Discus in Bangkok

Red Spotted Discus (symphysodon aequifasciatus var.)

Red Spotted Discus (symphysodon aequifasciatus var.)

 I needed a picture of baby discus with their parent fish. Being in Bangkok it was only necessary to make a telephone call to my supplier there to arrange for an opportunity to get this picture. At the appointed time a driver collected me from my hotel and we set forth into the Bangkok streets, jam-packed with horrendous traffic congestion, as is normal there. We were going to Dragon Fisheries where I was assured there would be plenty of discus with their attendant fry. It took a long time to inch along for the considerable distance to the suburb of Bangkok where the discus breeder had his “farm”. Several calls from Ice, my driver and guide, by mobile phone were necessary to eventually pin-point the street where the hatchery was situated.
We finally arrived outside a tall “shop-house” building, with no sign of any fish breeding activity going on there. Inside I was introduced to the Chinese-Thai owner, and a short introductory period of sipping “Sprite” was followed by a tour of the upper four floors of the house. Each floor accommodated rows of breeding aquariums housing beautiful adult breeding pairs of fish and grown-on saleable fish. But I could not see the shots I wanted.

There were no babies in here, although some breeding-cones did have eggs laid on their earthenware surfaces. Some had a protective grille to keep the parents from eating the eggs, but allowing them sufficient access to fan them and keep them clean and aerated. A new-ish variety of discus, the Marlboro Red, an honorific title from the cigarette and its distinctive red packet and corporate colour, I am told, was being raised here in large numbers.

The depth of colour seen on the mature breeding fish was very strong, and I was assured this was natural to the strain and not intensified by any form of hormone treatment or colour stimulating feeding programme. However, some younger fish were given a high protein diet and other colour enhancing stimulants to bring out an early colouring to make them more attractive and saleable. Others were given the high protein diet only up to a certain age and then it was withdrawn to allow the desirable strong colour to develop naturally and permanently.

Golden Sunset Discus (symphysodon aequifasciatus var.)

Golden Sunset Discus (symphysodon aequifasciatus var.)

Other spectacular adult and grown-on varieties of discus were seen on other floors of the house. Beautifully marked Snakeskin discus were in abundance, and even half-grown fish of the variety bore the distinctive intricate patterning over their bodies and the full spread of their dorsal and anal fins. German Blue discus were fewer in number, but what I saw as adults were magnificent fish, with a glowing quality to the rich blue colouring. This colour was not exactly “fixed”, in that it varied in shade according to the temperament of the fish, showing a deep blue at one time, and moments later changing to a much lighter colour. What was called a “Royal Pigeon Blood” discus was a beautifully marked fish, having a light orange body ornamented with subdued blue coloured markings, a colour scheme carried into the dorsal and anal fins but with more “punch” from an electric blue quality of the markings. The head was a much richer flame-orange colour in contrast to the rest of the body. Bright light blue streaks formed a striking pattern, causing the head area to stand out superbly from the rest of its body. All of this was very impressive to see in tank after tank, with many thousands of high quality fish in obvious sparkling health. But where were those babies with their parents?We made our way back down the steep stairway to the ground floor, and were met by a wonderful spread of exotic fruits. It was perhaps very apt that in this house of the “King” of aquarium fish we should be offered Durian, the “King” of tropical fruits. Though it smells evil, the taste and texture of durian is, to me and many others but NOT all, unbeatable. I had not realised before that there were various qualities or strains of durian, but this particular offering was quite the best I had ever tasted.

Quite a few mangosteens, some more Sprite, and too much durian later, I was led out into the street, and taken to a single storey premises next door where there were yet more aquariums packed quite tightly into the spacious building. Here were the thousands upon thousands of fry being grown on. Some were still with the parent fish, and I could now get my pictures. Unfortunately for me the tanks were devoid of any gravel or sand on the bottom, and no plants, both of which would have made a better picture opportunity for me, but this was anticipated as it is the normal system in Thai discus hatcheries. Also, the water was unfiltered. Instead a large volume of water from each aquarium was changed every day. So better water clarity was also something I would have wished for. But there, beggars cannot be choosers, and I must do the best I could under the circumstances. I found one tank with a pair of Marlboro Reds with a sizeable group of babies in attendance, so I chose these to get my required pictures. They refused to come together, so the male was at one end of the aquarium with half of the babies, while the female was at the other end with the other half of the family. I thought maybe the babies would want to group together, so I waited. But no, the format remained the same, and I would not be permitted to “persuade” them to come together, as I am free to do in my own studio. So I took a few shots of one parent with young, and a few more of some of the juveniles in the growing-on tanks. So I am still looking for a nicely planted, crystal-clear aquarium, without scratches on the glass, containing a happy family of mum and dad discus with their babies all smiling for the camera!

Outside of the hatchery the owner set up a narrow glass aquarium into which he placed examples of the four varieties he was most engaged with at the time. The difficulties with that sort of situation are those of reflections from the sunlit background behind the camera, and water runs which cannot be properly removed without spooking the fish. Added to that was the frustratingly long time it took for each of the target fish to settle down enough in this entirely foreign environment to come up off the bottom. But I eventually managed to get passable images of the four varieties and passed my grateful thanks to the host via my guide, and we then faced the Bangkok traffic for the haul back to the hotel.

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