The discus is a beautiful fish, and quite unique. I first chose to put this animal for the letter D because of it’s intense beauty, and was glad of my choice for it’s uniqueness. This was one of the animals I didn’t know a lot about before writing this book. A new thing to learn is always a lovely surprise!
To understand how different the discus is, I will first explain the group of fish it belongs to: chichlids (si-kluhds). There are more than 2000 species of chichlid. Species are found in freshwater tropical areas of South America and Africa, and the two sub groups are named by their continent of origin. Chichlids are highly intelligent as far as fish go, and are known for their bright colors, good parenting skills, aggressive territorial behavior, and ritualistic fights. While African species as a rule are more aggressive loners than South American ones, even the semi-social South American species are classified as aggressive or semi-aggressive fish and have strict pecking orders and territories. Most are omnivores, leaning towards the carnivore side of the spectrum.
The discus is most closely related to the freshwater angelfish, which is one of the few other “semi-aggressive” classified fish in this group. The discus is in fact the most peaceful of all the chichlids, and are often found in very large groups. These groups can be dozens of fish large and discus are the only chichlids who gather in such a way. They have a more plant based diet than other chichlids. Like the angelfish, their body shape doesn’t allow them to be very agile, so they don’t bother chasing prey or each other around so much as other species do. As a result they are a calmer type of fish. What really came out of the blue and made me say “wow!” was the way that these fish take care of their young. Chichlids are known as good parents, but these guys go the extra mile! When a couple has young, called fry, they stay with them for four weeks. During the first two weeks the parent produces a mucus from it’s scales for the babies to eat, similar to milk. It is quite rare for a non-mammal to do such a thing! The last two weeks are spent weaning the fry and teaching them to find food. What beautiful and gentle creatures!