My Discus Fish Massacre and Reverse Osmosis Repentance

So here we are a few months into our Illinois adventure. Three days after we moved here I killed my fish, the pretty big ones I’d been chronicling since January. I thought I’d researched the water conditions we’d face here well-enough, but I did not. And I have the empty tank to prove it.

They made the drive fine in five gallon buckets with aerators. I slowly added the new water so they would get acclimated and then plopped them in the tank.

Now the water comes out of the faucets out here at the hundred year old farm house with an unbelievable amount of fine bubbles that can take a while to dissipate. My fish swam and then immediately went horizontal up to the top, where they laid floating on their sides. I thought I’d killed them, but within an hour they came-to.

Two days later, it was time to change the water. I drained the old out and filled it back up. The fish seemed happy they schooled in circles, playing in the current of incoming water. But then suddenly stopped and floated to the top–like before.

@$#*%! Fool me once…

I blamed the first time on the travel and change it water. Well, it was the change in water alright and it killed all of them. I was stupid and now sad ta boot.

So, some research let me to believe the dissolved bubbles could have been carbon dioxide and could have killed the fish. Otherwise, the salt from the softener and iron not removed by the softener could have done it. For repentance I decided to install a reverse osmosis [r.o.] system. Perhaps the good coming out of the terrible end these guys met would be clean water for my wife, me and our future fish. Now all I had to do was set it up.

After brain storming with my father and a family friend who happens to work for Culligan we thought the brine storage tank for a water softener would be the perfect size to hold 50 gallons of water. It even has a float to automatically shut-off incoming water when it fills up.

I picked up a Culligan r.o. system and storage tank on craigslist. To me it’s important to get a good r.o system. Reverse osmosis is an inefficient process. The particular system can make it more or less so. Cheap systems are incredibly inefficient and can waste three to seven gallons of water for every one gallon of water that comes out purified. This system throws away about two gallons for gallon produced. The waste water is still pretty clean and can be used for watering plants or washing clothes but I don’t have anything currently in place to harness this water for good. Future project.

I mounted the filter on the wall. Attached the blue tubing from the system to the storage tank and to the faucet for us to drink from. Attached the drain line from the system to drain the waste water. All I had left was to tap the cold water line to supply the system with water to purify. It’s important to tap a water line after it comes from the water softener. Had I sent our hard, hard water through the r.o. unit, I’d be replacing the filter cartridges every month.

I tapped the cold water line next to the feed to the automatic ice cube maker. I used the same style piercing valve as the one for the ice cube maker and it worked like a charm. It made the hole, I attached the tube, and we were in business. I let the system run overnight into the drain, as the directions recommend, to flush the carbon particles out and then let it start filling up the reservoir.

It takes about two days for me to get 50 gallons, which is a little longer than it’s supposed to but will work for my one tank. I threw a 300 watt fish tank heater in the bottom. With my r.o. redemption complete, I’m ready to think fish again.

I’ve been obsessing over what type of discus I’m going to replace mine with but don’t know. My wife has been a saint dealing with me and being the voice of reason. She suggests waiting for ones I really want and not rushing out to get some nice discus only to regret it a few months later when my dream discus become available.

Like always, she has a good point and I’m almost able to wait. Right now I’m leaning toward Piwowarski discus and maybe a couple of incredible wild discus sustainably imported from Brazil.

Stendker Discus Now

So it’s May. I’ve had the discus since January when I got them at a little over two and a half inches each, except for the larger single fish I’d already had for a couple months. My fish are a domestic strain of discus bred by Hahnz Stendker out of Germany.  They are getting bigger and starting to show some color. They’re fun to watch but it’s easy to see that this isn’t what most expect in a fish tank. Not everyone can overcome the bare tank.

It may also be a little surprising but discus enthusiasts exist around the world obsessing, breeding, and showing these fish. Just like dog shows, they groom their specimens and pioneer new breeds.

Now the goal of many a serious discus keeper is to help their very sensitive fish grow out to the fish’s full potential. A nice adult discus should be nearly completely round as opposed to spade shaped. The face shouldn’t come to a point and the distance from the top of the head through the eye to the bottom of the head should equal seven and a half times the height of the eye itself. If the eye appears too big or small in proportion to the fish, it is again subpar.

This is nerve racking in slow motion. Discus don’t round out for a year and a half to two years. In the meantime your worried you’ll have an ace of spades and not a frisbee. I’m in the middle of month four which make them over six months old and a potential year and a half to go to see if I end up with nice shaped, colored, and well proportioned discus.

So far I’m pretty happy. They are growing. Fast. And although it is supposed to take them up to two years to get their full adult coloring, they are beginning to color up pretty nice also. The reds are still a little orange in the red turquoise discus and the blue is still a little orange in the blue snakeskin but they are coming along. They are about four and a half inches now. Three and a half or four more to go. If I’m lucky.

Water’s a Little Cloudy, But the Discus are Growing

So my discus are growing. Crazy fast for only having had them for two months yet terribly slow for watching them hours a day. I just can’t wait for them to become perfect, round saucers. But the persistent nagging worry is that they won’t. I’ll have almost discus and then where will I be.

I think I’m at the stage with the big one where the face is a little more pointed and the eyes seem a little too big, right before out of nowhere they finish growing out and fill out to their iconic full roundness. But again he may not, so the suspense continues.

I have two red turquoise that are really starting to get their color. the red is coming in nice. Though the color’s ever-changing, overall a couple seem to promise future grandeur.

On a little side note, I got sick of the discus occasionally picking off a cardinal tetra and eating ’em, so I took the whole group of cardinals out. They can enjoy a peaceful existence in their own planted tank and the discus will once again have their own. Sad day for the hope of the perfect aesthetics of an amazing school of cardinals schooling through and around the suspended discus. At least until I can emotionally and financially handle the requisite cardinal losses.

Cardinal Tetras in Hiding

So yesterday afternoon while I couldn’t help myself but not be the perfect husband, I was acclimating my 30 cardinal tetras I got in from Houston a couple of weeks ago. The cardinals scattered to the four corners of the earth and the discus frighteningly pursued them like angels of death. As it was near dark, I quickly wrapped a blanked around the tank to make the fish go to sleep and hoped for the best.

This morning I added a plastic egg crate divider to give the cardinals a place of reprieve. They’ve ventured out as a school once but are for now quite content to anxiously school in their corner of the tank. Occasionally, a discus will venture over to lick their chops and menacingly peck at the grate.

Hopefully in a few days the disus won’t pay the cardinals any mind and I will have an awesome kick-ass minimalist tank.

Everyone’s Happy After a Water Change

So all yesterday and today I was looking forward to changing my fish’s water. Discus flourish with frequent water changes, where the water in tank polluted by their waste and uneaten food is swapped out with clean, fresh water.

It is a somewhat stressful process for the fish. Basically you drain the tank down to next to nothing, leaving the discus swimming on their side like a flounder, and then you quickly fill the tank back up. Check out the video of them feelin fresh and enjoy the pics.

Red Turquoise Discus

So I have my discus. 40 gallons of hope and potential. I wonder whether my Stendker discus grow to be everything that I hope they will be. I’ve been looking over pics and videos of Red Turquoise (Red Turqs) discus fish. Not only can do discus change color and darken their stripes, but also changes in lighting can completely alter their appearance. All this leaves me impotent to divine the future.

Instead I am left to hedge my bets. Perhaps the best examples of Red Turqs I have seen are bred by Alex Piwowarski, a German breeder. His discus have bright, deep red lines and reach near perfect large circle or disc shapes. He is expanding his breeding facility right now and Dan Espinosa with Elite Aquaria, his US distributer, is taking some time off. It almost looked like I was going to be out of luck getting my dream Red Turqs. I just found a breeder on a discus forum that has some of Alex’s pairs and my have some fry available in the next couple of months. Stay tuned. After raising my fish out, I will definitely have some amazing adult Reds for sale.

All images courtesy of and copyright Alex Piwowarski.

Catch-up on Last Saturday’s Wild* Discus Chase

So working backwards, we have the eight new 2.5″ juvenile discus and my older 5″ discus settled in after a week in their new home. The tank is definitely startling to anyone not familiar to discus. It seems the fish equivalent of prison. Concrete and a steel toilet.

Though it seems harsh, they are thriving. Discus evolved in the clean water of the tributaries to the Amazon River and cannot tolerate organics disolved in the water. Therefore in captivity they need their water to be replaced daily or near daily, especially while they are growing from juveniles. If they had gravel, it would collect their waste and uneaten food and quickly deteriorate the pristine water. Forced to choose, discus would go for pristine water over tank aesthetics, fins down.

Once they are full grown at 6″+ or the size of a saucer, substrate and plants can be added. Serious enthusiasts, however, stick with the traditional bare bottom tank. The thinking is that the art of the maximally flourishing fish beats the art of the planted aquarium with less flourishing fish. We’re talking minute degrees of distinction, but to the aficionado it is everything.

Last saturday, I left the Capital Area, braved the possible madness of the Saints’ game day furry and headed for New Orleans. The clouds were gorgeous above the causeway along Lake Pontchartrain with the city off in the distance.

I had to make a quick stop in Kenner at my favorite little coffee shop for lunch. Basking in the favor of the gods I enjoyed a huge bowl of shrimp creole and a cafe au lait. The shrimp creole: awesome. Creole spice stretches my notion of what food can be. Like I’m losing my innocence. Being opened up to a whole new world of beauty and sensation. The cafe au lait is a rich, deep coffee with chicory and steamed milk.

I’d never had the dessert before. The name was too alluring to pass up. Turns out, wasn’t for me. An almost solid too sweet custard center with an a flaky crisco feeling crust. Fun anyway. Looked up directions, got my fish, locked my keys in the car, paid the the vocally pissed-off tow-truck guy to miss the game and let me back in my car, drove the fish two hours, and acclimated them to their new paradise. Went to bed energized, excited, and more than satisfied. Now for the two years for them to reach maturity.

*Truth in advertising, it was actually a domestic discus chase.

Current Obsession: Discus

So my current obsession is the King of the Aquarium: Discus Fish. I am obsessed with these fish. I don’t exactly know why. I never got them before. They were barely on my radar. But a couple of years ago I came across the Aquarium Design Group (ADG) online portfolio of aquariums. I was surprised by the number of aquariums that had Discus in them.Fast forward to last spring. I decided my cardinal obsession was growing and it was time to move up from a 25 gallon tank to a 50 gallon tank where I would be able to have 30+ cardinal tetras schooling. In order for them to school, I needed to have some bigger fish in the tank, and got to thinking Discus might just work for what I needed.

I craigslisted for an aesthetic tank, found a nice Aluminum trimmed contemporary tank 8 hours  away. Made the drive and got my new tank. I knew nothing about discus, ordered some books on amazon and started googling. This past fall I picked up a pair of discus from a local guy looking to sell his.

The funny thing about discus is that they are round like a discus and super thin. When happy they kind of just hang out suspended in the tank almost like a piece of art work. They are a schooling fish so they like to be in groups of 6 or more. Less than that and they fight. So my pair didn’t work out too well. The big one constantly harassed the little one, biting sores into his side. I sold them to a local hobbyist who had a school of discus and I am about to start my own school. This weekend I will be picking up 7, 2.5″ baby discus and with care and a little luck, will raise them to be 7″.