Discus The Easy Way
By Uncle Bill
We all have heard the horror stories about how difficult Discus are to
keep - successfully. Supposedly they are "delicate", are prone to getting
lots of diseases, require special care, never come out from hiding, won't
eat, and so forth. Do you think that the above problems are the fault of
Let me tell you, from first hand experience, how "delicate"
these fish really are. Before they even reach their destination country
they are subjected to the harshest conditions imaginable. The wild fish
are caught and placed in small plastic tubs with only about 2" (5cm)
of water. This is to help prevent jumping and to give the container the
maximum surface area to volume of water ratio possible (for gas exchange).
The water, 1/2 - 1gal. (2 - 4l), is changed a couple of times daily but
the fish are not fed. This usually continues for at least a week,
sometimes more, until they reach a holding station. They are then placed
into holding pens which are submerged in the river. They are held here
until a passing boat buys them and takes them to a transshipper. This
means back to the plastic tub and another several days until delivery.
Still no food. At the transshipper's, they are usually put into cement
holding ponds of about 12' (3m) square and 12" - 18" deep (30 -
45cm) until being shipped to a wholesaler in the country of destination,
such as The United States, Germany, Japan, etc. The wholesaler keeps them,
usually in water unsuitable for discus, until shipment either to an
aquarium shop or distributor. Again they are subjected to unsuitable water
quality. Feeding? Probably not much. Stress? You bet!!! Now you get them.
They are severely stressed - often with bacterial or parasite problems -
and you are told that these fish are delicate! Just the fact that they are
alive is indicative of their hardiness. So, what can you do to best help
them at this point? What should you look for before purchase? What should
you do when you get them home?
The following things should be done before purchasing your Discus (or
any other fish for that matter):
Look for fish that come to the front of the tank to be fed when you
Is the forehead about as wide (looking headon) as the eyes? Do not
choose Discus with narrow foreheads. They usually have internal parasites.
If you see long, clear, stringy feces, don't buy that fish or others
from that tank. This also indicates internal problems.
Don't buy a fish that cowers in the corner.
Don't buy a fish that is dark in color and/or with protruding eyes.
Look out for any lesions on the head or lateral line. There is usually
a white pussy material oozing from the lesion.
Check out the fish's breathing. Is it even? The gills should open and
close at a rate of about once each second.
Very important: is any fish breathing rapidly and using only one gill?
Don't buy any fish from this tank - gill flukes. These flukes are one of
the most common, tenacious and deadly parasites to be found in discus.
Check the temperature of the tank. It should be between 84F and 86F
degrees (29 - 30C). If the water is 5 - 6F degrees lower, the fish may
have a chill and be prone to the 'ich' parasite. Look for any little white
salt-like spots on the fish.
Ask the shop owner what he/she is feeding the Discus. Better yet, ask
to watch them eat. Personally, if they are being fed tubifed (tubifex)
worms or blackworms (as they often are in California, USA), I would be
hesitant about buying them unless you know what you are doing. Tubifex are
especially dangerous. I don't care if they have been rinsed, kept in
flowing water, given antibiotics or whatever. Tubifex come from raw
sewage. They carry not only every kind of bacteria known to fish, but they
carry tape worms as well. Stay away from them!
Warning - Discus from Southeast Asia are, for the most part, fed a lot
of tubifex. Their handling is just about as bad as for wild caught fish
so, the same rules apply. One can be far more confident, in my opinion,
when buying Discus that have been raised in North America and/or Germany.
They usually have better blood lines as well (they may cost more and they
are worth it).
These are a few things you can do to increase the chances of starting
off with fewer problems to face and deal with while acclimating your
Discus to their new home.