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begginer discus tank

Posted: Fri Jun 29, 2007 12:11 am
by rbare
i currently have a 40 gallon freshwater community tank.i ve been looking for somthing more interesting then your average aquarium fish. discus seem to be the thing in looking for. i was thinking of starting with two blue snakeskin discus, then adding some more later on.

how many would be good for a 40 gallon long tank, without overdoing it??

i also hope to succesfully breed them later on.

What are the best ph for this?

i was planning on having the tank water at 84 degrees.

also would these be proper tank mates....a school of hatchet fish..and a school of cardinal tetras?

i would want to eventually make this a planted aquarium.. with a metal halide 250 watt lamp. i know discus like lower lighting, if i stained the water darker would this light work?

thanks ryan

Re: begginer discus tank

Posted: Fri Jun 29, 2007 5:12 am
by mr troph
Hey Ryan. I'm new to the Discus hobbie myself and have yet to purchase my Discus as I am waiting on the right equipment and tank to fully cycle. I want to do it right.
All sounds well and good. However I have read it is best to recieve 4 or more to grow out together as they have to establish a pecking order the more fish the more wide spread the aggression therefor minimises stress to certain individuals.
Also if you are starting with juviniles they require the best water quality and more frequent feeds. They are best grown out in bear bottom tanks as they are easyer to clean and more stable than a planted tank. Adults tend to be more forgiving then juvies.
Domestic Discus can tolarate a wide range of ph 6-7.5 ideally 6.5. However to breed you may need to gradually lower. Not sure what 84 degrees is in celsius. But here we shoot for 30 degrees celsius. High temps make it more difficult for disease to establish themselve amongst Discus.
The tank mate you mentioned should be fine if they can handle the high temperature. I know that cardinals are fine not sure about the hatchets.
As for lighting not sure but I think metal halids might be a little extreme. Extra light could be pointless if you are not running CO2. But if you provide shade they should be sweet.
Good luck mate.


Re: begginer discus tank

Posted: Fri Jun 29, 2007 10:41 am
by Lisachromis
30C is 86F. I find that a little on the high side personally, but it's ok. 2 discus alone in a tank (ignore the other species) won't do well. They are a group loving fish, and do create a pecking order. 4 would be a minimum group, and more would be better. Is there any way you'll be able to get a larger tank?

Re: begginer discus tank

Posted: Fri Jun 29, 2007 4:34 pm
by rbare
a larger tank is not really an opption for me. i already have the 40 gallon freshwater tank, a 10 gallon lamprologus ocellatus tank and a 2.5 nano saltwater tank. so in running out of room to put them. would four discus work in a 40g until i am able to get a bigger tank in the future? also does anybody have a good website for discus with good prices? the ones i have seen are way to expensive to be buying 4 discus in one buy.

Re: begginer discus tank

Posted: Fri Jun 29, 2007 9:06 pm
by Lisachromis
There are some good sources. I hate to point you to another spot, but you could try and check out their sponsor section.

Re: begginer discus tank

Posted: Sat Jul 07, 2007 12:19 pm
by apistomaster
What are the dimensions of your 40 gallon? A 40 gallon "breeder tank is LXWXH 36X18X16 inches. This particular tank can carry up to six Discus. The surface area in this case is enough to violate the general rule of one Discus per ten gallons.
A standard 55 show has only 576 sq. in. and the 40 Breeder has 648 sq in of surface area. Regardless of the volme all Discus tanks should have at least 50 to 75 % water changes twice a week. This enough to make it possible to maintain good water quality in even the smaller tank.
I usually recommend 10 gals/144 sq. in. per fish at a minimum but the 40 described is allowing 180 sq in surface area/fish.
I have successfully raised six discus in a 40 breeder to nice size and ended up with a pair so I have the practical experience to know that this is workable.
If your tank has different dimensions then do use the 10gal/144 sq. in. per fish guidelines.
If it turns out your tank is large enoug to hold four to six discus be sure you do buy the from a Discus specialist. If you try to find cheap Discus you will not get fish worth having. Ouality Discus are never very cheap but compared to reef keeping it is a much more affordable hobby. Your Discus may live more than ten years so why cut corners? Also get all one variety, Avoid collecting sevral types. This is an esthetic issue bt it almost always makes a better looking display if you keep all one variety. If you had room for twelve Discus then a having two groups of six of complimentary colors can also make for a nice display.

I really want to emphasize that you should buy a group of four or more at the same time. Go with a simple set up; bare bottom, a few potted Sword Plants and some bog wood will make the aquarium attractive. It is alright to sprinkle a very thin layer of sand less than 1/4 inch tomake it less stark and it also gives Discus something to poke around for food without becoming a waste trap which is what happens when a normal depth of substrate is used. It can be done but discus keeping and planted tanks are both challenging and separate hobbies. Integrating both is not a bginner's project.
Your lighting is too intense for Discus and I see no reason why they should have to cope with it. Discus are perfectly happy with only a little light. I suggest that you use fluorescent lamps no stronger than is necessary to grow low light plants and to view your Discus.
I happen to keep my Discus at about 84 to 86 F = 28.5 to 30C. I began keeping Discus in 1967 and breeding wild Blues and Browns in 1969 so I have a good deal of experience including commercial Discus breeding. I still breed and sell them but on a less intensive scale and I am going back to my roots and working with wild Discus more although I still raise domestic Discus. Here are a few photos. The first is one of my domestic varieties, the second is a group of wild Symphysodon discus Heckel and the last is another wild, a Manacapuru Blue.

Re: begginer discus tank

Posted: Sat Jul 07, 2007 12:33 pm
by bantamweight1911
Seems like some good, key hints there :)

I am currently upgrading my Fish house (adding insulation, and then adding an extra 400 gallons of water, spread between tanks ranging from 5 fopot to 1 foot.

I would like to try setting up 1 or 2 tanks for breeding pairs of Discus. I dont intend to keep a large group, or a community tank, only to purchase adult fish/pairs and breed them.

I read and see frequently people keeping discus in what seems to me very small, but high breeding tanks.

Any comments, how should I expect a pair of discus alone in a 30 inch, 12 in, 18 inch high tank to do?

Would they be better in a 24 x24x 18 high, or even a 36 x 24 x 18 high?

Re: begginer discus tank

Posted: Sat Jul 07, 2007 12:45 pm
by apistomaster
All three sizes are good for a mated pair.
I really want to warn you off from buying adults or breeding pairs with the exception of buying adult wild Discus.
I use the 29High as my standard breeding tank.

All breeding pairs being sold are available for some negative reasons; too old to produce well any longer or are a pair with poor parenting skills and both are rejects from a knowlegeable breeder. There is good reason to believe you will inherit the negative problems.

It only takes about one year to grow a 2.5 in juvenile out to a six inch diameter fish and obtain your own young pairs at 12 to 15 months.

If you are like me and prefer wild Discus then only adult fish are usually sold. Occassionally some older juveniles of 3.5 inches are available and they are still the better choice.

Re: begginer discus tank

Posted: Sat Jul 07, 2007 1:02 pm
by bantamweight1911

Indeed, I always prefer wild fish.

In fact, the main reason I have not kept discus (for 10 years anyway) is because I really dont like man made forms, even of discus, although they are truly beautiful.

The thing that worries me about wild fish, is that I am unlikely to have the space (actually to be honest prepared to give the space) to a large group of wild discus, to allow me to wait for pairs to form and then move them on to a breeding tank.

I would be reluctant to put 4 wild fish in a small space and let them sort them selves out.

I acknowledge your point about buying paired fish, although I do think that you ocan also get good fish this way. I usually buy groups of between 5 and 8 of a species, and then sell off pairs as they form, these are good quality fish, just 'excess'

I'll give it some thought

Re: begginer discus tank

Posted: Sat Jul 07, 2007 1:11 pm
by apistomaster
There are always exceptions and sometimes we get lucky..
I only bought two juvenile wild brown Discus when I first began keeping them. They were placed in a 3 ft, 35 gallon tank along with some silver hatchet fish , a pair of Apistogramma and some Pencilfish. These two fish eventually were the first Discus from which I bred and raised fry.

Re: begginer discus tank

Posted: Sat Jul 07, 2007 3:54 pm
by rbare
thanks for the advice. yeah, it is a 40 gallon breeder so that is big enough for 4 to 6 discus? i would probably start with a group of four then. i have definatley decided that i want to go with wilds. my 40 gallon is currently setup as a freshwater community tank. so i was just going to take the fish out of there and put in discus, but there is a substrate of gravel in there. i also have a 25 gallon high tank that i was going to use as a breeding tank if a pair forms in the 40 gallon. would the gravel be a problem if i used the 25 gallon (bare bottom) as a breeder tank? the gravel bed is about 2 inches deep, would it be wise to take a lot of the gravel out? also i use RO water and plan to do two 50% water changes a week. on my forty gallon i have a pengiun bio wheel 330, and am currently ordering a bio system power filter and oxy surface skimmer which is also rated for up to 75 gallon tanks, so its pretty over filtered. i want to stay away from heckels for now becuase of the low ph. do you have any wild green, blues, or browns for sale?

Re: begginer discus tank

Posted: Sat Jul 07, 2007 5:28 pm
by apistomaster
Hi rbare,
Here was my compromise solution for a Discus tank that allows for aquascaping yet is as easy to keep clean as a bare bottom.
The front half is just barely covered with enough sand to conceal the bare bottom. The back half may be hydrovacuumed occassionally and because it is only the back half, that job is quick and easy. It is a free standing glass planter box/terrace made out of 3/16 inch glass and silicone. Made a 1/2 inch shorter than the inside length makes removal easy if you don't like it. It really works well for Discus and I use a lot of blackworms which I place on the bottom front. It keeps the discus busy for hours hunting worms but none escape.

If you want wild discus and still hope to breed them, then only consider Blues or Browns. They are the same species and easiest of all the three species to breed. I have bred them in water with a pH of 7.4 and TDS 400ppm many times over the decades.
Green Discus are very much more difficult to breed than the Blue/Browns and will require conditions very similar to those required by Heckels. Very low pH 4.5 to 5.5 and TDS of 5 to 50 ppm.
Heckels are nearly impossible to breed but are easy to keep at a pH 7.4 and 300ppm even though that isn't anywhere near their normal natural waters. That is what my Heckels have been raised in. I have had them for 15 months. They were the smallest Heckels I have ever found for sale at 3 inches in diameter.
They are now all 5.5 inches in diameter. I just took the substrate and planter box out this morning after four years. I previously grew a group of ten red turquoise up to get pairs before buying the Heckels. The substrate is raising the pH and TDS values and as I now am in the final strech where the Heckels will be reaching breeding age in about a year, I am beginning to use RO water with peat fitration from now on. I am looking for inert quartz sand before replacing the planter box and removing many of the catfish and placing my five 1.5 inch L46 Zebras in with them.
I am at a point in my aquaristic career where I am tackling the Heckel breeding project. Breeding Heckels is a dream of many Discus breeders but the truth is as Heiko Bleher has written, only a handful of peole have been successful. Most spawns claimed to be of Heckels are Wild Heckel maleXdomestic female. These are true hybrids and they are not reproductively viable. Heckels have played no part in the development of the modern strains of domestic Discus. Green Discus Hybrids are also nonviable. I hope to also get some Green Discus for a separate project soon. I have bred Greens and they were not that easy. Not hard to just keep, though.
I am currently without any discus for sale. I only have had domestics for sale in recent history. I am close to getting new pairs from two domestic strains that are replacements for their parents. They were from Asian farms and like most discus from SE Asia, treated with hormones to bring out color too soon. This tends to ruin them as breeders. As soon as I finally got some fry I surplused all the Asian imports so that my current domestic Discus are all clean. It adds greatly to the time but the percentage of viable breeders will be normal again as will their breeding life span. I expect my pairs to be good for five to seven years and the originals barely were able to reproduce then were nothing but burnt out fish suitable for only display purposes.

Re: begginer discus tank

Posted: Sat Jul 07, 2007 6:23 pm
by bantamweight1911
Why dont discus keepers just do what many people do with other sensitive fish?

That is use very fine sand, that is too fin to collect detrius, yet still provides a substrate.

I use a very, very fine silica sand, it takes at least a week to clea, but once clear it is good to use for years.

Re: begginer discus tank

Posted: Sat Jul 07, 2007 7:37 pm
by apistomaster
"Sugar" sand is no good because it packs too tightly preventing sufficient circulation of oxygen rich water through it to support the "good" nitrifying bacteria. Instead anoxic zones are created where only anerobic sulfer reducing baceria can live and as they metabolize their food, they creat Hydrogen sulfide gas which is easily dissolved in water. both the gas and sulfuric acid are deadly to fish. It is only feasable to use the fine sand if there are enough sand sifting animals to keep it in constant rapid turn over and therefore constant exposure to oxgen where aerobic hetrotrophic bacteria can live and assist in what you understand as "cycling'. (actually heterotrophic, nitrifying bacteria mediated mineralization.)

I have provided a good deal of "how to" info. It is time to do some research so there are questions that need to be answered that have not been addressed that are fine tuning what you might want to do. No need, though, to reinvent the wheel.

Discus are not hard to keep if the basics are understood and that info is best found in a good discus book or I know a site chock full of Discus neophytes happy to tell you what others have told them, and that others told them and ad infinitum. They aren't much into reading there. Just want everthing served on a platter. They don't want to hear anything that goes against the shared misinformation and mythology or their webmaster Guru's pronouncements.
I have been breeding wild discus off and on since 1969. My suggestions are what has been distilled out of over four decades of discus keeping and breeding experience. I have successfully mentored more people into becoming successful Discus keepers and breeders in their own right than I can number. What is important is that discus be given enough space, clean, warm water, a varied diet and frequent large water changes. They do not need plants, substrate, strong light or high traffic areas. I have already explained that keeping a planted aquarium is one area of advanced aquaristics and that Discus keeping is another. Integrating the two is best left for very advanced aquarists.

Re: begginer discus tank

Posted: Sat Jul 07, 2007 9:14 pm
by rbare
larry thanks for your time.

good luck with your heckels


Re: begginer discus tank

Posted: Sat Jul 07, 2007 10:57 pm
by apistomaster
You are more than welcome. Just be sure to get wild Blue/Browns if you really hope to breed them.
They are so much easier to work with than the other species and can adapt to the widest range of conditions of the three species.
Thank you, Heckels are pretty close to being impossible to breed. No one knows exactly what it takes to get them to do it. Much like the problems encountered by those trying to breed true Altum Angels.

Re: begginer discus tank

Posted: Sun Jul 08, 2007 3:01 am
by bantamweight1911

Thanks for your welcome input. Cichlids are so varied and numerous that it is impossible to be knowledgeable about them all, let alone be an expert about them all.

We could easily fill another thread discussing substrates. I only ever use very fine sand, and whilst most of my tanks substrate is constantly being moved around, I even have sand in my fry tanks (mostly because fry tanks and tanks for dwarf species inter change for me) where the sand is not moved, and I do not have any porblems. The fact that the sand is so fine means than nothing get trapped in the sand, and so there is nothing (of note) to break down and produce any nasties.

The exception to this is when I use leaf litter. This easily gets trapped in between layers of sand, and then the anaerobic bacteria get to work and the result can be a smelly mess.

My last comment, is that Discus are kept, almost as though they are completely diffewrent to other cichlids. I view them as another sensitive south american cichlid. The thing is, lots of people with little experience keeping discus, and failing.

I am definatley tempted to try some wild brown discus. Are their young marketable??

Re: begginer discus tank

Posted: Sun Jul 08, 2007 9:21 am
by apistomaster
Hi bantamweight911,
I agree we all have our areas of expertise and experience with differing setups. I usually use a thin layer of a about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick of the sugar size silica sand blasting sand with many of my Corydoras and Apistogramma set ups but never tried to go much deeper. I would think in a tank with Geophagus present or similar fish might allow one to use deeper sand beds successfully.
What do you keep in tanks with deeper bed of fine sand that stay clean?

Discus don't dig but they will spend hours searching for food where I provide them a thin layer of substrate. They are very fond of hunting for blackworms this way. The blackworms never have a chance of completely escaping but it buys them time and something for the discus to do.

Raising and selling wild discus is a little like antiques. People are mainly interested in only the better looking examples of fish typically found in a particularly famous collecting location. This is the provenance'. Without it they are of little greater value than any domestic discus. It really depends on who is buying and what you are selling. There are fewer but a growing number of discus keepers becoming interested in the wild forms again. But they are looking for fish from specific places with a specific look. Some of the better known locations' superior fish may cost $100 to $250 each. Not only are we talking about the top 1% of their kind but also remember that only 4 to six can be packed in a box with a lot of water so the freight bill is high. To see what the top 1% look like from specific locales check out Lisa's post: viewtopic.php?f=11&t=1030 The exporters could ship perhaps 600 Cardinal Tetras for the same freight dollars as these few discus in a box. The Manacapuru Blue Discus of average coloration might be available for $60 to $100 each. I will show one of these fish again in the following photo. One can appreciate that for this kind of money one would want to have some experience with keeping Discus first before taking the financial leap.
Brown Discus collected near the town of Alenquer are known for their especially bright red-orange brown bodies and good blue and red markings.
Among the Blue Discus, the Royal Blues from Lago Nhamunda have a special place in the hearts of sophisticated discus keepers and people will pay more for fish directly raised from fish caught from some of these locations. Of course the breeding stock will also cost a lot because of the same reasons and demand for these fish. Otherwise less colorful fish from nameless locations will sell for less but they are still wild discus and their F1 juveniles are special, too. The practical aspect is that most people want a discus with color right away so that is only something domestic strains can provide. Even then, the Asian discus dealers are so anxious to please their customers with offering colorful juveniles, too colorful, that they use methyl testostorone or similar drugs to bring out color prematurely. Ruining them as future breeders but that doesn't bother them. They still sell hundreds of thousands of these discus annually.
I like wilds and I am working on being able to regularly have some F1 fish for sale. I still will hedge my bets by offering domstic discus raised hormone free.

Re: begginer discus tank

Posted: Sun Jul 08, 2007 11:47 pm
by mr troph
:D G'day Larry. Thanks for the great read and stunning pics. I am taking the plunge into Discus soon. I will be starting with Domestics but hope to one day successfully keep and breed wilds. Maybe when I am ready for Heckels they will have discovered a fomular for Breeding them. I hope they are real stunners.
Anyway I have 8x 8cm Cobalts on hold for me. I just have to cycle my tank and purchase an R0 unit. If all goes well I will be keeping many Discus tanks.
Wish me luck.


Re: begginer discus tank

Posted: Mon Jul 09, 2007 11:12 am
by apistomaster
Hi Todd,
I do wish you luck. The Cobalts should not be difficult to keep. Breeding success will depend on whether or not they have been treated with hormones.
I recommend that you not try to reproduce the extrme conditions the wild discus are from. A pH of 7.0 and TDS of ~100 ppm is all these discus need;
they have been raised in this range of water chemistry for many generations. The domestic Discus thrive in these conditions and they are easier to maintain because this is a more stable chemistry..
I have had much success raising wild brown/blues and Domestics in my tapwater which is usually pH 7.4 and TDS ~300 ppm. This will not do for breeding wild greens or Heckels. They really do need a pH of 4.0 to 5.0 and less than 50 ppm in order to beed successfully. 10 or 20 ppm is not unreasonable for these speccies.