Raising Wild Discus fish in Home Tanks
This page is dedicated to raising wild caught Discus fish, we've tried to answer all concerns keepers may have in order to make keeping such fish easier for all kind of hobbyists. We also have other pages devoted to these beautiful fish: Our largest article about Discus, Quite a large article with plenty of questions&answers, Profile of Symphysodon aequifasciata alenquer, Profile of Symphysodon aequifasciata haraldi. You're welcome to submit your experiences and ideas at the bottom of this page!
Nowadays Discus are being kept by more and more keepers, developments in aquarium technology for fishkeeping equipment is making life a lot easier for the fish keeper meaning that more delicate fish have healthier lives in the aquarium without too many problems as long as basic principles are followed i.e. water quality, quality of feeding etc.
From tank bred to wild ones
For Discus keepers, once having gained experience with tank bred strains, the next step is often to have a go at raising wild specimens of Discus. Often potential keepers are put off with this next step from reading articles either from old reference books or via the internet as wild Discus have a reputation for being delicate creatures that are extremely difficult to keep but this does not have to be the case and many of these are kept in the aquarium with no extra problems encountered, in fact they are basically wild cichlids that can cope with different water parameters if acclimatised properly and given space to grow to their natural adult sizes.
As expected the first step is to find a reliable supplier but before doing this you need to make sure that you have a suitable quarantine tank set up as adding wild Discus straight to the display tank will inevitably lead to problems with infections being passed to other occupants, quarantining the new arrivals in a smaller tank also allows you to treat the fish at a reduced cost due to the smaller water volumes involved with the smaller tank and observation of the fish is easier due to the smaller amounts of décor used in quarantine tanks.
A tank as small as 20 gallons can be used but it must be cycled before the Discus are added, the water should be soft and the pH maintained at approximately 6.5 for the fish to feel comfortable. If the hardness of the water and the pH is too high there are commercial products available that will soften the water such as black-water extract or you could even use peat in the filter, using peat can also help to remove some impurities from the water as well. A pH of 6.5 is a guideline if it varies to a range of 6.7-6.8 then this is not a disaster and the Discus will adapt, going above 7.0 is not recommended initially though as the fish need to settle and providing them with ideal conditions will speed up this process.
Set the water temperature to at least 28 ° C (82 ° F), wild Discus are fine with this temperature but you may find that it is advised to keep the fish at 30 ° C (86 ° F), this is true for tank bred Discus but surprisingly wild specimens can live in the slightly lower temperatures without any problems.
Once your quarantine tank is set up you can then go out and select some wild specimens to care for. These range from a variety of colourations, notably reds, browns, greens and variations of these. The most well known species of wild Discus has to be the Heckel, a word of warning here, this variety tends to be very delicate and should not be housed until some experience is gained with the hardier natural strains. There are many reliable suppliers of these fish so make sure that you find someone who has a good reputation, unfortunately wild Discus do not travel that well, they are often fished straight from the Amazonian basins and exported immediately arriving at their destination under nourished and having lost some weight. Suppliers will hold onto their stock until they have been fed and look their best so make sure that any specimens you purchase do not look thin or have drooping fins. The fish should be acclimatised very slowly to the quarantine tank, I prefer the drip method where the fish are placed into a bucket and the tank water is drip fed via a length of airline to allow the water to mix slowly, this has always worked for me. It can take up to an hour but will remove the risk of any stress being given the the fish when they are added to the quarantine tank.
There are usually two common problems with wild Discus that crop up on a regular basis and these are internal parasites as well as gill flukes, the wild specimens may carry these without obvious signs emerging immediately so it should be basic practice to treat for these conditions even if the fish look apparently 100% healthy, hence the importance of following the quarantine period without fail. You often read in articles that wild and tank bred specimens should not be housed together and just accept this fact without asking why, well the main reason is that one side effect of tank breeding is that it can often lower the resistance that the fish have against diseases and infections that wild specimens may carry hence mixing the two varieties can prove fatal in some cases.
Commercial worm treatments and fluke treatments are readily available, if the fish are quarantined for two months then this should give you the chance to perform two sets of treatments as they usually last for a month before they need repeating.
Another piece of advise that can be offered is the gill fluke treatment, lice and flukes can become resistant to treatments over time, hence these treatments are often updated to cope with this, treating with different brands of gill fluke meds can overcome this problem.
A good tip here is to treat one course of medication at a time, trying to use several meds in unison can cause problems as the may be a bit overwhelming for the fish and some meds may neutralise the effect of the other so bear this in mind.
Discus whether they be wild or tank bred should have a voracious appetite, they may not eat quickly being nibblers but they should always accept the food that is offered immediately. Wild Discus may not realise that flakes added to the tank are actually food so make sure that you have a supply of live or frozen foods when you first keep these fish. Many keepers are tempted to use blood worms in the diet, fine if used sensibly but if fed too often the blood worms can lead to digestive problems, I prefer to feed with brine shrimp or artemia, these are easily digestible. For meatier foods chopped earthworms are accepted but these need to be cleansed first, this is simply a case of placing the earthworms in newspaper for 24 hours so that they naturally empty out their gut before being added to the tank. In time the wild Discus will accept commercial foods but you do need to get them eating first, altering the diet to accommodate flakes or small pellets can be introduced once the fish are settled and eating well.
Anyone who has researched Discus will have read about feeding the fish beef heart, this is a great food for their wild Discus and will be accepted immediately but it must be prepared properly first. Looking around forums you will soon notice various keepers all have their own recipes for beef heart mixes so choices are about as to which ingredients you wish to mix with the beef heart, the golden rule is to ensure that any sinewy tendons etc. are removed from the meat before adding to the mixture. Luckily for the keepers that do not wish to make their own mix, it is now available in a frozen cube from most reliable aquatic suppliers.
If the wild Discus are feeding properly, showing no signs of disease or infection for at least a couple of months they will be ready to be moved into the main display tank.
The same procedure should be applied when adding the wild discus to the display tank as regards acclimatisation, you may find that the pH is slightly higher so take your time moving the fish from one tank to another.
As long as the water quality is kept high in the display tank then there should be no problems keeping your wild discus happy and healthy, some keepers prefer to perform small water changes through the week while others perform one large water change once a week, there are no set rules here and you will soon find out which works best for you, the target is to change at least 50% of the water weekly. This now leads onto another long going debate as regards the actual water used for wild discus, some keepers swear by RO water whereas others have success using mains water which has been treated with a quality water conditioner. My personal view is that the use of RO water derives from the reputation that wild Discus had for being fragile, this has been proven over time that they are adaptable to water conditions so using mains water does make sense, the water conditioner must be able to make safe chloramines as well as ammonia, brands such as Seachem Prime seem to be very popular with Discus keepers. Wild Discus like tank bred specimens do prefer to be kept in small groups but as with other cichlids, they also have a hierarchy which will lead to some disputes until the pecking order is established.
In the wild the Discus live in murky water with hardly any vegetation, leaf litter abounds but they do look splendid in a well designed planted tank set up, use sand for the substrate as they do forage for food on the bottom of the tank, gravel can be swallowed with the food which can lead to blockages.
Overall as long as you have the time to care for these fish properly there should be no reason why you cannot progress from tank bred Discus to wild specimens, they do demand higher prices than domestic species but this is to be expected with shipping costs etc. and you may even have some of the fish pairing to produce young for you to enjoy!