There is a myth regarding wild discus in the UK, that they are very difficult to keep and often fall sick. Given below is the method that I adopt for the wilds and have had them successfully for a long time. I have been having detailed discussion with my Brazilian exporter who has been exporting marine and discus fish for the past 12 years. The points outlined below are based on my personal experience and knowledge obtained from my Brazilian exporter. I am sure some of my customers who have seen the fish in my tanks will testify to the quality of these fish. These have worked for me and I cannot imagine why it should not for others!!!!
1 – Food: It is important to feed the fish plenty of beefheart to ensure that they do not lose weight. Discus will feed on any flake food given to them, no matter what the flake is and where the flake is from. Discus naturally have the tendency to pick on anything that floats as they feed instinctively (discus in the wild tend to feed on leaves fallen in the river). Bloodworm is strictly a NO-NO as most of the problem tend to start here. Artemia, earthworm, tetra prima, flakes, beefheart are some of the food they will readily accept.
2 – Water: Heckel are usually kept in a very low ph preferably around the ph 6 mark, while I have kept others at a ph of between 6.8-7.2 with no problem. We all know that young discus need their water to be changed frequently to ensure that they grow big and are not stunted. Unlike domestic fish, most of the imported wild discus are above 4.5″ and hence the probability that the fish getting stunted is very low. Hence, changing water everyday does not really have the desired affect. I prefer to do large water changes of upto 50% once a week. Obviously, I have two massive external filters and one large internal filter in my tank that houses the wild fish.
3 – Temperature: Wild discus can survive at much lower temp than their domestic counterparts, they prefer to be kept at 86F(30C) although they can be happy at 82F(28C). Temp much lower than these can cause the fish from going off food and that’s when the problems start.
4 – Quarantine: One of the most important areas in successfully keeping these fish. Most of the sick wild fish that we commonly come across are either not properly quarantined or not quarantined at all. There are three stages to proper quarantine.
First stage – This happens when these fish are caught at the Amazon. It is the responsibility of the exporter to ensure that the fish are not exported immediately. A good exporter will often bring the wild caught fish to his/her farm and will nurse them back to normal health. Unfortunately, most of the fish are not quarantined by the exporter. They select the fish from the fishermen (where they are rarely fed) and are exported immediately. In most cases, the fish would not have had seen any food for days, thereby making them lose a lot of weight and eventually become sick.
Second stage – When the fish arrives at the importer place/farm. They need to be quarantined for a minimum of three weeks and at times more. Treatment can be further divided into phases. The fish is treated with anti-fungus, external parasite followed by internal parasite. This might take upto 2 weeks to administer and at this stage the fish would have more or less settled in the new environment.
Third stage – This is the stage that most hobbyists tend to ignore. When these fish are bought from the retailer, it is advisable for the hobbyist to keep them in quarantine for another 4-5 weeks prior to adding them to the existing tank. I would strongly advise not to mix domestic and wild strains immediately.
5 – Disease: There are mainly two common diseases that wild discus will encounter. Among them internal parasites/worms are very common. ‘Prevention is better than cure’. It is advisable to feed them with a good dewormer mixed in their food(check if they can be mixed with food in the first place) once every month to keep the parasites/worms at bay. Once the internal parasite/worms take over, it is almost impossible to recover (this is for both wild as well as domestic). I am sure there will be a lot of objections to this, but you need to ask yourself, “how many fish have you cured, once they started dropping white faeces?” To start with, from my personal experience I can say NONE!!!!. Please note that when discus do not have any food in their stomachs, they will drop white faeces and that should not be mistaken for internal parasite/worms. The second common problem wild discus tend to have is gill flukes. There are loads of treatments available in the market, but one has to remember to keep changing the medication as the flukes tend to get immune to the medications used.
6 – Stocking: This is one area that not many books or hobbyists stress on. Most of them stress on overstocking, while none discuss about problems that occur due to under-stocking. Discus are shoaling fish and are confident in groups of 6 or more. Common problems caused by under-stocking – bullying, fish hiding, fish going off food and sulking.
7 – Breeding: It is pretty easy to breed wildxdomestic strains, while breeding wildxwild is not common. I had only one pair of blue face heckel recently, paired from a total of 14 heckels after 5 months. Unfortunately, I had to give it off to my friend who refused to leave my place without the wild pair. Will update this article, if I am ever successful in breeding them in the future.
Last but not the least, they are truly wonderful specimens to have in a planted show tank. I would even go to an extent and say that wild discus are much more hardier and robust while compared to domestic strains. Rarely will you come across wild discus getting domestic strain diseases like plague, velvet etc. They are genetically strong and you need to really do something wrong for them to fall sick. Let us all enjoy the grace and beauty of these fish at its best.