By Mary E. Sweeney
The Discus. Who is not impressed by this large, handsome aquarium favorite? Only those who can’t keep ‘em. True. The hardest thing about keeping Discus Fish is getting healthy fish to start. These fish are not so difficult, but finding healthy ones can sometimes be tricky. Though they breed like flies in tropical Asia, sometimes the breeders don’t seem to be able to get them into our tanks very well. It certainly isn’t deliberate, but the Discus go through quite a bit of handling between the Discus Breeding Farms and our aquaria, and I can testify from long experience that there are a thousand ways to get a discus sick. Whether it is the very natural way that they are raised: I’ve seen photos a hatchery in Asia, where every tank contained a pair of discus and a huge ball of tubifex. Some Discus Fish Breeders, believe it or not, keep the fish in water pumped from an outdoor pond. True. The water was green as well. It looked like the Discus loved it. There were plenty of pathogens to go around (they were feasting on big balls of live tubificid worms all day long), but the fish were living in homeostasis with the pathogens. A well-fed discus has incredible resistance. In fact, one of the first signs of health trouble in discus is when they go off their food. I have seen too many boxes of beautiful discus, too-colorful-for-their-age, go flop and fail to thrive when they arrived in shop tanks. Unfortunately, their first time starved was spent in a shipping bag with their parasites. It is very easy to see where problems could develop quickly after their first trip with empty bellies and an assortment of flukes, etc. ready to have a go at them.
At Sweeney Discus, the health of the fish is first and foremost. The first 30 to 35 days are the most important for the fish, as they acclimate to you and display their condition. As we see the perfect aquarium as a planted discus tank, there is zero tolerance about fish diseases. I would advise anyone who wishes to keep Discus Fish in a planted tank to proceed at a very slow and deliberate pace. No matter how involved you are in the discus hobby, start fresh with the Planted Aquarium. Let the planted tank evolve in your care. If you are a bit of a bucket-slinger, slow it down and make this one an aquarium which opens you to new ideas and routines.
Place the Planted Aquarium where your family and guests can enjoy it, but let it be a place of meditation rather than where you’d watch Sunday football. I can imagine a Discus Tank wherever my brothers watch Super Bowl Sunday. While you may have a basement “lab-or-a-tory”, where you keep discus in bare-bottomed tanks for working purposes, you may find that the discus in your Planted Aquarium is practically another animal. In a planted tank, discus live very interesting lives, and are much more congenial. The whole point of Keeping Discus is to have them in as beautiful an aquarium as possible. Some people think it is not possible to keep discus in planted aquaria, but there was no other way that we did it. For small discus, it is a little difficult, because they need to be so well fed, but the solution to this is to use a large tank. A bigger tank is easier to keep because the water quality is so much better. If you’re using smaller tanks, you must have a big filter system.”
Discus and Compatible Fishes in the Planted Aquarium
In a planted aquarium, the plants help to keep the water sweet and fresh for optimal growth and color. The cover and privacy offered by the plants make these fish much more outgoing and friendly, especially for their own family in the home.
Our fish are bred and raised at a pH of between 6.7 and 6.4, perfect for most aquarium plants. These discus continue to grow well in shops, and when the time comes, even spawn in shop tanks. The other reality, when the fish have been grown out in very acidic water and on tubifex worms in recycled water, the parasites, both external and internal, soon overwhelm the young fish and they waste away. This wasting cannot be corrected, especially in the Planted Aquarium. This is why we have not kept these fish in planted tanks for so long. The supply has been flawed. A Healthy Discus will grow and thrive in the stable, clean water conditions in the planted aquarium.
A 75-gallon show tank with six to eight adult discus can be as close to trouble free as it is possible to get. It’s very gratifying to grow out juveniles in the planted aquarium, just be sure you have practiced the best hygiene with the fish, including a proper quarantine. They will grow big fast and the worst problem one is likely to encounter is premature spawning. These are schooling fish, and the bigger the group you have, the fewer the problems. Besides, for utter “wow appeal,” there’s nothing like a half-dozen discus (or more!)in a planted aquarium.
Apistos and other Dwarf cichlids. These little jewels are hugely popular among planted tank enthusiasts because here we are getting into the type of fish that has a very small “footprint.” When we talk about our “carbon footprints,” on the planet, there is a “carbon footprint” in the aquarium as well, and fishes that don’t add much to the bioload are truly an asset in the planted aquarium. That they also have personality and eye-appeal is just a bonus in the plant community.
Virtually any of the Apistogramma or Microgeophagus spp. are contenders, and it remains to the skill of the keeper which to choose. Wild-caught Apistogramma even are more likely to adapt to captivity in the security of the planted aquarium. We can trust these dainty fishes not to uproot the plants as they go about their daily routines. As per usual, one male to two females makes for a happier tankhold, and the ample use of driftwood and small caves will just make these fish play peek-a-boo all day long. If a truly peaceful environment is desired, just use the nicest male you can find, with a small selection of tetras and corys and you won’t have to worry about the tankmates who may get injured during spawning season.
Corydoras species. These whimsical little fishes contribute much to the Planted Aquarium with their whiskery work on the substrate. They help to aerate around the plant stems and roots while doing great work finding lost bits of food and detritus. They do all this and still the plants are undisturbed. Just be sure to supply food for the corys as well as the other fishes. Feeding the animals in the planted tank is meant to be very, very controlled, so be sure that the hungry tankmates don’t get all the food by including some fast-sinking foods in the menu. The Sweeney Discus Sinking Pellet will satisfy all of the occupants of the planted tank. Discus are omnivores in the wild, and live mostly on plant detritus. Wait until you see the way your discus will enjoy life while they peck at some infinitesimal something on the sturdy leaves of your Anubias. The Sweeney Discus formula is a clean-feeding food, unlike raw meat, which feeds the higher animals that feed off our discus. The amount of bacteria generated by overfeeding is appalling. That bacteria, and other tank management issues, are what have most breeders keeping their discus in sterile boxes. Just be sure not to overdo it. Excess food in the planted aquarium causes nothing but trouble.
Ancistrus spp., or Bristlenoses. This medium-sized catfish is worth its keeping for its gnarly good looks as well as its work ethic. The Bristlenose is not the most vivacious of the favorites, but it will show itself best where there is plenty of cover, like our planted tank. It is truly interesting to look at because of all the growths on the head, particularly in the big males, and lately they are being bred in albino and long-finned forms as well, so there’s a lot going on with Bristlenoses. But back to that work ethic: the Bristlenose catfish does windows. Whether it’s brown algae or green, these fish will keep the aquarium glass spotless. It’s industriousness is so legendary that it is even invited into the discus tank, and that’s saying something. Just be sure that if you are going to incorporate it in with the discus that you quarantine it very well and check for gill flukes and intestinal worms in particular.
Cardinal Tetras, Paracheirodon axelrodi; Neon Tetras, Paracheirodon innesi; and other small tetras, like the Ember Tetra, Hyphessobrycon amandae. These small tetras are at their best in schools, the bigger, the better within the limits of water and space in a planted tank. You are getting a lot of visual excitement without much of a bioload with a good school of these well-choreographed fish. Again, you can see that the conditions favored by most popular aquarium plants are just the thing for the tetras. Soft, warm, and slightly acidic water will keep both the plants and the tetras in the best of form.
Rummynose Tetras, Hemigrammus rhodostomus. The Rummynose is famous for the red schnoz that seems to illuminate the aquarium. Keep these in a school and use the brightness of the cherry nose as an indicator of water quality. These tetras are particularly nice with discus, as the red eye of the discus and the red nose of the tetra are striking. If you can keep the Rummynose, you can keep discus.
Hatchetfishes, Carnegiella spp. are small, hatched-shaped fishes that serve the top level of the aquarium. They are known for their ability to fly for short distances, so keep the top well covered. The plants at the surface will help, but a cover is still required. These are strictly surface feeders, but will eat most aquarium foods. They are a little shy, but really are at their best in a small group in the peaceful planted aquarium.
Oto, or Dwarf Algae Eater, Otocinclus vittatus. Brown algae (diatoms) is the enemy of the new aquarium; Otos start there, and continue keeping the glass, driftwood, and plant leaves well vacuumed thereafter. Wherever there is a bit of algae, brown or green, the Oto clears it away. Gently, without damaging even the most delicate of plant leaves. Otos are considered essential for the high-tech aquarium done up in the Nature Aquarium or Dutch style. These fish are good workers while being inexpensive and easy to keep.
Very often, a medium-sized planted aquarium just needs a blast of color without a lot of fish. Which group of fishes can pack so much color into modest spaces without special needs? Not all planted aquaria are destined for high-tech lighting and precision leaf trimming. Perish the thought!
When you’re selling that brand-new aquarium and the clients just insist on setting everything up right away, there’s no better way to keep them in the hobby than making sure to include live plants to help start the nitrogen cycle and avoid the deadly ammonia spike that can wipe out the whole aquarium project. Aquaria that are fully planted and properly stocked with fish will not suffer.
- New Tank Syndrome
One of the best aspects of keeping any of these fishes in a beautifully planted tank is that the water chemistry and temperatures preferred by the fish and the plants are generally identical. Where there are slight differences in ideal water chemistry between species: compromise. As long as changes in the water chemistry are gradual, there will be no negative impact.