Posted by Dabney B. on Thursday, July 5th, 2012
It’s time for another fish profile, so today we’re going to take a look at one of the most colorful denizens of the depths, the discus fish. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Ah, I see. It’s another colorful reef fish.” Wrong! You need to go back to school (maybe at the College of Marin). When most people look at such a colorful and beautiful fish, they automatically assume that it’s a saltwater fish that was plucked out of a coral reef. It would normally be safe to make that kind of guess, but discus fish are actually a freshwater species.
Freshwater aquarium hobbyists usually have to make peace with the fact that their tank isn’t going to be vibrant and colorful. It’s just kind of a fact of life: saltwater tanks can be wild and crazy, but freshwater tanks can be peaceful and serene. Discus fish allow freshwater aquarists to break the rules by adding a splash of neon color to an otherwise tame tank.
To put it bluntly, discus fish are shaped like a discus. Are you surprised?
Discus fish have a laterally compressed body that makes them very tall and extremely thin, kind of like a Hollywood actress who nibbles on a few leaves of cabbage each day. Oddly enough, their fins are shaped in such a way to give them an almost perfect circle shape.
The sides of a discus fish are often patterned with green, blue, red, or brown. Some species, like the Symphysodon aequifasciatus pictured at the top of the article, bear a bizarre marbled patterning, while others bear a solid color.
There are three species of discus fish, the common discus, the Heckel discus, and the Symphysodon tarzoo, though I think the last group wouldn’t mind if you just called them “tarzoo.”
These fish hold the distinction as being some of the best parents in all of the Amazon River. Discus fish are one of the few species of fish that lovingly attend to their young. They will raise and protect their offspring, and they even secrete a nutrient-rich substance that their young feed on during the first few weeks. That’s kind of like human babies licking the sweat off of their parents in order to feed (gross).
Caring for Your Discus Fish
Discus are a schooling species, so never ever buy a single discus to put in your tank. Your fish will be miserable with no other discus fish to talk to (or whatever it is discus fish do with each other). Once discus fish buddy up with each other, that can develop into a powerful bond. Male and female discus fish form lifelong relationships, and they can even fall into depression if something happens to their mate.
Young discus fish have a reputation as voracious eaters, so you need to supply generous helpings of chow so that they can grow up to be big and strong. Put them on a meaty diet of bloodworms or feeder shrimp, but be careful not to overfeed them, otherwise their paper-thin figure that they worked so hard to get will be ruined.