Preparing For Discus37

the vertical is often a favorite spawning site in the discus community.

Backgrounds

A dark background will show your fish at their best. Black is very dramatic. Blues and reds are attractive at times, but discus seem to prefer green (personal observation). Blue discus in a tank with a blue background can clash. The same goes for red fish against a red background. Use a little imagination. Printed backgrounds can be distracting. Some people like to use natural substances like cork tiles for the background. I like to cover the back and the sides of the tank. This gives the fish a feeling of use, here's a little test. Pour some vinegar on a sample. If it fizzes, don't use it in the discus aquarium. If it doesn't, rinse it off and carry on.

A one- to two-inch bed of substrate is adequate for plants and fish alike.

Rock-work

Rocks are best used sparingly in the discus show tank, if at all. They contribute very little to the tank and interfere with housekeeping. If you just like the look of a bit of rock work, use it by all means, but be careful that you don't set it in the aquarium in such a way that food and feces can collect under or behind it. A piece of slate, set in the tank on

security. It is also possible to paint the outside of the glass with marine paint.

Driftwood

Driftwood is a big favorite with discus keepers. This is one accessory that really does remind your fish of home. Safe, natural driftwood is available at your pet shop. There are some very exotic-looking pieces but, especially for discus, be sure there are no pointed edges. When discus are frightened, they are very fast, and certainly don't look where they are going! In fact, most often when discus turn into "Hying fish" it is a result of their bolting, reaching the tank wall, and going straight UP! It would be quite easy for a frightened discus to damage itself on a sharp point of wood.

Driftwood helps to soften the water as it adds tannins to the water. This is very much preferred by discus and one of the reasons, besides the fact that the discus's preferred "home" is among roots, that driftwood is a staple in the discus aquarium.

Heating

Discus require higher water temperatures than most freshwater fishes. Between 82°F and 86°F is comfortable for them. Temperatures below 82°F leave

A pair of proud parents guarding a batch of eggs. Notice that the site chosen is part of an algae covered rock.

PREPARING FOR DISCUS

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them vulnerable to parasitic infestations while a temperature above 86°F is difficult to maintain unless you have an excellent heater. Temperatures above 86 F are usually reserved for their therapeutic effect.

The heater you choose for your discus aquarium must be of top quality! The high temperatures required by discus don't leave much room for error. Yes, use one of the newer submersible heaters. Use two for larger tanks. 1 would prefer to see two heaters in any tank larger than 50 gallons. A 30-gallon discus tank is served well by a 150-watt heater, Less than this will not give you the ability to raise the temperature high enough in the winter if your fish need heat therapy in conjunction with certain medications. A 60-gallon tank is better served by two 150-watt heaters than by one 300-watt heater and so on. Five watts per gallon of water will give you enough leeway to bring the water up to 90°F should it be required.

Make sure that the underwater heater you choose is easy to adjust and that the temperature is easy to read. If you have difficulty adjusting the heater, you may delay making neeessary

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adjustments beyond the margin of safety.

The thermometer you use must be accurate in the long-term. Don't skimp on this relatively inexpensive piece of equipment! We're keeping discus here, not feeder goldfish! Warm water is very important to the health of your fish, but we don't want to cook them. You can determine if the thermometer is accurate at the time you buy it by comparing it with the other thermometers in the shop. You can also test a thermometer against a fever thermometer if you doubt its accuracy.

Lighting

Lights and tank covers usually go together. For the planted aquarium, you will want to purchase a tank cover that includes a reflector that can accommodate two fluorescent lamps. You can use incandescent lighting if you must, but remember that it runs hot and could overheat the tank. Most professionals use fluorescent lights routinely, and for good reason. Fluorescent lights are economical in their use

A complete range of fluorescent lamps are available at your local pet shop. Such lampsallowyou to view your discus under ideal conditions. Photo courtesy Penn Plax.

and purchase, run cooler than incandescent bulbs, and will show the true colors of your fish. The right type of fluorescent bulbs are also ideal for your plants. For strong, healthy plants and the best color rendition of your fish, choose daylight or cool white fluorescent bulbs. If you have taken my advice above, and decided to purchase a reflector with fittings for two lamps, you could use one daylight and one cool white lamp. The reflector is a very important piece of equipment for the planted tank. A good reflector will maximize the amount of light that reaches the bottom of your aquarium where it will do the most good for your plants.

For deep, planted aquaria, especially when the aquarium is a showpiece, consider using metal halide or mercury vapor lights. These high-intensity lights burn very hot, so it is necessary to suspend them some distance above the aquarium. They are, however, ideal for plant growth and will really spotlight your fish. Because the lights are raised above the aquarium, tank covers are not used with this type of lighting. Ideally, your plants will soon grow up and out of the top of the tank. Some will even flower if the conditions are right. The use of floating plants with this type of lighting will help to give the fish a break from the light when they need it. A good aquarium dealer will be able to give you complete instructions in the use and safety of high intensity discharge lights.

Tank Covers

Discus tanks are usually covered, particularly in the community setting. Breeders sometimes don't cover the tanks for efficiency's sake, but all too often they find that a favorite fish lias taken a ilying leap! A cover is not a luxury. Tank covers help to keep airborne pollutants from entering the water while they hopefully keep the fish in the tank. Evaporation is less of an issue when you use a tank cover and it is easier to maintain even temperatures in the aquarium. Sometimes a simple sheet of acrylic is used instead of a manufactured tank cover, and this will perform very well.

Tank covers, canopies, or hoods, are now available in styles to complement every aquarium and some veiy handsome models come as a matched set—canopy and tank stand.

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