By Ralph Peters
As long as I can remember, Discus fish have always intrigued me. To
have them on one hand, and then again not to get involved with them on the
other hand. For sixteen years I managed to stick to cichlids, other fresh
water fish and marine aquaria. Four fresh water, two marine, and one 1.60
m. fresh water tank without any habitants other than some live plants,
were operating in full process. My intentions were to make a big Malawi
reef out of the empty tank. At least, that was the plan until I took my
girlfriend with me to one of the aquarium stores I often visit to see if
they have something special in their tanks. You probably know the kind of
dealers who say "I don't know what kind of fish they are, but they
came with the shipment".
During my visit, my girlfriend kept on staring at a tank full off small
discus between 5-6 cm. It was a beautiful sight, approx. 50 turquoise with
red, merely swimming in front of the window. "Why don't we take some
of these for our big tank", she said, "they look so pretty,
don't they?". Sure they looked pretty, but in the back of my mind I
saw myself sleeping in front of the tank with a stethoscope around my neck
and all kinds of medical equipment within reach in case of an emergency.
Yes, that was how I thought about discus, when a guy started his badly
tuned diesel car three blocks away from here and the wind was blowing my
direction, my discus would suffocate. I'll spare you the details of our
discussion and the sad but then again charming eyes of my girl friend, 30
minutes later I walked with six young discus to the car. Idiot, I thought
to myself, there goes your spare time, while next to me my girlfriend kept
telling me how good they would look in the big fish tank. Well, let me
tell you, that was a major disappointment, put six discus of 5 cm. in a
1.60 meter big thank, and then try to spot them. You'll never see them
O.k., after a while the fish were swimming happy in their new home, and
everything looked well. After reading some books that I had on the shelf,
I read that you've got to keep the tank clean, clean and most of all, yes,
clean. So I rushed to the store to get me nine Corydora's to eat the
overlooked food on the floor of the tank, and to make the tank look more
lively. So far, so good. They were eating like crazy, first only artemia
but later other frozen and dry foods. To keep the tank as clean as
possible, I removed the gravel and the plants. Now there were only a
couple of roots left in the tank that besides looking nice, colored the
water light brown. They appeared to have a good time in their new
surrounding, they would hide under the wood and chase each other, what I
thought was playing. In another tank developed a big fight between three
adult angelfish. To end this, I took the fish that was constantly chased
out of the tank and put him in with the discus. First a little shy, but
later with a lot of interest they looked at their new partner. They
appeared to get along very well.
When I decided to put the angelfish back after a couple of weeks
because the other angelfish were done with their mating and spawning, it
looked like the discus were sadly looking at the window of their tank to
say their friend goodbye. With more than normal interest I looked at the
discus that were left by themselves in the tank. It looked like they were
darker than normal and it appeared they were missing little pieces out of
their fins, which I thought came from playing with each other and the
angelfish. In the following days the situation became worse. The bright
color disappeared totally and the fins looked like white toothpicks that
were standing in the air.
My goodness, a disaster was taking place here!
Didn't I always tell myself, hands off of discus fish. Refresh the
water, that was the first thing to do, so I was always told!! It's like
checking your oil after your headlights gave up on you. Right, it takes
out a lot of bad things but doesn't take away the problem. Next thing is
testing, but what if everything appears to be normal, like in my case??
Yes !! Then you jump in your car to go to somebody who does know what to
do. About what had caused it, he couldn't tell me anything, but what to do
about it he could. That is, if I still had a chance, he encouraged me.
"Holes in the head" he explained, and told me in details how the
fish would look after a week, if they lived that long. Well, hearing his
whole story I wanted the Ministry of Agriculture to prohibit
transportation at once.
Although suspicious (or stuburn) as I am, I left with 2 bottles of
medicine. One of them was a completely new product. The other one I think,
existed long before WWI and is a familiar cure against all kind of things
(I do not want to tell which brand in case of hurting people), but it has
something to do with the coming turn of the century. Arriving at home I
immediately looked at the tank and saw the discus had turned their
swimming method into that of the anemone fish in the salt water tank. In
case you do not know them, they always seem not knowing how to swim.
Bumping and tumbling they move through the tank. Alright, no time to
loose. Again I refreshed part of the water, took the carbon out off the
filter, opened the familiar box and I started dosing.
Waiting became the most difficult part. The discus seemed to keep on
accepting food but because of the lack of coordination they ate more air.
Some days passed. I noticed that 5 out of 6 were improving but the
smallest one got worse. I rapidly emptied another fresh water tank to make
a quarantine tank. The severely sick fish was put in this tank to watch it
better and not to obstruct the recovery of the other fish. Excited weeks
passed with lots of ups and downs.
In the meantime I bought a large Monstera Deliciosa "Borsigianan",
commonly known as the Philodendron. This was put very high above the tank
in such a way that the air-roots got into the water. The roots quickly bud
and shaped a beautiful forest in which the discus fish could relax
themselves. But the main reason was that the plant simply filters out all
off the bad additives that are present in the water. You can see this as a
giant natural filter. Maybe it was because of this that the tank with the
plant recovered three times as fast as the plant less tank. But I can't be
sure of this. In the mean time I figured out what had caused all the
trouble, the stay over from the angelfish wasn't such a great idea after
all. Later I read in some books that these friends are just swimming
parasite factories, which doesn't hurt them theirself. So, another lesson
is to be learned here, I would advise everybody when they buy an
angelfish, to ask for a manual. By the way, make sure that when you buy a
Philodendron, it wasn't raised with a lot of growing Fertilizer, cause
that would reverse the process.
Even the plant less fish recovered after a while, so I was able to
reunite it with its family. At this time all of the fish are seeming to
have a good time, swimming in an bare tank, with the Philodendron and its
roots. They have, 5 months after the unfortunate start, reached a
respectable height of 10 to 13 cm., are super bright, and are eating
almost everything that I offer them. Even out of my hand. Water changes
take place about two times in three weeks and than about 20% with r.o.
water. Being a discus keeper is far away, ahead of me, that I do realize,
but keeping the six discus that I have alive and seeing them recover from
a hopeless situation (they looked like chewed off fish skeletons),
convinced me that keeping discus is very much worth doing.