Acid water or Alkaline water
By Jim E. Quarles
A BROWN PAPER ON COMMON SENSE.
The reason for this article is simple, the recent idea that it is just
as safe and effective to keep discus in Alkaline water as opposed to the
conditions that are found in nature with these fish.
I will not debate the fact that discus and many other acid type fish
can be kept alive in water conditions that are not found in nature. That
is not my point.
My concern is to understand there are prices to be paid for such
conditions either in the short term or down the road a bit by the fish we
claim to love.
Discus subjected to this non-natural event may well look healthy, and
to some appear to "thrive", but since 1845 it has been found
that this fish is the most demanding of the acid fishes when comes to
culturing and health conditions. Not just myself but all the leading
experts, have written volumes and spent endless hours learning and
teaching what they have painstakingly learned in most cases the hard way.
I think the first order of business is to understand the exact type of
natural conditions which allowed the development of the discus fish, since
it is found no where else in the world nor any fish even remotely close to
its biology other the other acid loving fish in the same or near by
Every creature develops it's biological nature almost 100% to adapt to
life where it is found. Discus fish are no exception. They developed their
immune systems over hundreds of thousands of years to adapt to an acid
water condition present in their everyday life.
So you say why is this important? Water is water, right? As long as it
is clean and you change it often right? Wrong. Very wrong. The pathogens
found in alkaline water are different than those normally found in acid
water conditions. Secondly, far more pathogens have been found that are
proven harmful to acid water fish when kept in alkaline water. Also the
treatment of the resulting diseases is far less effective.
Without going into too much specific detail, let's consider just one or
two parasites that have always proven themselves to plague discus: the
gill fluke, and let's not over look another real charmer, the cotton
fungus better known as Flexibacter bacterium.
The Occurrence of this disease is especially common in newly imported
fish that have been subjected to water conditions with a higher or lower
ph than its native water conditions. Flexibacter bacterium are gram
negative bacteria and thrive in alkaline water. While found in acidic
water, the frequency of the disease vector is far less in soft water fish
keep in a ph of 6.8 or lower.***
Gill problems may be caused by infections with certain fungi, such as
branchiomyces, bacteria, protozoans and monogenetic flukes, such as
Dactylegyrus. Most of the above are found in both acidic as well as
slightly acidic water conditions, but are prone to be much more common
disease factors in fish kept in alkaline water even with frequent water
The immune system and how it
works & why
Antigens and antibodies, (any molecule that induces a specific immune
response is called an antigen). Antigens include microbial components such
as toxins, cell walls, flagella, and capsules, as well as microorganisms,
viral particles, and cancerous cells. Every living organism develops an
immune system in order to defend it self within it's environment, with out
it, such a creature would quickly develop disease and fail in it's
The immune system has developed over very long periods of time,
thousands perhaps hundreds of thousands of years and each is specific to a
given species or individual. The immune system is the result of the
organism development in a very narrow range of conditions in it's native
When we refer to the natural reaction of the immune system to disease
or parasites we know that we are basically talking about building blocks
of antibodies. These antibodies are species specific and will differ
greatly depending upon the selective development of the species in it's
natural habitat. Example: A species that are native to a dry habitat say
in a desert condition would not reasonably be expected to do well when
placed in a wet Amazon environment. That is because it has over time not
developed the required immune system to deal with all the new factors that
can cause it to develop diseases, and it becomes a free lunch to all kinds
of new parasites.
Another example to reflect upon. I am sure some of you have heard the
story of a boy named David who was known as "the bubble boy"!.
David was born with combined immune deficiency. In simple terms his immune
system was missing or never developed. He lived his entire life accept for
the last two weeks of his life in a plastic bubble. This was done to
exclude micro orgainisms from his habitat.
As long as David remained in his germ free bubble he was safe. But the
time came when efforts were made to give him a bone marrow transplant to
help him build a workable immune system and as a result pathogens found
their way into his body and he died in less then three weeks.
Any creature, be it a fish or a human, has developed a immune system
designed to meet the needs of a very specific environment or habitat, and
when you subject them to new conditions you invite disease and parasites
to rule in vast numbers.
Discus fish have developed their immune systems in acidic water, where
they thrive in the Amazon River systems. They have an immune system that
is specific to acidic water conditions.
While like David, as long as they remain in such acidic waters the
immune system is designed to protect them. However once removed to
alkaline water conditions you open the door to parasites and bacteria that
can see your fish as a Smorgasbord.
When you consider that acidic water conditions are found in very
limited places on earth with the vast number of the world's standing water
alkaline in nature it stands to reason that larger numbers and types of
pathogens and disease vectors have developed in this type of environment
in order to avail themselves of the creatures found there in.
Volumes could be written about the immune systems of discus and other
fishes and you would find a given species has developed very specific
antibodies to meet its needs. When you subject these organisms to
conditions not found in their natural habitat you alter the living
conditions of the creature in question and invite disease and parasites to
over come any such creature.
Work with nature, and your efforts will be rewarded to a much greater
extent than fighting the natural order of things to meet some personal
idea with out merit.
** Essentials of Microbiolgy by Jaine S.
Colome and Raul J Cano.
California Polytechinic State University, San Luis Obispo, Calif.
*** The manual of fish health. Dr. Chris
Andrews Adrian Exell and Dr. Neville
Carrington. Tetra Press.