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The Discus

15 August 2014 Comments::DISQUS_COMMENTS

By Romel Fernandes
an experienced Discus Breeder for years apart from being an Micro Biologiest.

In the aquarium world it is a universal fact that the pride of place for being the “King of the aquarium” belongs to the Discus Fish. The Discus fish has all the attributes of a King, its magnificent and regal appearance, its large size, its beautiful circular shape and stunning colours, and its stately disposition. Discus were first introduced to aquarists in 1933 and have charmed and fascinated the hobbyists and breeders ever since.

Habitat
The home of the Discus also called Sompadour fish, is the Amazon River system in South America. The Discus’s natural habitat is in the backwater system of the Amazon River in Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Venezuela

Classification
There are two species of Discus fish with several subspecies.
1) Symphysodon # discus, which is subdivided into two subspecies,
namely: Symphysodon discus discus (Heckle Discus)
Symphysodon discus willischwartzi (Pineapple Discus)

2) Symphysodon aequifasciata, which is further subdivided into three subspecies,
namely: Symphysodon aequifasciata aequifasciata (Green Discus)
Symphysodon aequifasciata haraldi (Blue Discus)
Symphysodon aequifasciata axelrodi (Brown Discus)

Colour and Strains of Discus
Commercial breeding of discus resulted in the hybridisation between species and subspecies, producing beautiful coloured fish, which were an improvement of the colours found in nature.

There are several colour varieties available. The most popular are the blue turquoise, red turquoise, pigeon blood reds, Marlboro reds, and Diamond blue. In general the new varieties are based on the depth and brilliance of the blue and red colours as well as the patterns, which occur accompanying these colours. We thus have snake skin, pearl or leopard discus.

Mr. Steven Cheang from Malaysia bred the Ghost Discus or Silver Dream( as it was formerly known) a variety that lacks the stress bars and this strain has been the basis for all solid colour varieties e.g. Blue diamond discus, solid red, pearl and the white discus to name a few.

Housing and Care
Maintaining Discus in the aquarium may not be the easiest of things, but with commercial production and captive breeding it is easier to maintain these captive bred fish than the wild caught ancestors. Some basic conditions must be met to be successful in nurturing the discus fish. Being a large fish about 5” to 6” inches at maturity hence they must be housed in a large tank e.g. a 25 to 50 gallon tank. The tank must be well lit. They prefer warmer temperature about 28 to 30 degrees celsius.

Water requirements
They also prefer soft water i.e. water with low mineral content(1-3 GH or 10-80ppm.) -such as water from rain filled lake systems as we have in Mumbai, as opposed to hard water such as well water or ground water. Further they prefer neutral or slightly acidic water with a pH of 7 to 6.5. The water should be well aerated and if possible it must be filtered too. Also, discus fish require a 10 percent change with new mature water on a weekly basis preferably daily.


Feeding Discus
Feeding the discus fish is thought to be another stumbling block. Discus fish are finicky feeders. They prefer live foods but there is the danger of parasitic infection that may occur through the feeding of tubifex worms, bloodworms or other such life foods. With patience discus can be made to accept prepared foods such as raw goat or beef heart, boiled liver and even boiled spinach. Non-live food is a preferred diet for these fish. Discus can also be fed on imported flake foods or other commercially available fish foods like “Tetra Bits” which are no doubt costly. It is important that no uneaten food must remain at the end of the day. All uneaten food must be siphoned off.

Breeding Discus
The reproductive behavior of the Discus fish is the most fascinating part of the experience of culturing this magnificent fish. The discus belongs to the cichlid family and they mature at about 18 to 24 months. It is at this time when they are sexually mature and if you have six to eight of these fish in a large aquarium, they may start courting and eventually a male and female will form a bonded pair and will constantly remain together driving off all other tank inmates. Then it is time to provide the pair with a separate accommodation in a secluded place, a tank of about minimum 20 gallons capacity. The tank can be without the normal decorations, no gravel etc. Provide an air stone and sponge filter. A substrate for the pair to deposit the eggs must be provided in the form of thick PVC pipe, a plate of vitriolite glass or an earthen cone shaped pot. In the absence of any medium to deposit the eggs the female may improvise by using the sides of the aquarium itself with due success!

Prior to the actual spawning the pair cleans the chosen surface by mouthing and pecking at the surface. Then the female will start depositing the eggs while gliding over the surface while the male will pass over the deposited eggs fertilizing them. This is continued until about 150 to 200 eggs have been deposited. The pair then stands guard over the eggs fanning them with their pectoral fins and picking all white unfertilized eggs in their mouths. The eggs hatch in about 48 to 60 hours. The parents tend to the developing fry with dedication. The fry appear as a wriggling mass. Later on, three days after hatching the fry become free swimming and swim around their parents and start grazing on the slime produced by their parents. This involves almost mammalian care of the fry. The fry grow exclusively and rapidly on this slime. The fry do not eat any other food during this period, but after about 10 to 14 days they can be gradually weaned away by offering them freshly hatched brine shrimp naupulii.

Once it is certain that the fry are feeding freely they can be transferred into a separate tank away from their parents. But in practice the breeder does encounter many unforeseen problems. One major problem encountered by breeders is the fact that discus parents many a times eat up the eggs and sometimes even the developing fry. Some are bad parents and at times this behavior may be brought on due to disturbance caused to the breeding pair. Hence a breeding pair must be given absolute privacy and must not be unduly disturbed. But patience and perseverance will triumph in the end. Experiencing the breeding behavior of this fabulous fish is really one of nature’s soul stirring moments.

Discus Diseases
Discus fish is also susceptible to various infections. These are common fish ailments that affect most aquarium fish. But most of these diseases occur primarily due to poor water condition as well as improper hygienic and quarantine procedures.

High nitrite and nitrate levels in the water leads to stress and is one of the reasons why discus fish stop feeding and gradually turn dark and fade away. To prevent this happening always perform 10% water changes. Also maintain a simple sponge biological filter.

White-spot, Velvet or oodinium and fungal infections can be treated with methylene blue, acriflaven or any commercially available drug. As discus fish are sensitive to copper, all medication that contains free copper or its compounds must be used with extreme caution. Bacterial infections e.g. cloudy skin and fin rot can be treated with antibiotics like Tetracyclin.

Other infections include gill flukes caused by Dactylogyrus species. Treat with formalin bath and also saline bath.

Hole in the head is a disease in which holes appear in the head region of the fish from which pus exudates. At a later stage holes appear on the fore head of the fish. Prior to this fish may go off food turn dark and show general signs of lassitude.

Causative agent Hexamita sp. A microscopic single- celled parasite with eight flagellae.

Excreted in faeces and is passed on with food. Parasite multiply in the intestine and spreads via the blood to all internal organs.

Drug of choice Metronidazole. Anti fungal treatment must be carried out to control secondary infection.

In conclusion it must be stated that if discus fish are maintained in the correct environment they resist common ailments and live disease free healthy lives.

By Romel Fernandes
an experienced Discus Breeder for years apart from being an Micro Biologiest.

In the aquarium world it is a universal fact that the pride of place for being the “King of the aquarium” belongs to the Discus Fish. The Discus fish has all the attributes of a King, its magnificent and regal appearance, its large size, its beautiful circular shape and stunning colours, and its stately disposition. Discus were first introduced to aquarists in 1933 and have charmed and fascinated the hobbyists and breeders ever since.

Habitat
The home of the Discus also called Sompadour fish, is the Amazon River system in South America. The Discus’s natural habitat is in the backwater system of the Amazon River in Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Venezuela

Classification
There are two species of Discus fish with several subspecies.
1) Symphysodon # discus, which is subdivided into two subspecies,
namely: Symphysodon discus discus (Heckle Discus)
Symphysodon discus willischwartzi (Pineapple Discus)

2) Symphysodon aequifasciata, which is further subdivided into three subspecies,
namely: Symphysodon aequifasciata aequifasciata (Green Discus)
Symphysodon aequifasciata haraldi (Blue Discus)
Symphysodon aequifasciata axelrodi (Brown Discus)

Colour and Strains of Discus
Commercial breeding of discus resulted in the hybridisation between species and subspecies, producing beautiful coloured fish, which were an improvement of the colours found in nature.

There are several colour varieties available. The most popular are the blue turquoise, red turquoise, pigeon blood reds, Marlboro reds, and Diamond blue. In general the new varieties are based on the depth and brilliance of the blue and red colours as well as the patterns, which occur accompanying these colours. We thus have snake skin, pearl or leopard discus.

Mr. Steven Cheang from Malaysia bred the Ghost Discus or Silver Dream( as it was formerly known) a variety that lacks the stress bars and this strain has been the basis for all solid colour varieties e.g. Blue diamond discus, solid red, pearl and the white discus to name a few.

Housing and Care
Maintaining Discus in the aquarium may not be the easiest of things, but with commercial production and captive breeding it is easier to maintain these captive bred fish than the wild caught ancestors. Some basic conditions must be met to be successful in nurturing the discus fish. Being a large fish about 5” to 6” inches at maturity hence they must be housed in a large tank e.g. a 25 to 50 gallon tank. The tank must be well lit. They prefer warmer temperature about 28 to 30 degrees celsius.

Water requirements
They also prefer soft water i.e. water with low mineral content(1-3 GH or 10-80ppm.) -such as water from rain filled lake systems as we have in Mumbai, as opposed to hard water such as well water or ground water. Further they prefer neutral or slightly acidic water with a pH of 7 to 6.5. The water should be well aerated and if possible it must be filtered too. Also, discus fish require a 10 percent change with new mature water on a weekly basis preferably daily.


Feeding Discus
Feeding the discus fish is thought to be another stumbling block. Discus fish are finicky feeders. They prefer live foods but there is the danger of parasitic infection that may occur through the feeding of tubifex worms, bloodworms or other such life foods. With patience discus can be made to accept prepared foods such as raw goat or beef heart, boiled liver and even boiled spinach. Non-live food is a preferred diet for these fish. Discus can also be fed on imported flake foods or other commercially available fish foods like “Tetra Bits” which are no doubt costly. It is important that no uneaten food must remain at the end of the day. All uneaten food must be siphoned off.

Breeding Discus
The reproductive behavior of the Discus fish is the most fascinating part of the experience of culturing this magnificent fish. The discus belongs to the cichlid family and they mature at about 18 to 24 months. It is at this time when they are sexually mature and if you have six to eight of these fish in a large aquarium, they may start courting and eventually a male and female will form a bonded pair and will constantly remain together driving off all other tank inmates. Then it is time to provide the pair with a separate accommodation in a secluded place, a tank of about minimum 20 gallons capacity. The tank can be without the normal decorations, no gravel etc. Provide an air stone and sponge filter. A substrate for the pair to deposit the eggs must be provided in the form of thick PVC pipe, a plate of vitriolite glass or an earthen cone shaped pot. In the absence of any medium to deposit the eggs the female may improvise by using the sides of the aquarium itself with due success!

Prior to the actual spawning the pair cleans the chosen surface by mouthing and pecking at the surface. Then the female will start depositing the eggs while gliding over the surface while the male will pass over the deposited eggs fertilizing them. This is continued until about 150 to 200 eggs have been deposited. The pair then stands guard over the eggs fanning them with their pectoral fins and picking all white unfertilized eggs in their mouths. The eggs hatch in about 48 to 60 hours. The parents tend to the developing fry with dedication. The fry appear as a wriggling mass. Later on, three days after hatching the fry become free swimming and swim around their parents and start grazing on the slime produced by their parents. This involves almost mammalian care of the fry. The fry grow exclusively and rapidly on this slime. The fry do not eat any other food during this period, but after about 10 to 14 days they can be gradually weaned away by offering them freshly hatched brine shrimp naupulii.

Once it is certain that the fry are feeding freely they can be transferred into a separate tank away from their parents. But in practice the breeder does encounter many unforeseen problems. One major problem encountered by breeders is the fact that discus parents many a times eat up the eggs and sometimes even the developing fry. Some are bad parents and at times this behavior may be brought on due to disturbance caused to the breeding pair. Hence a breeding pair must be given absolute privacy and must not be unduly disturbed. But patience and perseverance will triumph in the end. Experiencing the breeding behavior of this fabulous fish is really one of nature’s soul stirring moments.

Discus Diseases
Discus fish is also susceptible to various infections. These are common fish ailments that affect most aquarium fish. But most of these diseases occur primarily due to poor water condition as well as improper hygienic and quarantine procedures.

High nitrite and nitrate levels in the water leads to stress and is one of the reasons why discus fish stop feeding and gradually turn dark and fade away. To prevent this happening always perform 10% water changes. Also maintain a simple sponge biological filter.

White-spot, Velvet or oodinium and fungal infections can be treated with methylene blue, acriflaven or any commercially available drug. As discus fish are sensitive to copper, all medication that contains free copper or its compounds must be used with extreme caution. Bacterial infections e.g. cloudy skin and fin rot can be treated with antibiotics like Tetracyclin.

Other infections include gill flukes caused by Dactylogyrus species. Treat with formalin bath and also saline bath.

Hole in the head is a disease in which holes appear in the head region of the fish from which pus exudates. At a later stage holes appear on the fore head of the fish. Prior to this fish may go off food turn dark and show general signs of lassitude.

Causative agent Hexamita sp. A microscopic single- celled parasite with eight flagellae.

Excreted in faeces and is passed on with food. Parasite multiply in the intestine and spreads via the blood to all internal organs.

Drug of choice Metronidazole. Anti fungal treatment must be carried out to control secondary infection.

In conclusion it must be stated that if discus fish are maintained in the correct environment they resist common ailments and live disease free healthy lives.

Last modified on Sunday, 17 August 2014 11:38