Saturday, September 8, 2007

From the Amazon River...

The Amazon has been described as is the “greatest river in the world”. Scientists have discovered only a small percentage of the millions of species of plants and animals that live in the rain forests in the Amazon River basin.

Located in South America right at the equator, the Amazon River drains the entire northern half of the South American continent. All the tropical rains that deluge the great rainforests of “Amazonia” are carried to the ocean through the thousands of tributaries which feed the Amazon.

More water flows into the ocean from the Amazon River than the combined output of the Mississippi, the Nile, and the Yangtze rivers. Of all the river waters flowing into the world’s oceans, one fifth of that water comes from the Amazon.

Amazon River Rocks

The Amazon River drains a massive area of land – 40% of the South American continent. Over eons of time, massive quantities of silt particles built up around the River basin. The shale and clay that line the river are generally shades of gray or brown and become textured as a result of the cutting action of the river’s currents.

These single colored rock structures provide a dramatic contrast to the spectacularly colored fish which occur in the Amazon. Aquarium backgrounds which recreate the actual rock structures seen in the Amazon River have become popular with many Amazon Aquarium owners.

These backgrounds recreate with great accuracy the natural environments in which the fish live. It is essential to obtain aquarium ornaments and decorations specifically made of materials that will never dissolve or affect the purity of the aquarium water.

Amazon River Water

Because of the massive amounts of rainwater that flow through the Amazon, the water contains very few minerals. The tap water coming from the faucets in most aquarists homes contains too many dissolved minerals for the fish that naturally live in Amazon River water.

Many fish from the Amazon River basin do better and are much more likely to breed in aquariums with water that is a mixture of tap water and water that has passed through a Reverse Osmosis (R/O) filter which is the most economical way to remove almost all of the minerals from tap water.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Diseases & Medications

Discus don`t usually die for "no reason". Don't ignore the signs of diseases on your discus fish...

Hole in the Head

Uaru amphiacanthoides and Astronotus ocellatus. If treated correctly it need not be a problem. The most important treatment is heat treatment. Over a couple of days raise the temperature from 30C to 36C. Additional aeration will be required to ensure adequate oxygen supply. This temperature must be maintained for 8 to 10 days for full recovery, unless the fish goes into stress. In addition to heat, the fish can be given Flagyl (Metronidazole) orally every three days for the duration of the heat treatment.

Internal parasites

Internal parasites in the gut can be assumed, if the fish becomes emaciated or produces white, jelly-like faeces. To treat the fish soak some live blood worms or black mosquito larvae in a solution of 10 ml of liquid Flagyl to 200 ml of water for about one hour. Then feed the worms or wrigglers to the fish. This treatment can be repeated every 2 to 3 days for 10 days. If the fish is not eating, then the job is a little more difficult. Consult your local aquarium shop.

External parasites

External parasites come in many types...

* Jungle Labs Parasite clear which is used when they are scratching themselves on objects in the tank. Dosage is one tablet for every 40 litres of tank water, repeating two weeks thereafter.

Bacterial infections

* The best medication is Chloromycetin and is powder form. The dosage is one teaspoon to 100 litres of water. It is always fast acting, improvement should be noticed in 8 hours. A second dose after two days may be needed, no need to remove the previous dose as it dissipates out after 12 hours. Store Chloromycetin absolutely dry and away from light.

* The other medication is Oxolinic Acid. Solution of half a gram of powder in 500 ml of de-ionised water can be created and stored. The dosage is 1 ml of the stock solution to 10 litres of tank water. This treatment is only effective on some types of infections.

White Spot and Velvet Disease

These two diseases are rare in Discus. If you do happen to get these parasites the heat treatment will cure it without drugs.
*White spot is treated with 34°C for 10 days
*Velvet Disease is treated for 2 days.
Heat treatment can cure many problems, because most parasites can not withstand high temperatures.
*Costia: 33°C - 34°C for 4 days.

Where to obtain these medications
* Flagyl (liquid Flagyl) is a prescription drug
* Para-Ex is available from aquarium shops.
* Chloromycetin, can be obtained in capsule form
* Oxolinic acid can be obtained from a chemist


Heat treatment...
*use a separate low watt external heater and check the temperature!
When administering medications, calculate the tank capacity accurately to avoid overdosing.
Take the internal dimensions in centimeters and multiply the length by width by height to the water line divided by 1000.

Tank Mates

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So what should you keep with your Discus Fish? Different keepers have totally different opinions on this subject but here is my opinion.

In a breeding tank you should only keep Discus Fish and I strongly recommend you keep nothing else in there with them. Some people like to keep plecs and other sucker-mouth catfish, but I’ve had problems with them latching on and sucking to the Discus Aquarium Fish’s mucus covering. Algae eaters are also notorious for this.

However if you have a display tank then you want to make it look nice and have more than just Discus Aquarium Fish, I recommend you have a large shoal of small tetras like neon’s, cardinals and rummy noses. You can keep any peaceful, slow moving fish with discus, so long as they don’t dominate or out compete discus for food and space.

I believe that the Discus Aquarium should be geared toward keeping discus and other species generally do not require the dedication and water that discus need.

Some people have kept Discus Aquarium Fish together with angel fish, but other keepers would disagree with doing this for good reason. Angels can pass on disease to Discus Aquarium Fish and angels can grow large and bully Discus so take this into consideration when you’re planning your tank.

Rams are also a favorite to keep with Discus Aquarium Fish. I’ve had success with dwarf gouramis as well as pearls, though the blue and golden gouramis are bullies and should be avoided. When you get young Discus Aquarium Fish make sure you get a shoal as like other fish they need the security of a shoal around them.

I personally keep discus in a community tank, and I have had success with many different species, these have adapted to the warmer water and do not offer any direct competition to the discus.

Buying Discus: What to look for!

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Some people will tell you to look for perfectly round bodies with small bright eyes and even though this is true there is simple more to it than that.

First you have to decide what colours you want, don’t worry too much about the names of these as they vary from source to source. Wherever you buy your fish from spends time watching them, and never buy on impulse. Only select Discus Aquarium Fish that are alert, bold and come to the front of the tank. Avoid fish that hang at the back and hide. Also avoid those that breathe heavily or out of one gill. Check for twisted mouths short gill covers, poorly shaped tails, odd or big eyes and any other genetic defects that might be down to poor breeding.

will respond quickly to food. If the dealer declines, walk away. If he wants to sell the Talk to the dealer and ask him questions, ask if you can see the fish feed, most will let you. Healthy Discusfish he will do this for you. Ask the dealer how long he’s had the fish, if less than 2 weeks be careful as they haven’t been quarantined long enough. Did he breed the fish or did he import them, if the later where from? Does he know if they have been subjected to any medications or de-wormed? These are all common questions which he should know the answer to and it will provide you with a good background as to the fish’s history and the dealer’s competence.

Take a look at the bottom of the tank, healthy Discus Fish pass feces regularly and their waste should be black. If you see signs of white or clear feces it is reasonable to consider that some of the fish have an internal problem such as intestinal worms, and so should best be left alone. Always ask what sort of water conditions the fish are in and if possible write it down. If they aren’t the same as yours go home and get them right. If you want the fish put a deposit down so the dealer will keep the fish for you and this also give you the opportunity to keep an eye on them for another week just to make sure they are healthy.

Try to get fish that are medium sized, adolescent so to speak. These are easier to adapt to new water conditions than larger fish, and don’t require frequent feeds as with young discus
growing on.

Water Preparation & Changes

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If after testing your water you are happy that it fits the water chemistry required to keep Discus Fish you can do a couple of things. You can simply add a treatment like Tetra Aqua Safe which will take out chlorine, chloride and some metals. You can also use a heavy metal filter which will take out all heavy metals and make the water perfect. Or you can mix the two like I do to save on time and money If your water doesn’t match and you have poor water to start with, you will need to filter it through a Reverse Osmosis unit. These can cost a packet, but are worth it if you need them. This filtration process will remove a very high percentage of heavy metals, chlorine, pesticides, silica, nitrates and most of the Total Dissolved Solids, it will also lower the pH of freshwater. The product water, as with distilled water, on its own is unsuitable for Discus. The reason for this is that there are no salts in this water which would buffer any drops or peaks in pH. What you do is add to it a supplement containing electrolytes and salts, or some de-chlorinated tap water. Better still mix RO water with a percentage of water prepared with a HMA filter. The exact percentages to mix really are determined by your geographical location, but as a rule 75% RO to 25% tap is usually about right.

If you wish to breed Discus Aquarium Fish you need a supply of very soft water, in order to keep the water very soft, i.e. less than 50 ppm; you use less tap water in the mix. But a word of warning, soft water is very unstable and must be changed daily to avoid pH crash.

Water changes

It is very important to change the water in your Discus Aquarium Fish tank on a regular basis, in a display tank I recommend around once or twice a week and with the later for breeding tanks and anything up to once a day for growing on tanks. I like to change in between 20-40% of the water in the tank but in the fish farms in the Far East they change 100% of the water once a day in the growing on tanks with great results. The reason for this is that discus, like other fish stay appropriately sized for the volume of water it is contained in. It is for this reason that wild specimens and those subjected to abundant water changes grow to such large sizes. When changing the water clean the bottom of the tank and suck up all of the debris on the tank floor but try and disturb the Discus Fish as least as possible. Once they feel more secure, you can clean aggressively, but do not cause them stress by being noisy about it, just remember that sounds are amplified in water as it is a much better conductor of sound and shock.


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It is a well known fact that Discus Fish require excellent water quality, and a good filter is at the heart of this. Now there is not one type of filter that suits a Discus Aquarium best as different filters do different jobs and it just depends on what you need it for.

Types of filtration

There are basically three types of filtration these are:

1) Mechanical
2) Biological
3) Chemical.


This is the first stage of any filtration; the water is drawn or pumped through layers of material that removes any free floating debris from the water. This is important, as sediment will block the next stage of filtration rendering it useless. If the flow rate of your filter drops off then clean or replace the mechanical media immediately.


The heart of the filter, basically bacteria will live in this area of the filter, they convert the fishes waste, (ammonia) to nitrite and finally nitrate, thus creating a safe environment for your Discus. Porous materials such as ceramics feature in the form of noodles and chips. These have millions of pores in which beneficial bacteria crucial to the removal of ammonia and nitrite, reside and establish colonies. It is important to never clean the media in tap water. You should rinse the media in tank water from water changes, when it is required.


The final stage of filtration is very much controlled by you, for various reasons you may wish to add carbon or peat to the filter, these filter media either absorb impurities, or alter the chemical balance of the water. This is usually topped off with a fine wool pad to polish the water as it returns to the aquarium.

Filtration Media

Filter media is the stuff that goes inside your filter mainly an external filter. It cleans the water and removes the harmful toxins from the water.

Mechanical Media

Any media will have mechanical capabilities, but the idea of dedicated mechanical media is that it protects the biological media from becoming clogged with debris. It usually tend to be sponges of some sort or the other. What ever you use it is best to use many layers to filter out the dirt. If maintained regularly then the mechanical media can washed out and re used several times, if left too long you will have to throw it away and replace with new media.

Biological Media

This is the heart of the filter and so long as you use sufficient pre filtration it is unnecessary to ever clean it. Biological filter bacteria live here, they colonize any nook, cranny or rough surface, so it goes without saying that the more surface area your media has the more bacteria will gather on it, thus improving the filtration process. Bacteria will cling to any surface from smooth gravel to the modern ceramic rings products which I use that offer massive surface areas. Ceramic rings products are available in any aquatic outlet and are highly recommended for any flow through filter. If at any stage the biological media does become clogged with muck, it is vitally important that it is washed in old tank water. Do not use tap water, you will kill all the friendly bacteria, which in turn leads to total filter failure, ammonia or nitrite poisoning and ultimately dead fish.

Chemical Media

It may at various times be necessary to add some activated carbon to your filter to remove medications or dyes from the water. Also you can use peat to soften the water, or perhaps Nitrate and Ammonia removing resins. Any chemical media should be last in line of the filtration process, and it is important to adhere to the instructions supplied as to the life span of these media, because some of them will let the toxins back into the water once exhausted.

Types of filters to use

Display tanks

If you have a Discus Fish display aquarium, then I recommend you use an external canister filter as these will keep the water very clean and it will have one of the largest surface areas for biological filtration which will make sure the water quality is excellent. It will sit outside the tank and you should be able to get one to fit any tank.

Alternatively you could use a trickle filter but they tend to be quite expensive. You could also use an internal filter but make sure it doesn’t cause too much current as Discus do not like strong currents.

Breeding tanks

In a breeding tank it is important to keep things simple. For this reason I like to have bare bottom tanks with just a sponge filter. Many breeders recommend this method as it has been tested and worked for years. A corner filter may also be used. This will give you a bit more control over the water as you can add some peat etc. I would not recommend using an internal power filter as the fry once free swimming will get sucked in and die. A sponge filter can be picked up cheap and is run by an air pump. Once every week, squeeze the sponge in the tank water you’ve removed from doing a water change as this won’t kill the bacteria in it.


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The Discus is a large cichlid from the Amazon River, its tributaries and flood planes, in South America. Discus and its variants were first described in 1840 by Dr. Heckel as Symphysodon discus, this name is now in use for the Heckel discus variant. The three "original" colour variants received their own name, the Green Discus Symphysodon aequifasciata aequifasciata, the brown discus Symphysodon aequifasciata axelrodi, and the blue variant Symphysodon aequifasciata haraldi.

More and more people are choosing to keep Discus Aquarium Fish over other fish. By becoming more popular more money is going into the industry which assists the funding for research and the development of products and different strains of Discus Aquarium Fish.

The discus is a social fish and lives in large groups in their native waters, and has a very advanced social behaviour; they are one of the few real schooling cichlids. Remember to keep this in mind starting with discus; always purchase a group of animals. They need the social interaction to develop their character to its best potential.

Currently, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find the original colour variants in pet shops, only the Heckel is sometimes imported. Most of the discus fish you encounter today are captive bred colour variants. At this time the list of described colour variants is nearly endless. Some of the discus colour variants have lost their stripes and therefore their natural ability to communicate in the school. But as always these new variants are finding their way to the aquarium hobbyist quickly for exceptionally high prices and this will stimulate the breeders to try to find a new one. One of the advantages of the captive bred discus is that they are now much easier, not easy, to maintain as the imported ones. They are much more tolerant concerning water conditions.

It is getting increasingly easier to keep Discus Aquarium Fish with new technology to improve water quality and Discus Fish health which could be the cause of the rise in demand. New dealers are growing rapidly and even small aquatic shops are stocking a range of Discus.

They are beautiful but yet still remain a challenge to keep and breed with the later been very rewarding and will even pay for the hobby. Most people that keep Discus will at some stage want to breed them as it is a great experience.

This guide should give you the knowledge to be able to keep your Discus Aquarium Fish at a good standard and help you breed them without any big problems. Even if you’re a beginner this guide should be the only one you need.

Discus Fish, img 1 Discus Fish, img 2

Color Varieties

There are three layers of colour on discus: The base colour (which usually ranges from cream to red-brown), the secondary colour (a metallic colour, usually a blue or green colour) and the black pigment that makes up the black vertical bars and allows the fish to darken and lighten at will.

Most discus strains have either a golden or reddish base colour. The secondary colour is often striped down the sides of the fish, although many strains (such as 'solid cobalt' or 'blue diamonds') have secondary colour that eventually covers most or all of the fish's body.

There are no rules or authorities on what constitutes a unique colour variety or what to call it. A particular form may or may not breed 'true' (with offspring very closely resembling the patterns of their parents.) Generally all of the common, established forms breed true. The exact patterning of the secondary (blue/green) colour is like a fingerprint; it develops chemically rather than being set precisely by genetics . The offspring of two 'spotted' discus will likely have spots, but not in the exact same size/position as their parents.

Notable colour varieties:

  • Brown: The most common colour form in the wild; these fish have a brownish base colour with minimal stripes of secondary colour only along the head and fins.
  • Blue/Green: Similar to the Brown, but with more secondary colour (either bluish or greenish.)
  • Royal Blue: The secondary colour forms stripes across the entire body, with a golden base colour. These splendid fish are the basis of many of the developed colour strains, and are primarily responsible for the early fame of discus. Royal Blues can usually be readily distinguished from selectively bred colour forms by their less even base colour, with the golden colour becoming a brighter yellow around the breast area.
  • Red Spotted Green: A reddish base colour with greenish secondary colour with 'holes' in it (producing spots of the red base colour showing through.) This handsome colour form is extremely rare in the wild, but is produced by several breeders.
  • Heckel: Possibly a separate species, Heckels are identifiable by two vertical black bars that are much thicker than the others.

Common Bred forms:

Two common discus varieties: one the left a 'Red Turquoise' and on the right a 'Blue Diamond'
Two common discus varieties: one the left a 'Red Turquoise' and on the right a 'Blue Diamond'
  • Red Turquoise: A red-brown base colour with stripes of blue-green secondary colour, normal black pigmentation (bars).
  • Solid Cobalt: Golden or light brown base colour, but when fully mature covered with a blue secondary colour. Black pigmentation may be normal or incomplete (some vertical bars missing.)
  • Blue Diamond: Essentially a 'solid cobalt', but the black bars have been completely removed through selective breeding. The reduction in black pigment gives these fish a bright, lighter blue colour than most 'solid' discus.
  • The Pigeon Blood mutants: These fish have a gene that disrupts the distribution of the black pigment. As a result, they lack vertical black bars (but often have 'pepper'). The lack of black pigment makes their base colour much lighter and brighter; as a result, discus with this mutation may show brilliant red or yellow (or even pale cream) primary colour. Most of these strains are no longer called 'pigeon bloods' per se, but are easily identifiable by the bright base colour, pepper, and lack of black vertical bars. All pigeon bloods are the descendant of a single fish found in Eastern Asia in the 1980s. Since the trait is dominant and appears to be controlled by a single gene, fish bearing this mutation can be crossed with any other colour strain to produce novel new 'pigeon blood' types. Pigeon bloods do have one drawback: They cannot darken at will (as normal discus can). This can make it difficult for them to raise fry, which are attracted to their parents by seeking out a dark object. (Normal discus darken when spawning or stressed.) The fish shown at the top of this document is a pigeon blood. (High quality pigeon blood types have few or no 'pepper'.)
  • Snake-skins: These fish have a mutation that makes their patterning 'tighter'; as a result, they have about twice as many black vertical bars, but also have tighter, finer secondary colour patterns than normal discus.


Feeding discus is sometimes a challenge. They have no unique nutritional requirements; they can be raised on just about any high-protein fish food. However, discus are often extremely cautious about new foods; it is not unusual for them to go for weeks without food before accepting a new type of food. (Therefore, when purchasing discus it is a good idea to ask what they are being fed.) After starving for a month discus will almost always accept a new food, but this may stunt the growth of younger fish.

It is not advisable to use the starving method for weening discus off of one food for another. Instead, mix the new food with the discus' preferred food. Over time, the discus will begin to accept the new food, and the old can be removed.

Beef heart is often fed to discus in order to promote good colouration and quick growth. Pork Heart has also been used to achieve a similar effect. However, concern over the long-term consequences of feeding discus a diet high in mammalian protein has prompted some hobbyists to switch their discus to a diet of krill, a shrimp-like crustacean.

Water Conditions

Aquariums for discus should be kept within a temperature range of 26-31 C ( 82-86 F); a temperature of 29 C (84 F) is thought ideal for adults. Babies and young fish should be maintained at 31 C (86 F) degrees. The water should be very soft and slightly acidic; a pH of 5.5 - 6.5 is considered good for wild caught discus.

Captive bred fish adapt very well to harder water and to pH up to 7.2, except when attempting to breed, in which case soft and acidic is best, although it is preferred by the fish anyway. VERY clean water with frequent large volume water changes is necessary for the health of these fish. Never use pure R.O. water or distilled water as some "salts" are necessary.(ie;calcium,magnesium, etc) 100 ppm GH is average. New fish should be quarantined for a minimum of 4-6 weeks in a separate room, separate tank, and separate water changing equipment to eliminate the possibility of bringing in an infection to established fish.It is generally accepted that new fish should be added after "lights out" or during normal feeding.

Water quality must be very high, as discus do not tolerate pollution of any sort very well. A good tank will be equipped with a high capacity biological filter and be fully cycled (which usually takes a month or more.) Ammonia and Nitrites should be kept at 0 ppm. Nitrates should also be kept as low as possible. Weekly water changes are important, except in the case of a very heavily planted tank with high nitrogen compound grounding capacity and a very small biological load.

General Description

Discus are shy and generally peaceful aquarium inhabitants. They are sensitive to stress and disturbance or lack of protection. The best cohabitants may be angelfish (although some aquarists claim that keeping them together with angelfish will introduce parasites and/or diseases) and small charcides like tetras. Uaru species are also suggested cohabitants for discus. It is noteworthy, however, that small fish may be intimidated or eaten by the discus. Catfish with sucker mouths are less than ideal cohabitants for discus since they sometimes attach themselves on the sides of discus and eat their mucus membranes.

**Many aquarists consider discus to be finicky and not particularly hardy. They often become susceptible to disease and die if not kept in optimal conditions.