New Discus Tank Set-up

New Discus Tank Set-up

After reading this article you should be able to complete a new Discus tank set-up.

How To Set Up And Mature A New Discus Tank

Moving into the discus hobby is an exciting time. With dealers telling you that you need to take your time and mature your tank, will be said with good reason. Most new discus keepers are hobbyist that has started off with normal community fish. Then seen discus in their local tropical fish show rooms, or seen pictures of them somewhere and fancied upgrading to something more exotic. So the best thing to do is to look and go through all the fish they have, because some may be all right to keep with the new discus. Very often I get a call from someone who wants to know if the fish they have, can be kept, or do they need to get rid of them. This way the tank will be mature, and discus could be added once a good water change has been performed, and the water checked that it is indeed correct to keep discus in. But what if your new discus tank has never been used, and has yet to be set up? How do you make it discus proof and mature? Well this can be done many ways, and it is possible (not ideal) to place discus in a tank a few hours old. When I attend discus shows, and some of these are all over the world, there is no time to mature the filter. The discus has to be placed in the tank and look good as soon as possible. So yes, rules can be broken. But this is not the best way to start off with keeping discus unless you know the fish and what you are doing. Even then, even the most seasoned of discus keepers can experience problems if everything is not right, and it all comes back to one thing!! WATER. As many hobbyists will know, the biggest success of keeping discus is keeping perfect water for them. The biggest tip here is not just perfect water, but mature filters to produce perfect water. I have said this many times in my shop to many discus customers. Discus will simply not tolerate Ammonia; it burns the gills and drives them crazy just as a whole summer long every single day of big brother does to me. So how can you keep discus in a new tank that is not yet mature? The best thing is to first set up your new aquarium, and get it running. With all the filters, heaters and lights working, everything can be first monitored and checked to see that it is working correctly. It will take a day or two, sometimes three for the temperature to stabilise anyway. Once everything is deemed to be correct, it is possible to speed things up, and cheat to stock your tank with discus quicker. Time is the true way of doing it properly though, and it will take up to six months for your filters to be 100% fully mature. Within six – eight weeks you could add discus to a new tank, but there is another way to add them quicker if you follow some close instructions, and know what you are doing. With your tank up and fully running it is possible to seed your new tank. By this I mean add some beneficial bacteria to your new filters. The best way to do this and it will speed things up lovely is as follows. I have done this to many new systems and never seen an Ammonia level at all in many of them. First you will need access to a mature filter that has been running properly for at least six months. Sponge filters are the best, because they can be squished out in to a bucket, or bag easily ready to transport to the new tank. Chocolate coloured water should be the product from a mature sponge, and will look like you are about to muck up the clear, perfect looking water in your new tank. I have had people seen myself setting up a beautiful tank, with it looking fantastic. Only to see me some day’s later, ‘spoil’ it by making it look like something from Willy wonkas chocolate factory. Within a short time, the dirty looking water will be taken into the new filters and the water will clear. All the floating live bacteria that were rinsed out of the mature sponges will colonise into the new filter media and will be colonised. Thus making a quicker start at filtering out the Ammonia, and breaking it down into the less harmful Nitrite, and than finally Nitrate which discus are not affected by at all. This is the whole point of a mature filter, not just to keep the water looking nice and clear, but also to break down all the waste products coming from the fish. So now we should be able to see why it is so important to have a fully mature filter before adding any discus. Many hobbyists have rushed things and added discus after just a few days. Then when the discus hides, turn black, turns on its side doing a stingray impersonation and will not feed, they blame the dealer, or breeder they bought them off.

Beneficial For Whom?

A story to this day I still have a bit of a laugh and a bit of banter with an experienced discus keeper over a conversation with a dodgy dealer. Beware of those out there who try to make a quick buck!! A regular customer/friend of mine (Ray Chadwick, the wild boarder man) who contacted an individual on the phone because he was many miles away, a ‘breeder dealer outlet’ seeking some information on his discus stock. Because he kept discus many years ago, and just wanted to see what was available these days, wasn’t even ready to take in fish yet as his tanks didn’t even have any water in them. Anyway, after some five to ten minutes the conversation moved to when this dealer could send his discus by over night courier. Explaining that the tanks didn’t even have any water in, the answer sharply came back, ‘I will send some beneficial bacteria from my filters in the post’. This was just so to close a sale, and no consideration was given to the poor discus fish. To explain, beneficial bacteria will only stay alive outside of a filter, or if a filter is switched off for around 4 hours. After this it dies off and is no good. So please don’t be fooled into thinking this sort of method would work if arriving the next day in the post, and would benefit your tank, it won’t!! Some products are available that claims to seed a filter, but I have never had much success with any of these maturing products.

Into Action!!

The best method to be on the way to a thriving well-managed discus tank is to set everything up and run the tank. After 24 hours, check your water temperature and adjust if needed (this should be 86f / 30c for keeping discus). If possible ‘seed’ your tank as already covered and leave to clear for a further 24 hours. If water temperature is ok, and the water is looking clear, add some cardinal tetras, neon’s or any other fish that can be kept with the discus eventually, that will take a bit of Ammonia/ Nitrite etc while the tank is maturing. Fish stock of some kind will need to be in residence for the filters to build up, even if you wish to keep a discus tank only. Then a home would need to be found for the fish that have matured the tank prior to the discus going in. If the tank was run on it’s own with no fish in it at all, the filters would just die back of beneficial bacteria because of no waste product from any fish, and would have no fish waste or nothing to feed on. Plus if some sort of fish has survived a few weeks, this normally gives the new discus keeper some confidence to try and keep discus in the same tank. With the fish that will end up becoming the discus tank mates settling in and doing well, keep checking water perimeters on a weekly basis. Once 6-8 weeks have passed and if all water perimeters are where they should be, it would be possible to add your discus. The best size to buy would be 2.5”, and a group of at least six. If you add six large discus they would stress the filter system, and over load it causing Ammonia to rise. So six smaller ones would slowly grow in size, and as they get bigger, the bacteria in the filters would increase in size to accommodate them. It is a myth that discus are hard to keep. Don’t get me wrong, if they get sick, they can be very hard to fix up. So the best way is to get it right first time, and give them the correct conditions in the first instance. You should then be able to keep discus with little problems at all. An old saying comes to mind here, and is very applicable, ‘look after the water, and the fish will look after them selves’ and how true this is. At the end of the day we are not really fish keepers, but water keepers.

  • If your Ammonia readings are zero, your beneficial bacteria in your filters are working properly. If not find out why, and address immediately.
  • Provide plenty of cover in the form of plants, root wood or any other suitable aqua décor in the tank. This will help settle your new discus in faster.
  • Once your tank is fully mature and you are fully stocked, do at least 25% water changes every week, twice would be even better.
  • Skimp on water changes and your discus will let you know.
  • Try and get you discus, and introduce them all at the same time. Two reasons for this. First, discus already in residence may not except new tank mates without fighting them and causing them stress. Secondly, if you mix discus from many different sources, you could be asking for trouble. It is a known fact, that German discus can be difficult to mix with Asian discus.

Chris Ingham

Author of Discus World, the complete up to date manual for the discus keeper.