Monday, August 01, 2005

Nutrition for Discus Fish

The Discus fish has its habitat in the South American waters of Brazil and Peru. Discus fish are classified as "grazers", and in the wild constantly forage for food. Discus are tall, and have a laterally compressed body. Their swim bladder is located on top of the stomach. They have small stomachs, and short digestive tracts, and with these small stomachs designed to hold small amounts of food, over feeding the Discus can be a problem. Even a minor case of constipation can cause serious problems for the Discus fish.

Diet for the Discus should be varied and contain the nutritional value that they need to survive. In a discussion with our breeder, Nick Lockhart of, I asked him what he would recommend for the daily diet.

Nick feeds our Discus twice a day. He feeds live white worms generally twice per week. The white worms are cultured on site, and are kept refrigerated in a small apartment sized fridge, and temperature controlled by a device that uses a probe to maintain a temperature of approximately 55 to 65 degrees for best results.

Nick also uses bloodworms, plankton, white worms, Emerald Entree, mysis shrimp, and white mosquito larvae to give a varied diet. Emerald Entree is a good choice for Discus fish. Although originally formulated for marine fish, it has proven to be an excellent diet for freshwater fish. Discus rely on micro-algae and vegetable matter as a main nutrition source, and lettuce or spinach are just no substitute for food optimized for the Discus fish. Emerald Entrée is fortified with omega-3 fatty acids such as EPA and DHA, which are proven to be important for optimal growth and disease prevention.

Discus fish and a lot of African cichlids eat a lot of blue green algae in the wild. Spirulina is a blue green algae, and has a special protein called Phycocyanin not found in another algae or terrestrial plants. Japanese scientists have linked Phycocyanin to improved kidney and liver function. Japanese fish farmers make extensive use of Spirulina, due to its positive effects on their fish. A whole series of articles can be written about Spirulina, and will be addressed further in the future.

Because good hygiene is of the utmost importance in the Discus tank, one should never feed more than the Discus can consume in approximately five minutes. As they are grazers, they tend to eat a bit slowly, so a little more time is needed to allow them to get their fill. I have read that it is good to allow a Discus to "fast" on occasion for up to two days, allowing them to get toxins flushed from the system. Of course, you will not want to drive them to the point of starvation, but it will never harm the Discus to go for a day or two without food. Nick has told me that fish can go up to two weeks without being fed, with no harm to the fish. It is much better to underfeed them a little than to over feed.

If care is taken, the discus will thrive in the aquarium. Much information is available for the potential Discus breeder, and a little common sense thrown in along the way wouldn't hurt either. As Discus are long-lived, the aquarist can have the enjoyment of these friendly fish for ten to twelve years.