Want the Prettiest Pet Fish? Meet the Discus Fish
Most people in the fish keeping hobby start out with a betta fish from PetSmart. But those get boring, fast.
Luckily, discus fish exist. They're just as colorful as any saltwater fish, and some of them grow as big as dinner plates.
Admittedly, Discus Fish Aren’t Recommended for Beginners
Before running out to pick up a discus fish, do some digging. Discus fish have a reputation for being difficult to keep, and they're not the best choice for a first pet fish.
Spend some time researching the species and assess whether or not you have the space for a large aquarium or the money to invest in advanced filtration, lighting and heating before taking the plunge into discus keeping.
They’re Not Nearly as Hard to Keep as People Make Them Out to Be
Now that we have that disclaimer out of the way, keeping discus isn't as hard as some would lead you to believe. The real reason they get a bad rap is that they're much more expensive than most fish you'd pick up at the pet store. Without proper preparation, it's possible to lose all your precious discus in a matter of weeks, or even days.
That said, as long as you've read up and spent time getting their tank parameters right, they're no harder to keep than any other fish. Plus, with amazing color options like pure white and bright orange, discus are worth the extra prep time.
If You’re Going to Keep Discus, You’ll Need Room for a Huge Aquarium
A 10-gallon aquarium won't cut it for too many species of fish, and definitely not for discus. Discus need at least a 75-gallon aquarium to accommodate their adult size, which can be up to 10 inches in diameter depending on the strain.
Discus Prefer Much Warmer Temperatures Than Most Tropical Fish
All tropical fish require heaters, but discus like water temperatures higher than most. Water temperature should be kept between 82 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit, and some wild caught strains prefer temperatures as high as 90 degrees. Since they prefer very soft, acidic water, using reverse osmosis water is recommended.
Discus are picky about water quality as well. Dirty tank water will stress them out rapidly, so change 10-25 percent of the water each week using a siphon. Don't forget to add water conditioner before you fill it back up.
Their Diet Might Surprise You
In the wild, discus eat a combination of plant material, detritus, and small crustaceans and worms. Hikari Discus food is one of the best choices for discus, but frozen blood worms, plankton, and beef heart all make excellent treats. As a rule of thumb, feed them once or twice a day, and no more than they can consume in two or three minutes.
The coolest part: Discus can easily learn to eat from your hand. Just make sure your hands are free of lotion or sunscreen before putting them in your aquarium.
Their Natural Habitat Is in the Amazon River Basin
Discus live in shallow lakes and flooded forests that are prone to rapid water level changes during seasonal flooding periods. For this reason, they feel the most secure around fallen logs, known as "galhadas," near the shore, which provide a barrier from faster-moving water.
They Feel the Safest When Their Tank Mimics Their Natural Habitat
All animals prefer to be kept in enclosures or aquariums that closely mimic their natural environment. An ideal discus tank has warm, soft water, vertical branches, live plants and soft substrate.
Sand is a popular choice, but a mix of sand and Eco-Complete is a better choice in a planted discus setup.
They’re Not a Fan of Strong Currents
If you had the body type of a floating frisbee, would you want a strong current? Enough said.
All Discus Fish Require Friends
Discus should never be kept alone. They're one of the few cichlids that are truly schooling fish. Without same-species companions, they'll get stressed out and eventually perish. That's why such large tanks are a must. They have to be big enough to house an entire family of discus.
Discus can be kept with other compatible tank mates, like small tetras or angelfish, but most serious keepers keep them in a single-species tank. If we were talking about goldfish, that might seem dull, but it's not like you'd ever get bored of looking at a school of discus.
If They're Stressed Out, Their Colors Fade
If something is wrong with your discus fish care, they'll let you know. Discus darken in color when stressed out, and some refuse to eat. If this ever happens, double-check their water parameters, stat. Any temperature under 76 degrees will result in a miserable discus fish.
Avoid Wild Caught Discus
This tip is controversial. There's nothing wrong with wild caught discus fish, but it's generally accepted that wild caught and captive bred discus shouldn't be mixed. The possibility of wild caught fish spreading parasites to the rest of your collection is just one of many reasons.
Wild caught discus also tend to be finickier about water parameters, and they're not nearly as vibrant in color. If your vision is to have a stunning aquascape with brightly colored discus, the captive bred route is the way to go.
Discus Fish Are a Lot Pricier Than Goldfish
Hold onto your seats. The price for baby discus fish starts at about $50 per fish, depending on the strain. The bigger the fish, the pricier it is. Some color strains cost upward of $300 for a single fish. See why getting the water parameters just right is a big deal?
Discus Fish Are Better Parents Than Some Humans
First-time discus parents can be hit or miss. Some see their first batch of eggs as a snack. After a little practice, however, they're one of the most involved parents of any species of fish.
When their eggs hatch, both parents take turns caring for the fry. Their young will snack on mucus secreted by the parents for the first few days of life until they're ready to swim on their own.
Discus Fish Come in Tons of Incredible Colors
If you're ready to take the leap, get ready for some tough choices. There are dozens of different discus color strains. They come in shades of white, red, yellow and blue, plus a variety of patterns.
The hardest part is picking a favorite.
They’re Super Relaxing to Watch
See what we mean. If you're not up for setting up a discus tank of your own, at least you can watch someone else's.
Here are some more stories about cool pets like discus fish you might like.