3-5 minutes. Do this until you have 2-3 times the water than you started with.... If the bucket fills up before then... empty some of it out and then keep adding more (this should take about 20-40 minutes.)

    When finished NET (or even better if you think you can do it SCOOP with your hands) the fish out of the bucket and place in the tank! DO NOT add the water from where you got it from into your tank with the fish UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES!

    Netting the fish is a bit stressful usually but is better unless you KNOW you can safely catch the fish with your hands... if you have not kept Discus before I DO NOT recommend using your hands but it is less stressful on the FYI later on...

    There is MUCH more than this!
    As you grow with keeping Discus and continue to research you will find you want to do things different than you started... you live you learn!

    I hope this helps some!
  2. WhiteGloveAquatics

    WhiteGloveAquatics New Member

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    helped some alot more then most "posts" do.
  3. MOD_Dawn

    MOD_Dawn Active Member

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    good writeup.

    SUBSTRATE: I know I've read where dark substrate is supposed to make them darker/greyer and cause more peppering in Pigeon Bloods...but I use eco-complete (looks like dirt) and I haven't seen it in mine.

    FILTRATION: As for the filtration, I agree on the canister...but highly recommend a prefilter over the intake.

    UV Sterilization: is beneficial to keeping them healthy.

    MEDICATIONS: PimaFix & Melafix...medications that I wouldn't go without having!

    PLANTS: Also...I recommend some tall live wispy plants such as vals to make them feel at home....mine love resting between them :) Pick your plants accordingly (many won't do well in the high temps). I've had luck with L. Repens Broad Leaf, Italian Vals, Hornwort, Moneywort, and some crypts.

    DECOR: Be careful what you keep in the tank (no sharp edges)...Discus can spook easily and will "crash" into things when this occurs...and believe me when I tell you at some point they WILL get spooked. (can be something as simple as the light coming on or someone approaching the room too quickly).
  4. Penycat

    Penycat New Member

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    I finally took the plunge and got my first discus! I was scared to death because of all I've read about them. But the sapphires, I just couldn't help it. That was back in Feb. Now I'm the very proud own 4 sapphires and 2 turquoise. the 2 turqs are smaller, still juvies about 2 inches. 2 of the sapphires are about 3 inches and the other 2 I just got today to add to my group are about 4 inches. They are in a 125g with aquaclear 110 hob filter, 2 heaters in a heated garage (all my other fish are moving outside) and doing very well. There's also 2 angel fish that I'm keeping for a school for the summer and 2 female bettas that are getting egg heavy...lol all in all, it's been an awesome tank, one of my favorites outside my paras and pikes:)

    forgot to mention that they get weekly water changes on 6.5 pH well water once a week (or twice if I'm able)
  5. MOD_Dawn

    MOD_Dawn Active Member

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    yea, I was scared to get them too over all the warnings...turns out for me I haven't had any isues and I think they are as easy to keep as my tropicals, but I have to say I defin. watch them closer due to their price!