CULTIVATING A HEALTHY DISCUS COMMUNITY TANK

Cultivating a Healthy Discus Community Tank
Updated July 14, 2015
Discus fish are a joy to keep in the home aquarium and a discus community tank is even better!
Discus fish are known for being some of the most colorful freshwater aquarium fish in the world and they are a joy to keep in the home aquarium. Not only are these fish incredibly beautiful, but they are also not especially difficult to keep as long as you maintain the proper tank conditions. Though a single discus fish is striking on its own, a community of discus fish is a breathtaking sight to behold. A group of these colorful fishes can transform your tank into an underwater masterpiece.

If you like the idea of cultivating a discus community tank there are a few things you should know. Take the time to learn the basics about discus fish in general as well as some tips for keeping them in a community tank in order to increase your chances for success. Remember, the more research you do before setting up your tank, the more likely you are to create a healthy environment in which your discus fish can thrive. In this article you will receive some valuable information about discus fish in general, as well as tips for setting up a discus tank. You will also receive recommendations for stocking your discus community tanks as well as tips for equipment, feeding, and maintenance.

Discus Fish Basics

The name discus is used to describe three species of freshwater cichlids belonging to the genus Symphysodon in the family Cichlidae. These fish are native to the Amazon River basin in South America and each species has a slightly different geographic distribution. The common discus (Symphosodon aequifasciatus) can be found primarily in Brazil, Peru and Colombia while the Heckel discus (Symphosodon discus) tends to be found throughout the lower reaches of the Trombetas, Rio Negro and Abacaxis rivers. Symphosodon tarzoo can be found in the western regions of the Amazon. In their own regions, discus fish tend to inhabit calmer waters – they are generally not found in the main body of the Amazon because the water is too deep and too fast.


As members of the cichlid family, discus fish exhibit laterally compressed bodies. The average length of a mature discus fish is generally between 8 and 10 inches and the overall shape is somewhat round (hence the name, discus fish). Discus fish have been known to exhibit a wide variety of colors and patterns, particularly in captive-bred specimens. In the wild, discus fish are often brown or green but selectively-bred specimens may exhibit vibrant colors like red, orange and yellow in striped, spotted or swirling patterns. Under the right conditions, discus fish can survive 10 years or more in captivity but if the water quality is poor or the tank overstocked they are less likely to thrive and may have a shorter lifespan.

Tank Setup Requirements

Though tank specifications may vary slightly according to the particular species, discus fish generally prefer a pH in the 6.0 to 6.5 range. In their native environment of the Amazon River, the water is typically soft and acidic so this is the type of environment you should cultivate in your discus tank at home. The water temperature should be kept between 77 degrees and 84 degrees Fahrenheit with a water hardness between 0 degrees and 3 degrees dH. In the wild, discus tend to be found swimming in small groups, hiding among submerged roots and branches. In the home aquarium, these fish tend to enjoy planted tanks with driftwood roots and branches for decoration.

In terms of size, recommendations vary according to how many discus you plan to keep. Discus fish may only measure two or three inches when you purchase them as juveniles, but they have the capacity to grow up to 10 inches long, or more. As a general rule, a single discus fish requires at least 50 gallons of tank size in order to thrive. For each additional discus you plan to keep, add another 5 to 10 gallons of tank capacity - and don’t forget to factor in the other fish you plan to keep in your discus community tank. A good starting place for a discus community tank in which you plan to keep a group of 6 discus fish plus a community of smaller tetras or other community fish is a minimum of 100 gallons.

Stocking the Tank

Though most members of the cichlid family have aggressive tendencies, discus fish are generally peaceful in the home aquarium. In fact, discus fish tend to prefer being kept in groups with several of their own species and they have been known to get along with a variety of other fish. Because discus fish are somewhat picky when it comes to water conditions in the tank it is wise to select tank mates that have similar preferences so you can design the tank to suit the needs of your discus. Some of the best tank mates to keep in a discus community tank are non-aggressive schooling fish like characins. Characins, the family containing many tetra species, share a similar native environment with the discus fish which means that their tank requirements are very compatible. Some good tetra species to house with discus fish include rummy nose tetras, neon tetras, bleeding heart tetras and glowlight tetras.
  

In addition to schooling fish, you may also want to consider adding some bottom feeders to your discus community tank. Peaceful bottom feeders like corydoras catfish make an excellent addition to the discus community tank because they will help control the buildup of solid waste and they will not bother your discus fish. Corydoras are also native to the Amazon River so they will be compatible with the tank environment of your discus. You may also be able to keep small loaches or ottocinclus with your discus but it is always better to choose species from a similar native environment. Avoid keeping plecostomus in the tank with your discus because these fish tend to become aggressive and territorial as they mature.

Although discus fish are generally considered to be a peaceful species ideal for the community tank, some varieties can be a little bit territorial when they are breeding. If you plan to keep a group of discus fish it is likely that some of them will pair off and begin to breed, even if you do not necessarily intend for it to happen. When your discus fish breed they will need the water conditions in the tank to be warm, slightly acidic, and soft – they will also require a flat, clean surface like a rock or a broad-leafed plant on which to spawn. Unlike many other fish, you must not remove the parents from the tank after spawning because they will provide care for the fry before and after they hatch.

Recommended Equipment
  
Because discus fish can be very sensitive to changes in water chemistry it is important that you equip your discus community tank to prevent those changes. An aquarium heater is a must-have for discus community tanks because these fish do not tolerate cold water – a high-quality submersible or in-line heater is recommended in order to maintain proper water temperature in a discus tank. In addition to heating, filtration is also incredibly important because discus fish require high water quality. Depending on the size of your discus tank, you may want to use a large canister filter and you may even consider implementing supplemental filtration in the form of powerheads or sponge filters to help collect solid waste. A sponge filter will also provide an extra means of biological filtration which is key to maintaining the nitrogen cycle in your tank. If you have a very large tank, you might even consider using two canister filters – one on either end – to promote maximum water circulation.

In addition to heating and filtration you may also want to consider incorporating a UV sterilizer into your discus community tank. UV sterilizers help to control the growth and spread of algae and pathogenic bacteria by targeting microscopic organisms in the water column. A UV sterilizer can generally be connected directly to your aquarium filter and installation is often quite simple. Though UV sterilizers are not a requirement for discus community tanks, they can only benefit you by helping to keep the water clean and the water quality high for your fish. If you plan to keep a very large discus community tank you might even consider building a sump system to house all of your equipment. Using a sump system is perfect for large tanks because you can keep all of your equipment in one place, heating and filtering the water all in one place before it even enters the tank. You can build your own sump system from scratch or find designs online.

Feeding in a Discus Community Tank

If you hope to successfully maintain any kind of freshwater tank you will need to provide the right diet for your fish. Aquarium fish tend to thrive on varied diets made up of a combination of commercial and fresh foods. Discus fish should be offered a staple diet of high-quality cichlid flakes or pellets supplemented with live foods like brine shrimp as well as frozen and freeze-dried foods. Discus fish will also enjoy fresh vegetables on occasion and may even nibble at algae wafers. Providing your discus fish with a varied diet is incredibly important in maintaining their vibrant coloration – if your discus are not properly fed, their colors may fade and they may fail to thrive.
  

Though feeding is very important, it is also important that you do not over-feed your discus community tank because this could lead to problems with water quality. The more you feed your fish, the more waste they will produce and any uneaten fish food will sink to the bottom of the tank and collect as organic debris. As that organic debris breaks down, ammonia is produced which can be very toxic for aquarium fish. If you have an established colony of beneficial bacteria in your tank they should be able to handle the biological load of your tank but over-feeding can result in high ammonia levels beyond the capacity of your beneficial bacteria to handle. Try to only feed your fish twice a day, varying the types of food at each feeding, and do not offer your fish more than they can eat within 3 to 5 minutes. Long-lasting foods like vegetables and algae wafers should be removed from the tank after an hour before they dissolve or decompose. To help control the buildup of detritus in the bottom of your discus community tank you should consider keeping a few bottom feeders like corydoras catfish or plecostomus.

Tips for Discus Community Tanks

The key to successfully keeping a community tank in general is to choose compatible species and to arrange the tank properly. Though discus fish are generally not aggressive or territorial, they do like to have places to hide should they feel like it. The ideal setup for a discus community tank is a large, heavily planted tank that provides adequate hiding places. When arranging your tank, layer the plants so the taller plants are toward the back of the tank and the shorter plants are up front – this will providing hiding places for your fish while still giving them plenty of open space for swimming. To improve the appearance of your tank, incorporate decorations of various sizes and don’t be afraid to utilize the vertical space in your tank as well as the horizontal space.

To enhance the appearance of your discus fish in a community tank, stick to a natural decoration scheme. Select fine sand or gravel substrate with neutral colors so the coloration of your discus fish will be that much more of a contrast. Incorporating full-spectrum lighting in your tank will be very important in supporting healthy plant growth and it will also enhance the appearance of your discus fish. Remember that before you introduce any fish into your tank it must be fully cycled so a colony of beneficial bacteria will be ready to handle the biological load of the added fish. Add your fish slowly to the tank, beginning with the discus fish and then adding other community fish one species at a time. Always quarantine new fish for 2 weeks before adding them to your tank to avoid the spread of disease.

When it comes to selecting your discus fish, you might be able to find juveniles at your local pet store – before you buy, however, you should consider whether or not this is the best option. More and more, aquarium hobbyists are turning to online distributors and independent breeders for aquarium fish. Buying discus fish online might not only save you money, but it could give you access to more quality specimens. Discus fish come in all colors and patterns so, if you have a particular color or pattern in mind, your best bet might be to search for it online. While some online aquarium fish sellers do not allow buyers to view individual fish, some distributors provide photos or videos of specific fish available for sale. If you are intent on cultivating a high-quality discus community tank, you might want to consider this option or look for a dedicated discus fish breeder from which to purchase high-quality stock.

Cultivating a discus community tank is a fun and exciting challenge. In order to improve your chances of success in raising healthy fish, take the time to learn the basics about discus fish as well as their requirements in community tanks.

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What Are Good Freshwater Fish For Beginners
WHAT ARE GOOD FRESHWATER FISH FOR BEGINNERS
What makes a freshwater fish a good candidate for beginners?
Choosing the Right Barbs for Your Tank
CHOOSING THE RIGHT BARBS FOR YOUR TANK
Barbs are incredibly popular among freshwater aquarium hobbyists and there are a number of species to choose from.
Keeping Goldfish
KEEPING GOLDFISH
In this article you will find information about keeping goldfish as pets and how to prepare for your own goldfish tank.
Cultivating a Tank for Red Bellied Pacus
CULTIVATING A TANK FOR RED BELLIED PACUS
The red bellied pacu is a unique and beautiful aquarium fish.
The Ideal Tank Setup for Oscars
THE IDEAL TANK SETUP FOR OSCARS
Oscars are a type of cichlid and they are a very amusing species of freshwater fish to keep in the home aquarium.
Compatible Tank Mates for Freshwater Angels
COMPATIBLE TANK MATES FOR FRESHWATER ANGELS
Angelfish are one of the most popular species of freshwater aquarium fish.
Types of Freshwater Aquarium Snails
TYPES OF FRESHWATER AQUARIUM SNAILS
When it comes to snails in the freshwater aquarium, not all of them are bad.
Stocking Fresh Water Fish Tanks
STOCKING FRESH WATER FISH TANKS
Learn how to select the right quantity and combination of fish for your freshwater aquarium.
Everything You Need to Know About Freshwater Angelfish
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT FRESHWATER ANGELFISH
Angelfish are a species of freshwater cichlid and they are one of the most popular species of tropical aquarium fish.
Plecostomus are one of the most popular species of algae eater.
ALGAE EATERS FOR FRESHWATER TANKS
Are you looking for an easy way to help control algae in your tank?
Cichlids are one of the most diverse groups of fish in the world.
CICHLIDS - UNDERSTANDING THE DIFFERENT TYPES
Have you ever considered adding a cichlid or two to your freshwater tank?
Learn the basics of fish compatibility to ensure that your tank environment remains peaceful.
THE BASICS OF FRESHWATER FISH COMPATIBILITY
Whether you are new to the aquarium hobby or not, there are a few things you should know about freshwater fish compatibility.
The Top 10 Worst
THE TOP 10 WORST "COMMUNITY" FISH
If you are interested in cultivating a peaceful tank full of multiple species, don't choose these fish.
The Top 10 Worst Tank Busters
THE TOP 10 WORST TANK BUSTERS
Find out which fish will rapidly outgrow your tank, and the smaller alternatives that are available.
Common Myths About Bettas
COMMON MYTHS ABOUT BETTAS
Discover five common myths about the beautiful betta freshwater fish.
The Natural Environments of African and South American Cichlids
THE NATURAL ENVIRONMENTS OF AFRICAN AND SOUTH AMERICAN CICHLIDS
Learn about and how to recreate the natural environments of African and South American Cichlids
African Cichlid Aggression - How to Reduce Aggression
AFRICAN CICHLID AGGRESSION - HOW TO REDUCE AGGRESSION
Learn about the causes of cichlid aggression and methods for reducing it.
Breeding (10)
Tips for Breeding Gouramis in the Home Aquarium
TIPS FOR BREEDING GOURAMIS IN THE HOME AQUARIUM
Gouramis are some of the best community fish around because they are peaceful, hardy, and lovely to boot.
The Basics of Breeding Bala Sharks
THE BASICS OF BREEDING BALA SHARKS
Bala sharks are a very popular species of aquarium fish.
Tips for Breeding Silver Dollar Fish
TIPS FOR BREEDING SILVER DOLLAR FISH
Silver dollar fish are a great addition to the community tank and breeding them can be a fun challenge.
How to Raise Cichlid Fry to Maturity
HOW TO RAISE CICHLID FRY TO MATURITY
Breeding freshwater aquarium fish can be a rewarding but challenging experience.
Caring for Freshwater Angelfish Eggs
CARING FOR FRESHWATER ANGELFISH EGGS
Breeding freshwater angelfish can be a rewarding experience but raising the eggs to maturity may be a challenge.
Breeding and Rearing Live-bearing Species of Fish
BREEDING AND REARING LIVE-BEARING SPECIES OF FISH
Live-bearing species of fish like guppies and swordtails are notorious for breeding in the community tank.
Tips for Breeding Discus Fish
TIPS FOR BREEDING DISCUS FISH
Discus fish are one of the most colorful species of freshwater aquarium fish and they can be a joy to breed.
Breeding betta fish can be both an enjoyable and educational experience.
BREEDING THE TWO KINDS OF BETTA FISH
You may be aware that there are over 30 species of betta fish in existence but did you know that these species can be divided by their breeding habits?
Breeding Mouth Brooding African Cichlids
BREEDING MOUTH BROODING AFRICAN CICHLIDS
Learn how to succesfully breed mouth brooding African Cichlids.
Breeding Freshwater Fish
BREEDING FRESHWATER FISH
Learn how to succesfully breed freshwater fish.