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  Getting Started with A Discus Aquarium How to Identify Healthy Discus and Tips on How to care for your Discus Fish You've been to every local fish store in your area. You've spent hours online looking at Discus galleries. You've started thinking of things you can sell to pay for the Discus fish and aquarium set up. You've put your couch in the garage to make room for the aquarium. It sounds like you've been bitten by the Discus bug. Now, how do you get started? There are as many opinions on how to properly raise Discus as there are websites devoted to them. You will find debates over planted tank vs. bare bottom, tap water or RO, what to feed them, how often to change the water and how much, it goes on and on. This really depends on your likes and dislikes. If you enjoy the excitement and challenge of learning something new and are able to successfully translate many different opinions into "what works best for you", then keeping Discus will be a fun rewarding undertaking which you can enjoy for years to come. With that being said, the following are some guidelines to what I've learned over the years and what works best for me in setting up a new Discus aquarium. Discus Equipment You will Need In choosing the tank, start with a minimum tank size of 50 gallons. Make sure you have a suitable place to set up your aquarium. You will want a very sturdy support for your tank which you will position in a location that doesn't receive direct sunlight. The filtration system will be made up of two extra large sponge filters run by an air pump along with an external box filter such as an Aqua Clear properly rated for your tank size and containing a pre-filter sponge on the intake tube. You will need a heater with a ratio of 5watts/gallon, meaning a tank size of 50 gallons would require a 250 watt heater. The tank needs to be covered and there are hood options available when you purchase your tank. You will want one with a lighting strip as well as a cover for the tank. In order to keep the tank clean and maintained, you will need a siphon hose, a five gallon bucket and a clean utility sponge. Preparing for Your Discus' Arrival You will want to have your aquarium cycled before adding your Discus. This means that the beneficial bacteria has been established in your filtration. There are many methods of cycling your tank so be sure to do your research and choose the option that fits for you. It is a very important step and is absolutely necessary. Putting your new Discus in a tank that hasn't been cycled is a death sentence for the fish. Buying Your Discus Fish An absolute must is starting with healthy Discus. If you are lucky enough to have a reputable breeder in your area you are ahead of the game. If not, mail order is also an exciting option. There's a real rush and excitement to having Discus delivered to your front door. Make sure to research any online vendor you may want to order from. There are some great breeders out there with a great selection. Your local fish store you'll need to take some precautions and do your best to pick out healthy fish. If possible try to find a shop that specializes in higher end tropical fish and avoid chain stores. Find out what the shop's quarantine and guarantee policies are. Ask them how long the Discus should be quarantined once you get them home. If their answer is "you don't need to", this is a major red flag. Ask questions to get a feel for how well they support and care for their product. Best place will always be a breeder like ourselves. So, what does a healthy Discus look like? Here a some things to look for in the Discus you buy: When you walk by the tank, the fish should be active and come up to greet you. Avoid fish that are dark, hiding or hanging behind uplift tubes. The water in the tank and the tank itself should look clear and clean. If there are dead fish in the tank keep walking. Now, (if you haven't left the store) look at the fish, they should have a full body that doesn't look sunken and is free of scrapes, bumps, visible injuries and or parasites. The body shape should have a nice round appearance void of bent, stubbed tails and flat foreheads. Check the skin and make sure it doesn't have a dull, matte, or slimy look to it. The fins should look healthy and not have a cottony or milky appearance. The fins should be intact with no white specs or splits and not be clamped to the body. The Discus should be using both pectoral fins to move about. Watch for how the fish are breathing. An overly rapid gill rate or if the Discus looks to be gasping is a good sign of gill parasites. The fishes movement should be fluent and have no problem with balance. You don't want to pick a fish that can't hold itself level. The eyes of your Discus should have a healthy clean look to them. The eyes are a good indicator of how well it's been taken care of. You will want a fish with small eyes compared to its body with a centred pupil. Big or bulging eyes are usually a sign of neglect. Ask to see the Discus eat. Be wary if they feed live blood worms or tubiflex worms. Watch to make sure the fish are able to easily get the food into their mouth. Avoid fish that continually miss the food that is right in front of them or don't seem interested in eating. Most 2"-3" Discus wont have full body colour or pattern at this size. Buying Your Discus For the proposed 50 gallon setup you will want to purchase from six to ten, two - three inch juvenile Discus. Young Discus like the security of numbers. Make sure you follow standard acclimation procedures and that your tank is fully cycled as stated above. As your fish grow and mature a pecking order will develop. Eventually the smaller weaker Discus will need to be removed in order to keep a 10 gallon to 1 Discus rule. In order to provide an easy way to keep a clean environment for your new fish, use a bare aquarium. That means no gravel or plants. The bare bottom tank makes it easy to vacuum fish waste and wipe down the glass. If you'd like, you can add a ceramic pot or two to give your Discus an anchor to establish territories but the pots will need to be moved and wiped down with your water changes to ensure they aren't trapping waste. Once a week you will want to clean your pre filter and every few weeks, your sponge and box filters, being careful to use de-chlorinated water as to not harm the beneficial bacteria. A good tip here is to syphon some tank water into your five gallon bucket and use that for your filter cleaning water. Discus Water Clean water is a crucial element in growing out your fish. You will want to match the water conditions as closely as possible to that of the source of your Discus. Daily changes of 50 to 60 percent is recommended and at least on an every other day schedule. You will want to provide new tap water that has been de-chlorinated and matches closely to the tank water in temperature at 28-30 degrees. Avoid using RO water for young Discus, they need the minerals of harder water to aid in there development. Once they have matured and if you're interested in breeding them you can dabble with softening their water. If you have purchased Discus from different places you will need to keep them quarantined separately for 4 - 6 weeks. Feeding Your Discus Your new Discus should greet you at the front of the tank with a voracious appetite. Happy healthy Discus are always hungry. You will want to break up their food over several times during the day adding up to six small amounts. Feed a variety of foods using quality brands of dry and frozen foods. A good tip is to feed dry foods which your fish may not like as much early when they're hungry from their overnight fast. Feed messy or frozen foods later in the day closer to your water changes. The Discus hobby is a great one. It has its ups and downs just like anything. If you enjoy not only the beauty of the fish but actually watching their behaviour, growth and and interaction, Discus keeping will stick with you. Start with healthy Discus, keep their water and tank very clean, feed them well, and you're sure to succeed!