Discus fish are some of the most beautiful and vividly colored of all tropical fish. They are also considered one of the more difficult species to keep due to their need for pristine water conditions and high-quality diet. Caring for discuses can be a challenge, but the extra maintenance required will reward you with years of enjoyment from these vibrant and personality-filled fish.
Discuses do best in shoals of five or more and require plenty of open swimming space to stay healthy. Forty to 50 gallons is the absolute smallest space a group of discus should be kept in, while tanks of 75 gallons or more are recommended. Some aquarists recommend discuses be kept in bare-bottomed tanks without any decorations to minimize collection of waste and debris, but discuses can thrive in heavily planted, naturalistic tank settings if the tank is well-established and frequently maintained.
Discuses are noted for being fussy about water quality, but consistency is much more important than aiming for extremely specific conditions. They do best in acidic water with pH between 5.5 and 6.5, though captive-bred discuses are much more tolerant of higher pH levels than their wild-caught cousins. Discuses also prefer water that is much warmer than most other tropical species will tolerate, 86 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Good filtration and frequent small water changes are essential to proper discus care.
Tankmates & Compatibility
Finding appropriate tankmates for discuses can be a challenge because of the high temperatures they require. Cardinal tetras and bleeding heart tetras are two of the most commonly kept discus companions, as these fish are native to the same parts of the Amazon river basin which discus inhabit in the wild. German rams can also be kept with discuses, so long as there is adequate swimming space and plenty of hiding places should either species become aggressive. Always make sure to quarantine new fish before adding them to your discus tank to prevent the spread of illness or disease.
Discuses can survive on virtually any high-quality flake fish food, but in order to really thrive, and therefore show the most vibrant colors possible, they need a varied diet of both commercial and fresh foods. Bloodworms, chopped beef heart, peeled shrimp and small bits of fresh or blanched vegetables are often accepted with relish, and they provide valuable dietary variety. Commercially available foods should be selected for high protein content and should never contain filler ingredients such as corn or wheat. Instead, look for foods made from fish, krill, shrimp or plankton. Juvenile discuses should be fed three times per day, and adults twice per day. Remove excess food from the tank after every meal to prevent decomposition in the water.