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The basic qualifications for looking for suitable tank mates are temperament and water chemistry compatibility. And while the similarities between Discus Fish with Cichlids are many (i.e., they belong to the same family), that doesn’t mean that all varieties of these two species can automatically stay in one tank.
Since Discus are the more sensitive fish, potential tank mates should adapt to their preferred water conditions. It’s possible to keep Discus with Dwarf Cichlids such as Kribensis and Blue Rams. You can also keep Discus with Angelfish but only in a bigger tank.
Discus Fish aren’t that easy to keep but they have become very popular despite the need for lots of care and attention.
Discus Water Requirements
Keeping Discus Fish with Cichlids means that the Cichlids will have to adapt to these water parameters.
|Nitrate||< 10 ppm|
|Temperature||77 to 84 deg F|
|pH||6 to 7.5|
|Hardness||50 to 200|
Discus are naturally found in South America, particularly in the part of Amazon rivers where the current is low and the water is soft and slightly acidic. Because of these similar conditions, some keep Discus with Angelfish.
The temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit and above ensure that they metabolize well to grow to their full potential. It also prevents parasites like ich and flukes to live in their tank as they are sensitive to these. Juveniles, in particular, need the high temperature to stimulate their appetite and grow bigger quickly.
In colder temperatures, Discus Fish will become black, reduce their movement, and lose their appetite. Some people report their Discus starving themselves to death at colder temperatures.
Unfortunately, some live plants don’t thrive much at temperatures above 80 deg F so choose those that you know will thrive in warmer conditions. Some good ones are Anubias nana, Java fern, and Amazon swords. These plants will adapt to the warmer temperature over time.
You will not need a lot of plants anyway because Discus won’t be able to find their food if you have a heavily planted tank. Many people keep their Discus tanks bare-bottom.
Although captive-bred Discus may be more acquainted with common tropical aquarium conditions, Discus are very sensitive to fluctuations and ammonia spikes, making them not suitable for beginners. This means you cannot afford to skip out on your water changes and tank cleaning because if you do, they might get sick.
Water changes of about 25% should be done religiously every week. Depending on your water test results, you might need to do more than that. It’s practical, then, to invest in a strong canister filter and a tank no smaller than a 125-gallon.
Some hobbyists have varying pH and water hardness, but the key is to keep it as consistent as you can. If your Discus is comfortable with the kind of water that’s available to you, that’s fine, but your parameters should stay consistent through every water change.
Tank Size Requirements
If you’re keeping Discus with Angelfish or Discus with Dwarf Cichlids, you will need a 75-gallon tank or bigger.
This is because Discus can grow up to 6 inches in diameter each. And being all Cichlids, these fish tend to peck at each other if not given enough room to be comfortable in.
Kribensis will grow to a maximum of 3 inches (the female at 2 inches).
Discus are often shy fish when they’re young. They get spooked easily with lights turning on, doors opening, or heavy foot traffic. They will hide and get stressed as evidenced by them turning black.
That’s why they should be kept in schools of at least 6 to help calm them down. And they’re pretty expensive so be prepared to drop around $50 to 75 for each.
Keeping Discus with Dwarf Cichlids, particularly German Blue Rams in the tank will help the Discus come out of their shyness as well. GBR’s are a great, calm community fish.
Kribensis are generally peaceful unless they’re spawning. To keep them from being overly aggressive, give them their own cave to spawn in.
Discus Fish create a pecking order, so put the Discus in first and let them fight for dominance before you introduce tank mates. Once they’ve established themselves, that would be the time to introduce tank mates. If you’re pairing Discus and Angelfish, introduce the Angels as juveniles.
As Discus mature, the shyness dissipates as long as their water conditions are steady and they are kept healthy.
Tips to Successfully Keep Discus Fish with Cichlids
Tip #1: Get the fish from the same source
If you’re buying Discus, buy them as a group from the same source so they will have the same water requirements and won’t outcompete each other for food. After they’ve been established, it would be great to get the Dwarf Cichlids from them, too so it wouldn’t be such a big leap acclimating to the new tank.
Tip #2: Get more Discus than their tank mates
When you keep Discus Fish with Cichlids, there should be twice as many Discus than Cichlids. This is so the latter won’t outcompete the Discus for food.
Tip #3: Don’t mix albinos with regular colored Discus and Cichlids
Oftentimes, albino Discus have poor eyesight and can’t compete well for food amongst non-albino Discus. If you have an affinity for the Blue Diamond or the Platinum, keep them amongst their kind to avoid losing any. If you want to keep Discus with Cichlids, don’t keep albinos.
Tip #4: Picky eating is abnormal
Discus can be finicky eaters when stressed. When this happens, try feeding them smaller-sized food like Tropical Granules as they have small mouths (as Kribensis also do). Also, try feeding them their regular food soaked in garlic juice first to increase their appetite. They eat bloodworms, brine shrimp, blackworms, and white worms.
Generally, though, they eat a lot and also create a lot of waste. So again, keep up with your water changes.
Tip #5: Use RO DI water to keep nitrates low
Nitrates should be kept as low as possible. The ideal rate would be 0 ppm, and 10 ppm is borderline unhealthy.
Use deionized and distilled water, or RO DI water, for your fish tank. It is the same water used for reef or saltwater tanks. This is how clean Discus need their aquarium water to be.
We discuss RO DI water and how to access it in our post, “Clownfish Can’t Live in Tap Water. Here’s Why”. You will need to invest in this filtration system (some are not expensive) if you want to keep Discus, especially with the number of times they need their water changed.
If you are interested in learning more about your fish behavior, check out the links below:
Consistency is key when keeping Discus, and if you want Cichlids with them there are only a few options. They’re also expensive and require quite a bit of your attention, which means you have to be a real Discus lover to keep them at all in the first place. Those who put in the time, effort, and money to do so are pretty happy when they find that equilibrium. All of these species are, after all, really great fish.