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Understanding Discus Care Requirements

discus fishDiscus is arguably one of the most famous and well-liked freshwater tropical fish highly sought after by all hobbyists. At of point, not long after their initial introduction sometime around the late 80’s when the first wild caught discus were introduced to the fish keeping community and made their way to the home aquarium tank, the whole thing actually generated a lot of buzz until people do not have doubt about paying few thousand dollars just to acquire a fine specimen. In fact until today, they were considered to be the type of fish that belongs to the elite and exotic group and maintains this status as more and more colorful variants were introduced. They are appreciated not only because of their nice well-defined shades and unique patterns but also due their graceful movements that swim slowly in the tank and all these will never fail to catch the attention of aquarist. Most noticeable appearance which makes them so easy to identify compared to the other fish is their shape whereby there is no other fish species in the world that shares the same feature and characteristics.

They are also considered one of the highly sought after aquarium community fish as they will get along fine not only with the other Amazonian species but also with some other non-native fish as well. Most hobbyists that I’ve known loved them and at one time or another have kept them before as pets. And even though with their demanding nature that could easily frustrate most people, this doesn’t stop hobbyist from giving up their venture and until today still maintains wide interest in having the fish. Keeping discus as pets in the home aquarium tank can be very demanding and often challenging because they are not considered as the type of fish that allows mistakes to be made. In other words, they demand perfection, and that is in terms of water quality, foods and living environment. With the fussy requirements, this could easily frustrate most people but once you have grasped the basic understanding about the fish, things might not be as bad as it seems. Let’s look at all the factors involved and how we can effectively deal with them as an aquarist.

Requirement #1: Water Quality
Discus fish are known to have the least tolerance when it comes to high ammonia and nitrite levels. While some other fish species can live in partially cycled tank having water quality with nitrite measuring up to 0.5ppm, putting discus into the same water condition could easily spell disaster as prolonged exposure will cause them to exhibit clamped fins, blurred out body color, remain idle stationary at same spot with front head tilting down and also total loss of appetites. Thus, what all these mean is that you can only put them in after the water condition has already stabilized with ammonia at zero (no compromise on this critical parameter) and nitrite level lower than 0.3ppm. While high nitrate can have less detrimental effect and with some discus breed showing more tolerance, it is still recommended to keep this parameter as low as possible, preferably below 5ppm. In order to achieve this, strict rule of thumb is only to add in your discus after the aquarium has fully undergone the final stage of the nitrogen cycle and at least 2 days prior to adding your fish, do a last and final confirmation check on all the water parameters to make sure that everything is okay. You might be asking yourself on whether it is necessary to take such an extreme and over-sensitive precaution, the question is best left for yourself to answer. After all, this pet doesn’t come cheap as a mature discus pair can easily fetch few thousands for the high quality exotic breeds.

Temperature and pH are the next two most important water parameters to watch out. While most hobbyists prefer maintaining close to neutral pH, some desirable effects are actually seen when the shift is slightly towards more acidic around 6.5 to 6.8 which is the condition most favorable to them. Certain aquarist might have different opinions as some prefer going as low as 6.2 but that is not really necessary as most (almost 99%) of the discus fish available today seen in pet shops and home aquariums are all domestic bred in fish tanks. For water temperature, in the past when the first wild caught discus fish were kept in tanks, they require at least 32degC in order to survive. During that period, aquarist has to incur high maintenance cost as they need to use heater all the time to maintain the right temperature and because of this requirement, a lot of people had been complaining about how hard it is to care for them. Certain people who can't afford a heater have to resort to having a lamp lit under the tank but all these were things in the past. The modern day discus that you see today is already highly adaptive to our natural living environment and room temperature condition but their tolerance limit is only as low as 27degC and preferably not lower than that. Else water temperature that is too low will increase their susceptibility to different types of disease and your fish will end up sick all the time. Thus, extreme care has to be taken to constantly monitor the temperature so that it doesn’t drop below the range and if possible, create a buffering capacity in order to maintain the right pH as well.

Requirement #2: Quality Foods
Discus although are not picky or fussy when it comes to the type of foods that they get, malnourished condition lacking in certain nutrients might not bode well for them. Discus although can survive fully on being fed just only on pellets and dried processed fish foods, but however, in long term, it can experience slower than normal growth rate, blurred out colors and generally sterile. The best nutrition for your pet fish should be live foods such as bloodworms, earthworms, grind meat like beef and even market prawns. Never use tubifex worms which are naturally found in contaminated drains and water source because you will risk introducing unwanted disease which will make conditions even worse. Having said all that, even though you are feeding market prawns, make sure that those are properly washed and cleaned and the best follow up actions after your fish has completed its meal, is to quickly conduct 10% water change to siphon out whatever leftover waste. This is absolutely necessary because if those bits and pieces of foods get left around, stuck in the corners, it will start to rot and present a good chance for the bacteria to proliferate. Thus, there are aquarium owners who advocate keeping the tank bare bottom in order to make water changes easier and their focus is mainly on the discus fish itself and everything else like tank decorations are not important.

Foods given to your pet discus should also vary. Never stick to only one type of food for long period of time but instead vary and rotate around the different types so that they get constant supply of protein and every nutrient that they require. Fish fed with quality meals will also show better resistance to disease and they are able to withstand water temperature fluctuation much better, hence they don’t fall sick that often. Also with nutritious feed, this will most likely induce spawning and the fry will be of better quality. Discus fish if well fed, will display extremely fast growth rate often achieving full-grown adult size of 8 inches in just 9 months starting from a small few millimetres fry.

Requirement #3: Tank Living Environment
As mentioned earlier, sometimes less is better and that is definitely true when it comes to discus care. Barren tank will result in easier-to-handle water change and without bogwood or gravel which has the potential to rot and leach unwanted chemicals to the water; overall this will make things much simpler to manage. Tank placement for your discus should also be at location exposed to brief period of sunlight for at least an hour (but not too long over 2 hours as it can encourage algae growth) so that they fish gets the natural light exposure which helps them to stay healthy and maintain their natural colors. Also with slightly greenish water which results from the brief exposure, this will also help your pets to acclimatize to the environment much better especially right after the water change. Discus are also known to be sensitive to glaring lights and sudden unanticipated movements around their tank (especially with people walking around), thus make sure both the left and right sides of the aquarium is painted dark color to avoid reflection. This is extremely important for them to develop the sense of security in their home.

Some aquarists recommend adding live aquarium plants especially those with thick leaves but I find that not necessary. Previously I had two separate tanks one acting as display aquarium with plants in it while another one which houses the siblings from the same parents, has totally nothing at all in the aquarium. Months progressed and those in the second tank which is barren actually achieve the same growth rate compared with their siblings in a tank with plants and thus, my conclusion is that barren setup is as good as the planted ones. There are some people who insist on having some decorations as they feel that fishkeeping means nothing without the accessories and display ornaments around but that is totally different story altogether and certainly, the choice is yours to decide.

Another example of delicate soft water fish: Chocolate Gourami

comparison between fluval and eheimComparing Between Different Fish Filters (Advantages and Disadvantages). How about other brands like the BiOrb?

Basic Aquarium Saltwater Maintenance & Troubleshooting

aquarium saltwater maintenanceThere are different problems that can happen during the course of maintaining your saltwater aquarium. Some of it can be quite easy to deal with while others may require constant attention and thus cannot be solved in just a matter of days. Quite a number of problems can be very persistent but as long as you put in enough effort combined with your knowledge and experience to focus on it, nothing is impossible. This article is meant to share some of the common saltwater aquarium issues and how you can effectively deal with it applying good maintenance approach, whereby most important of all is to avoid recurrence. Hopefully this serves as a troubleshooting guide both for novices and experts alike.

How to control algae growth in the tank

Algae growth in the aquarium is usually attributed caused by exposure to excessive light, availability of nutrients and with the desirable temperature to encourage its growth. Among the 3 factors, usually prolonged and unnecessary exposure of light is the main reason that promotes algae bloom and in order to deal with the problem, the on-off light cycle of your tank should be controlled with a timer in order not to exceed 8 hours per day. Certain types of lighting like actinic lights which is specifically use to promote growth of corals and invertebrates will further aggravate the situation that causes algae bloom and thus, the only approach is to cut down the length of time in the blue light and instead prolong the white daylight lamp duration. For example, one of the standard time ratio that aquarist often use is the 1.5 hour of actinic to 6.5 hours of white light and if found that algae growth still remains a problem, then a sensible approach is to increase white daylight duration to 7 hours and decrease actinic to 1 hour. Sometimes a change of time duration can make a lot of difference so experiment with it.

Phosphate is not only present in the tap water but is also found in the marine salts that we add in during the water preparation, whereby it is a fact that excessive amount over 0.1ppm can have quite a detrimental to the overall health of the aquarium as this will create unsightly growth of algae and stunt the growth of corals. Sometimes you might not even aware that certain types of live rocks that you add to the tank might also be slowly leaching phosphate and other minerals to the water and if this happens whereby you detect high levels of these minerals which are way above the normal concentration, then it is time to remove the objects added earlier to the tank. Using RO water is the best approach to deal with phosphate problem coming from the water source as basically the reserve osmosis process has already removed most of the minerals. However, having said that, if you intend to use it long term, be prepared to deal with the cost of maintaining constant RO water supply.

Saltwater condition with lower temperature control setting in the range of 75 - 77 deg Fahrenheit is also found to avoid sudden algae bloom. Higher temperature is known to increase the algae growth rate and this is usually attributed to poor ventilation under the aquarium hood and whatever heat coming from the lighting will get trapped inside the whole fixture. Although it makes sensible approach to improve ventilation, in certain warmer climate regions especially in tropical countries, getting higher than normal water temperature is sometimes almost unavoidable. Thus in order to deal with this maintenance problem, consideration has to be given to install an aquarium chiller equipped with a temperature regulator to control to the desired range. A note of caution though as temperature should not be left to drop too low or else it might have negative effects towards certain types of aquarium fish and corals.

How to maintain clean water condition all the time

A good filtration system will ensure that a balanced natural ecosystem exists in the tank with the waste generation and the takeoff rate remains in total equilibrium. There are at least 8 different approaches to achieve this.

  1. Live rocks and sand play an important role in the reef system as it hosts bacteria that consume and breakdown the organic waste to simpler molecular compounds that are non-toxic in nature. Thus, you will need them at all cost.

  2. Clean up crew that comprises mainly shrimps will seek out all the trapped waste material which would otherwise get left around the tank that pollutes and degrades the water quality. They consumed and the discharge waste by these shrimps are more easily break down by the bacteria

  3. A refugium provides a safe haven for the growth of copepods and amphipods and other macro algae to thrive away from the attention of the predatory fish and thus able to maintain a healthy growing population that helps to biodegrade all the harmful waste materials. A saltwater aquarium that has a refugium functioning as a support system is usually more sustainable compared to those which doesn’t have.

  4. Ultraviolet sterilizers are mainly used to kill harmful disease causing bacteria and pathogens and apart from that it can also function as a control unit to contain and prevent algae bloom which can pollute the water.

  5. Powerful fish filters usually the external installed type can be used to filter out the junk and returned clean water back to the aquarium. Careful selection of the right unit determines how successful your fish keeping venture will turn out.

  6. Protein skimmer can play an effective role to remove floated waste material that gets separated due to the flow and water movement. These are mainly protein and to certain extent traces of oily material that would otherwise remain soluble and pollute the water

  7. Wave makers although do not directly participate in the cleaning process, the water movement actually help to prevent dead spots that would otherwise accumulate debris and waste materials. Apart from that, the constant water movement will also create the “air to water mixing effect” that helps to separate and float up the non-dissolved particles and this is then taken care off by the protein skimmer

  8. And finally, nothing beats the constant changing to fresh new saltwater supply and in order to simplify the task and at the same time keep the water clean, an automated top-up water system can be used to maintain and change the water at certain reset interval.

Therefore if you are having cloudy, murky and dirty aquarium water, try to use some of the above methods to deal with it. More about aquarium saltwater maintenance: How to maintain calcium level in reef tank

comparison between fluval and eheimComparing Between Different Fish Filters (Advantages and Disadvantages). How about other brands like the BiOrb?

About Me

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My fascination and interest towards aquarium fish has led me to devote my time towards caring and learning about this wonderful pet.

Aquarium fish keeping is a very challenging and exciting hobby. When I first started, I never knew much or have the necessary guidance back then because none of my family members were actually a keen hobbyist. And because of that, I’ve encountered numerous failures and the worst part is having to deal with dead fish every time when you started to grow fond and getting attached to my pets. However, I persevered and took steps to find out and search for information from other hobbyist, apart from the knowledge gained and learned from my own experience and research. The blog that I’ve created here is meant to share useful information and tips about aquarium fish keeping so that new hobbyist will not make the same mistakes that I’ve made in the past."

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