Providing Proper Discus Care

Taking care of your new discus or any tropical fish requires delicate work. At Discus Direct, we want to help you understand proper discus care with the following articles. Contact us to learn more.

Pink Discus Fishes

Acclimating Your Discus

By Discus Direct

In this article, we’ll discuss two methods for acclimating your discus. The primary purpose of acclimation is to help newly purchased fish adapt to your tank parameters and is an essential step for any tropical fish that should not be skipped. Minor changes to aquarium parameters can cause an issue with tropical fish as some are more sensitive than others. The water that your fish have been shipped in will have a different temperature and pH level than your aquarium environment; therefore, acclimation is required to ease the transition and help your discus make this adjustment. Therefore, without performing the acclimation process, you risk the chance that your newly acquired discus will either become sick or die from pH shock. There are two methods of acclimation used in aquarium fish keeping, the float/drop method and the drip method. We recommend the float/drop method, but this is a personal choice, and it really boils down to which method you are more comfortable with, as both will work.

Additional Tips

Here are some additional tips before you start the acclimation process.

Do not open your box until you’re ready and in front of your aquarium. Your shipment from Discus Direct will last over 24 hours as long as the package remains sealed.

Do not let full sunlight or room light enter the container once opened. Dim your lights in the room and turn off your aquarium lights. Having the lights off in the tank and a dimly lit room will reduce the risk of your new discus being shocked due to the change in lighting when you remove them from the shipping container. Remember, they are in a dark environment to reduce the stress during shipment, and a sudden stream of light may cause stress.

Test your aquarium water with a good test kit. We recommend the API Freshwater Master test kit. We highly recommend that you test your water parameters before introducing your new arrival into your home aquarium. You want to ensure that your aquarium water is ready for the latest additions, plus the acclimation process will require you to add water from your aquarium to condition your new fish for their new environment. You do not want to risk the chance of water contamination. Optimal results of your water should be Ammonia 0 ppm, Nitrates and Nitrites 0 ppm, and pH 6.5 – 7.5.

Never place the water from the bag your discus was shipped in, into your aquarium. When you add the water from the pack your discus was sent in, you risk the chance of polluting your aquarium and introducing pathogens that will wreak havoc on the aquarium environment — making it unsafe for all inhabitants.

If you buy discus from multiple vendors/suppliers, you should always quarantine your fish. A good rule of thumb is to quarantine your newly purchased tropical fish, discus included. We here at Discus Direct will not ship your discus until they have gone through our quarantine process. We strive to provide you with the healthiest discus that are free of defects and disease.

Be patient as drip acclimation can be a slow process. The total time should be no more than one hour. NEVER place an air stone into the shipping bag when acclimating your new arrival.

This will increase the pH of the shipping water too fast and expose your fish to dangerous levels of ammonia.

Keep the aquarium light off for at least 4 hours to two days; this allows your discus to get accustomed to your tank environment and will help them to retain their color. Also, do not feed your newly purchased discus for a minimum of 5 hours and a maximum of 24 hours. They will look like they are very hungry but wait for at least a minimum of 5 hours before you attempt a feeding. The intent is to give your fish as much acclimation time as possible.

Float/Drop Method:

You want to lay your sealed bag in your aquarium water and let it float for about 15-20 minutes; this will allow the water in the bag to adjust to the water temperature of your aquarium.

Cut open the bags at the top; please note each discus fish is quadruple bagged. The first bag has a 50% blackout with newspaper to provide protection for the fish and to reduce stress during transport.

Pour about 1/8 to 1/4 cup of your aquarium water into the bag every 20-minutes for one hour or three times in a 20-minute span. This will help your fish acclimate to the pH of the aquarium water. If you have higher pH (above 7.0), pour water from your tank into the bag every 15 minutes for an hour.

Carefully net your fish and place them into their new home. Or you can reach into the bag with gloves on your hands or barehanded, grab your fish firmly, but do not squeeze, and remove it from the bag and place it in the water. One thing I have learned is to tilt your hand up so that the discus is on its side where they tend to not move (most do, not all, I‘ve had a few that still moved), but the intent is to immobilize them long enough to place them into the tank.

Drip Method:

This process is considered an advanced method for acclimating tropical fish. You will need airline tubing and will need to monitor the whole process from start to finish. You will also need a clean 3- or 5-gallon bucket that has never been used. It is recommended to purchase a paint bucket from Lowes or Home Depot.

Cut open the bags at the top; please note each discus fish is quadruple bagged. The first bag has a 50% blackout with newspaper to provide protection for the fish and to reduce stress during transport.

Empty the contents of the bag (water included) carefully into the bucket. If you have invertebrates, make sure not to expose them to air. You may have to angle the bucket at a 45-degree angle to ensure all livestock remain submerged. The amount of water per bag will be an indication if you need to angle the bucket. Use a wedge or prop to get the bucket stable until you have enough water to return the bucket to its normal position.

Using the airline tubing, you will want to set up and run a siphon drip line from your aquarium to the bucket (multiple buckets will need multiple drip lines). You’ll want to tie several loose knots in the airline tubing, or you can use a non-metal or plastic airline control valve to regulate the flow of water from the aquarium. Recommend using an airline holder to secure the tubing in place. Start the siphoning by drawing on the end of the airline tubing you’ll be placing into the bucket or buckets, depending on how many fish you have. When water begins flowing through the tubing, adjust the drip by tightening one of the knots or adjusting the control valve to a rate of about 2-4 drips per second.

Multicolored Discus Fishes

The Nitrogen Cycle

By Discus Direct

As a lover of tropical fish, whether the species is discus, plecos, swordtails, tetras, or some other type of fish, I had to learn the concept of the nitrogen cycle. In my early years, when I was first learning and keeping tropical fish, I had no concept or understanding of the nitrogen cycle. I thought it was just boring mumbo jumbo, and I did not take it seriously as I should have. As foolish as that may sound to some, it’s not uncommon for someone just starting or someone with some experience falling into that trap. In this article, the goal is to inform and hopefully pass along some good information about the nitrogen cycle to help tropical fish lovers provide the best desirable environment for their tropical aquarium.

So, what is the nitrogen cycle? The nitrogen cycle is a process of good bacteria, commonly known as beneficial or nitrifying bacteria, that establishes itself in your filter and tank objects (i.e., sand, rocks, driftwood, aquarium tank sides, or ornaments). This bacterium takes the toxic ammonia created from fish waste, uneaten food, and plant debris. It converts the ammonia into nitrite, another toxic compound that is then converted to a non-toxic compound called nitrates. The critical takeaway is that you need to create an environment with beneficial/nitrifying bacteria to neutralize the waste within the aquarium.

Typically, there are three types of filtration: chemical, biological, and mechanical, all of which serve a specific purpose in your aquarium. To keep the aquarium at an optimal level and your livestock healthy, you need to employ biological filtration whereby beneficial bacteria colonize to break down toxic waste byproducts. The nitrogen cycle has three different stages that will be discussed below. Each new aquarium setup will need to complete all three stages before you can reap the full benefits of your biological filter.

As previously mentioned, there are three stages to the nitrogen cycle. The first stage is where ammonia from fish waste and food is created, which is extremely toxic to most tropical fish and will generally start rising around the third or fourth day after you have introduced fish to the tank (I highly recommend adding starter fish; if a casualty occurs, at least it’s not an expensive fish). When you check your ammonia levels and they are declining, you are entering into the second stage of the nitrogen cycle.

The second stage is where the ammonia is converted into nitrite as bacteria start to colonize. This bacterium is known as Nitrosomonas, and as the bacteria starts to grow, they will consume the ammonia and produce nitrite. The ammonia levels will begin to decrease, and the nitrite levels will start to increase. Nitrite is also dangerous to your livestock, but it’s essential to the nitrogen cycle and should start to increase after the full first week.

In the final stage of the nitrogen cycle, nitrites will reach a certain level where Nitrobacter is developed, a form of bacteria that converts the nitrites into nitrates. This substance (nitrates) at low levels is not toxic to your fish. However, higher levels, those above 20 parts per million (ppm), can be very dangerous to your livestock — dependent on the species as some fish are more sensitive than others. Once you register 0ppm for both ammonia and nitrites, your aquarium has cycled, and your biological filter is colonized.

To keep your levels at an acceptable range; Ammonia 0ppm, Nitrite 0ppm, and Nitrate < 20ppm, perform water changes regularly, approximately 20, 30, or even 50% every 2 to 3 weeks or more if you have a high stock load.

We hope the information we presented will help you as you look to establish your first aquarium. Be sure to keep an eye out for future articles on discus care.