by Joselph S. Nelson
I love books on fishes, human history, natural history, and exploration, and when a book combines all of these subjects it is truly a joy to read. I do mean read—this extraordinary work is far more than a reference book, it is a rich source of information that is truly enjoyable to read. There is much for those who, apart from wanting information on the discus itself, wish to learn more about those ichthyologists and aquarists of former years involved in making the discus so well known. Heiko Bleher has done a wonderful job in combining coverage of the history of 19th century and onward of Austria and other parts of Europe and of South America relevant to events leading to the discovery and subsequent collections of the discus. He gives the reader scientific and practical information on a fish on which there is an abundance of literature. Discus are a member of the family Cichlidae, the third most species rich family of fishes in the world. The three species of discus now recognized occur in the central Amazon basin, a region with the highest freshwater species diversity in the world. Discus are one of the foremost aquarium fishes that there has ever been. They are variously known as “The aristocrat of the aquarium”, a term as explained by Heiko coined by William T. Innes in the 1930’s, and later as the “King of the Amazon”. Heiko has published extensively on discus (including a book in 1982) and on other fishes and he has a wealth of experience in exploration. The book is Heiko! No-one else could have written such a book.
This book is the result of almost 50 years of research. Many interesting and previously unpublished facts are given, and it is a synthesis of a vast literature, much of it poorly known. The book has an abundance of historical artwork and pictures. In all, there are roughly 5000 photographs, paintings, and illustrations of fishes, people, and landscapes, and numerous maps. Apart from captivating information on the discus and items related to it, the book is also rich in historical anecdotal information on such items as the history of the very first “Sacher Torte”, the European discoverer of the Indians arrow-poison, Sir Walter Ralegh, and a German expedition up the Rio Jari under swastika flag in 1935-1937. Readers are left with no doubt about the discus having a magic-like attraction. It is not surprising that such a wonderful fish should involve so many scientists and others in interesting events and attract the highly dynamic and adventurous Heiko Bleher to be its biographer in this masterful book.
Following the Introduction is a helpful section “How to use this book”, giving the reader an overview of what lies ahead. Chapter 1, the first of five chapters, covers the history of discovering the three species of discus. Heiko gives much credit and coverage to the indigenous peoples, the first to know the discus. He drives home the often neglected fact that aboriginals knew the fish well. Discus were first collected by Europeans in an Austrian expedition. The history of what was happening in Europe and in South America relative to exploration in South America and fish collecting is presented. The circumstances of the many expeditions of the Austrian Johann B. Natterer to South America, the first in 1817 with others on the first overseas expedition of the Austrian navy, and the routes in South America, eventually leading to the discovery of the discus in 1832, involves much intrigue. The first species was then described by Johann Jakob Heckel in 1840. The reader is also introduced to European ichthyologists such as Rudolf Kner, Franz Steindachner, and Johann Bapt. de (von) Spix. Similar historical treatment is given in discussing the discovery of the second species, in which the famous Swiss ichthyologist Louis Agassiz played a major part. This is followed by discoveries in the 20th century, where amongst others, we are introduced to Herbert R. Axelrod, Harald Schultz, and to W. T. Innes (whose book “Exotic aquarium fishes” I have from when a teenager). We also get a glimpse at the fascinating life of Heikos’ mother, Amanda Flora Hilda Bleher, the first commercial female fish-collector. Much of Heiko’s own experiences are described. Detailed treatment is given to the importation of the first live discus to the USA in 1932 and subsequent attempts to establish a flourishing trade by air flights under pioneering conditions, primarily after WWII. In good form, Heiko delivers excellent conservation messages, and we can all feel the pain that the poor aboriginals suffered while explorations and exploitations were undertaken.
Chapter 2 in discussing the taxonomy of discus, presents more information about Heckel, the person who described the first species of discus, developed ichthyology in Austria, and is best known for his work describing cichlids collected by Natterer. The original description of the first species is reproduced as is that of the second species, described by Jacques Pellegrin in 1904. I must confess to not previously knowing much of this French ichthyologist who described many new taxa and was one of our most prolific workers, living until 1944. One of the interesting but poorly known stories of aggressive competition in describing fish species in relatively recent times is narrated. This involves Leonard P. Schultz, long with the University of Washington and the National Museum of Natural History (Washington, DC, where he was in charge of their Division of Fishes) and Herbert R. Axelrod, founder of Tropical Fish Hobbyist Publications. George S. Myers, a world famous ichthyologist at Stanford University, and another but unnamed ichthyologist, apparently had a manuscript description of a new species of tetra that we know as the Cardinal Tetra. In Heiko’s words, Axelrod had his good friend Schultz describe it instead and in great haste, naming it after Axelrod. Schultz (not to be confused with Harald Schultz) is well known for many systematic studies, including a 1960 review of the discus genus in which he recognized two species, one with two new subspecies that he described. The Swedish ichthyologist Sven Kullander, the most prolific living cichlid systematist, sunk Schultz’s subspecies in a 1986 book discussing taxonomic problems of upper Amazonian cichlids. This move is accepted by Heiko except, in light of more recent information than was available in 1986, one subspecies is now recognized at the species level. The chapter concludes with Heiko’s critical comments on Symphysodon taxonomy and supporting the recognition of three species; this was in part with the assistance of the recently deceased Jacques Géry, who is well known for his work on characoids. In a separate publication, while acknowledging the need for more taxonomic study using nuclear DNA, Bleher et al. (2007) found three clades of Symphysodon using mtDNA and based on knowledge of their biology recognized them as valid species: Symphysodon discus Heckel, 1840, the Heckel Discus; S. aequifasciatus Pellegrin, 1904, the Green Discus; and S. haraldi Schultz, 1960, the Brown Discus. The latter species was originally described as a subspecies of Symphysodon aequifasciata and considered a synonym of S. aequifasciata by Sven Kullander in his earlier works, it was elevated to species level by J. Géry and H. Bleher in 2004. Hybrids were found of Symphysodon discus x S. haraldi and Fig. 26 of Bleher et al. (2007) suggests that S. haraldi is paraphyletic.
Chapter 3 treats the distribution of the three species of discus and their colour variants and presents 11 maps. Heiko awakens us to the gross misleading statements in the past on locality records of a fish that collectors often want to keep secret or where they wish to exaggerate their collecting abilities. Sadly, we discover that there is so much misleading information (for example, apparently discus have not been collected in the Rio Madeira and yet 38 variants are reported from this one river).
Chapter 4 deals with the many colour varieties of discus in nature. There are 46 pages of colour photographs dealing with variation in each of the three species. In making this a valuable scientific contribution, only photographed fish are shown where the place of capture could be confirmed by Heiko, usually because he collected the fish and took the picture (trade information, apparently is often faked, must surely create a dilemma in trying to enforce laws dealing with endangered populations). One wonders how much of this bewildering colour variation within each species is the result of natural selection adapting the morphs to differing environments or to dietary or other non-genetic effects.
Chapter 5, by far the longest one, is on the natural habitats of discus and on collectors. It leads off with much fascinating history, geography (including descriptions of the development of such cities as Belém and Manaus), ecological description of the very different water types, development (logging, rubber production, etc), aboriginal and other human interest stories (such as on the slaves), European scientific travelers such as Alexander von Humboldt and so many others, cultural events, and of course much on the discus and other fishes. Throughout all, presented under eight geographic areas, we get many tales of Heiko’s own exciting travels and experiences. Following this is a valuable section presenting previously unpublished detailed evidence that each of the three species has its own preferred requirements for living and spawning for such water parameters as pH, temperature, and conductivity. The chapter ends with detailed information on discus nutrition in the wild (e.g., vegetable material, algae, invertebrates), on discus communities (aquatic comrades and predators), and a section on the history of fish collecting (interestingly, going back to the time of Cro-Magnons in Europe).
There is a useful seven page glossary that covers English, Portuguese, and Brazilian terms and those of indigenous Indian tribes. The nine page References includes publications in numerous languages and is up to date. The Index is divided into four parts: General; Flora and Fauna (helpfully, pages with pictures of fishes have the page number in bold except for the very numerous discus variants, while names of higher taxa are in bold); People; and Places. Lastly, there is an overview of the author’s interesting life and work (he went on his first discus hunt when seven) from his birth in a bunker in the ruins of Frankfurt on Main in 1944 to currently being managing editor of “Aqua, journal of ichthyology and aquatic biology”. I digress here to encourage readers to look at the new Aqua website: www.aqua-aquapress.com. His highly adventurous mother was a world traveler and collector of fishes and plants (now we know where Heiko gets his unique features!) and her father, Adolf Kiel, was a famous pioneer of the modern aquarium and known as the “father of water plants”. Heiko got into collecting fishes and plants as a very young boy by accompanying his mother on trips to Africa, throughout Europe, and into the depths of the South American jungle (and living with native Indian tribes). Lastly, there is a one page errata including missing references.
“Bleher’s Discus” Vol. 1, already available in seven languages, is an outstanding book that I highly recommend as one suited to a wide audience of readers with wide interests, from those interested primarily in the wonderful discus and aquarium fishes in general to varied aspects of natural history and exploration of South America. We will look forward to Vol 2, dealing with breeding the discus (and the history of attempts to breed it), cultivated forms of discus, history of classification of the discus, development of discus exhibition, advice on keeping discus, the future of discus, listing of discus clubs and associations world wide, discus on the Internet, and discus products.
BLEHER, H., STÖLTING, K. N., SALZBURGER, W. & MEYER, A. 2007. Revision of the genus Symphysodon Heckel, 1840 (Teleostei: Perciformes: Cichlidae) based on molecular and morphological characters. aqua, International Journal of Ichthyology 12 (4): 133-174.
by Wayne S. Leibel
It is only fitting that I share my personal bias towards Heiko Bleher upfront before offering a review of his book: I am a huge fan. I read with rapt attention all of his many fantastic TFH articles about collecting rare fishes in the 1980’s and I was there at the first American Cichlid Association’s International Cichlid Conference (ICC I) in 1989 when Heiko shared 1200 of his slides in a four hour talk which should have been entitled: “Collecting The World”. I sat mesmerized throughout the entire presentation. So I might not be the most objective person, nor most knowledgeable about discus, to choose for reviewing his new book on discus (Bleher’s Discus Volume I, 2006. Aquapress, Italy). Nevertheless, here goes.
If you are a serious discophile (fish, not music) with interest in wild discus and where and how they live, this book is essential. Even if you have only a passing interest in discus, but a well-developed curiosity about Amazonas and its fishes, this book is also for you. At 671 total pages split over five chapters and lavishly illustrated with color photographs, maps, paintings, historical images, etc., that are beautifully printed (top-quality book production), this is the last word on the life and times of wild discus and the fish they live with. ( A Volume 2 on discus cultivation and cultivars is promised and in the works!) Though I have come to appreciate the results of the discus breeder’s art, there is just ‘something’ about wild discus. As Heiko writes in the introduction: “The discus is one of the most beautiful and interesting creatures that the Amazon region – by no means poor in unusual life forms – has brought forth. It is and will remain the “King of the Amazon” or better still, the ‘King of Aquarium Fishes’. “
In the paragraphs to follow, I will briefly discuss the contents of each of the five chapters with comments on aspects that I find particularly compelling.
Chapter 1: The History of Discus. The first chapter deals specifically with the story of the initial collection and scientific description of discus. In a nutshell, preserved discus collected by the Austrian explorer Johann Natterer were brought back to ichthyologist Jakob Heckel who erected the genus Symphysodon in 1840 and gave them the species name discus. Symphysodon discus is the hobby “Heckel” discus, named that for obvious reason. This initial collection by Natterer was followed by subsequent collections including the Frenchman Jobert in the late 1800’s. The latter brought home specimens of both the ‘Heckel’ and of green and brown discus, which the French ichthyologist Pellegrin described in 1903 as S. discus var. aequifasciata (meaning ‘equal stripes’ or ‘bars’). The name was in reference to the different vertical barred pattern of these fish (brown, blue, green discus) relative to the ‘Heckel’ in which 1st, 5th and 9th bars are pronounced). These were later raised to full species status: S. aequifasciatus. This chapter also documents the first collection and export of live discus before World War II, including profiles of collector/exporter Harald Schultz, and Heiko’s mother, Amanda.
Chapter 2: The Taxonomy of Discus. In this chapter, Heiko continues his discussion of the taxonomic history of discus species including the later attempted revision by Leonard P. Schultz in 1960. In this revision Schultz recognized the two species, S. discus and S. aequifasciatus, while describing three subspecies of the latter: S. aequifasciatus aequifasciatus (green), S. aequifasciatus haraldi (blue), and S. aequifasciatus axelrodi (brown). One particularly valuable aspect of this chapter is the reproduction in full of the original descriptions by Heckel (very rare latin/German monograph), Pellegrin (obscure French monograph) and Schultz (English, early TFH) which are near impossible to get otherwise. Photos of Pellegrin’s actual pickled ‘type’ specimens are included along with an interesting and informed discussion of all of this taxonomic controversy, including commentary by the South American fish experts, Drs. Sven O. Kullander (cichlids) and Jacques Gery (characins). In this chapter, Bleher offers his own interpretation of discus taxonomy: there are three species. The three he advocates are S. discus (Heckel discus), S. aequifasciatus (green discus) and S. haraldi (blue/brown discus). This has been challenged very recently by Kullander and associates (Ready et al, 2006. Journal of Fish Biology 69 (Supplement B): 200-211) who now recognize S. discus, S. aequifasciatus (blue/brown) and S. tarzoo (green). (See a more extensive discussion of this recent controversy by myself in: December 2006 February, March, April 2007 TFH magazine).
Chapter 3: Distribution. Here’s where the book begins to become a bit more specialized in presenting a series of 8 hand-drawn maps indicating the collecting locations of discus colorational variants which are then presented photographically in Chapter 4. As Bleher writes, these are the product of “300 sampling and collecting trips over the last 40 years”. I don’t doubt this. The chapter primarily presents the overall natural distribution of discus in the Amazon basin, but also tackles that unacknowledged ‘elephant in the scientific room’, their ‘unnatural’ distribution. That is, where discus have been introduced artificially, principally by ornamental fish exporters, including, rumor has it, one or more world-famous breeders, to facilitate their propagation and ease of collection for the trade. (These include deliberately introduced green discus from Lake Tefe, Brazil which were allegedly seeded into the Rio Nanay in Peru, and ‘escapees’ from the ornamental fish trade.) The maps are accompanied by detailed commentary on what variant is found where over the twenty-one pages of the chapter.
Chapter 4: Discus Variants in Nature presents an incredible photo gallery of many of the color variants which have never before been published (with the exception of a previous effort by Bleher and Goebel ‘s 1992 loose-leaf discus book, “Discus – Wild- Caught and Captive-Bred Forms”). Each fish is labeled with its precise collecting locality. This is important since many of the trade ‘locations’ are erroneous or out-and-out fabrications to protect the source of the fish. While accurately representing a significant portion of the incredible morphological variation discus present, Heiko’s efforts gain in importance in the ongoing scientific investigation of the evolution and taxonomic status of discus. In more recent collecting trips, he has photographed live fish of known location and collected tissue samples (e.g. fin clips preserved in ethanol) which can be and are being used for DNA sequence analysis. Indeed, these molecular results, which Heiko says support his own three species thesis, are expected to be published soon.
Chapter 5: Natural Habitats of Discus & Collecting. In this chapter, Heiko discusses each of the 8 discus regions presented in Chapter 3 with complete information on the history of the regions, their drainage systems, even their associated major cities/export points. It tackles discus habitats and water types, and presents lists of chemical parameters and temperatures from each of the localities. There is a section devoted to the nutrition of discus in nature, another to discus communities (i.e. the fish found with them), and still another on collecting discus – how they were captured in the past and how they are collected today. In all “Chapter” 5 comprises 425 pages(!) (pp. 215 – 640) and probably should have been broken down into several more. This, understandably, is what I have left to read: Aquarium literature’s answer to Tolstoy’s War and Peace! And I will continue to nibble away at it, with great joy and wonder, even as you are reading this review. Luckily, Heiko has provided a bound-in red ribbon bookmark, much like you would find in a bible, to help mark my progress – a nice touch!
Towards the end of this massive section there are tables of water parameter data followed by a large section devoted to discus nutrition in the wild (pp. 510- 589) including ‘pie graphs’ of gut content analyses broken out by food for each of the three species (pp. 590 – 596). The next is a section on discus communities- the fish found with discus in their natural habitat again profusely illustrated with photos of Amazonian fishes broken out by region. This presentation also provides a snapshot of the geographic variation that exists for a number of other cichlids (e.g. Geophagus and Satanoperca species) that live with discus. Finally, pages 624- 639 cover discus collecting, both how discus were captured in the past by native fishers and explorers and how they are collected today by ornamental fish collectors/exporters. As you can tell, this enormous “Chapter” could have and should have easily been broken out into several independent chapters if for no other reason than to be more reader-friendly. I am totally intimidated yet entranced by this 425 page “Chapter”. Nevertheless, the information contained therein, and particularly the photo coverage, is exhaustive and impressive and I intend to read it all…. eventually. I am still reading, even as you read this.
As I have said several times already, from simply an aesthetic point of view, this is a beautifully-produced book full of artistically-executed original drawings, maps, reprinted historic materials including prints and early descriptions, and, of course, the photos. While the majority of these are Heiko’s (he writes that he selected from a collection of 250,000 of his images), there is a list of several dozen other sources he credits. I haven’t counted the individual photos, but I dare you to find a page of text devoid of any image whatsoever in the 639 pages of text. Given that many of these pages sport photo collages of multiple images, often as many as ten or more, it is fair to guess that there are at least 2000 -and probably double or triple that – of very nicely reproduced and printed, beautiful color images. Again, if you are looking for a book that presents the flora, fauna, habitats and people of the Amazon along with its fishes (and specifically discus), this book is more than worth the price of 89 Euros, which was somewhere around $110 when I purchased it last July. While seemingly exorbitant, given the production value and size of the book, it really is not. Bleher’s Discus Volume 1 is available in this country from several of the specialty Aquatic Book dealers who have elected to import it and that can be tracked down online. I think it is a ‘must have’ (and a ‘must read’, if I can only keep chugging along!) for all serious South American cichlidophiles, even if your main interest is not discus. It is all the more attractive, valuable and recommended to those for whom it is.
Speaking just for myself, I can hardly await publication of Volume 2 on discus in the aquarium which no doubt will be similar in size and production standards. Together these 1300+ pages will quickly become the ‘Bibles’ of discus: call them “The Wild Testament” and “The Aquarium Testament” respectively if you will: The Discus Gospel according to Bleher. While it is one man’s take on discus, it is certainly a prodigious achievement in bringing all of this information, and his own collecting experience together in one place.
by Lee Finley
There was a time, back a number of years ago, when it seemed as if there was a discus book-of-the-month club in operation. The majority of this mini-flood of books originated from one publisher and were written by a limited number of authors. In the intervening years the number of such discus devoted books has slowed to a trickle and for the most part nothing of any significant importance has been seen for quite a while. Now a new title is available, and the wait has been well worth it.
The author of this new book is the well known Heiko Bleher, and with this magnificent work there is a new starting place for all of those who have an interest in wild discus fishes. Bleher is certainly not new to the world of discus books. In 1992 he co-authored (with M. Göbel) a loose-leaf book titled “Discus – Wild-caught and captive-bred forms”. This book has greatly expanded to significantly over double its original size through a series of five sets of supplements which were published under Bleher’s name alone. The new book is a synthesis of the previous work coupled with an almost unbelievable amount of new material in both text and illustrative format (it is noted that there are almost 5000 illustrations in the new title!). I must emphasize here that this new book is only the first volume of a two volume set and deals solely with wild caught discus. Volume 2, which will be forthcoming shortly, will deal with the captive care and breeding of discus and offer an examination of the multitude of “man-made” forms of these fishes.
The first section (Chapter One) of the new book deals with the history of the discus, from both a scientific perspective and their history as an aquarium fish. While some readers might have a tendency to just scan, or skip most of this material all together, I heartily recommend against this. To be able to truly appreciate what the discus fishes are this section should be read and can only enhance the appreciation of the animals involved! The section dealing with the history of discus as aquarium fishes is of particular interest, and is excellently illustrated with numerous early drawings, photographs and advertisements.
Chapter Two (“The Taxonomy of Discus”) presents a history of the fascinating topic and includes facsimile reproductions of the early works of J. Heckel (1840) and J. Pellegrin (1904). Also included is the complete text of L. Schultz’s 1960 revision of the genus Symphysodon, along with the originally included photographs. Also of interest in relation to this is the inclusion of new photographs of the type and study materials that were used by Schultz in his study. There is also discussion of S. Kullander’s taxonomic view of the genus Symphysodon.
Throughout this chapter Bleher offers his comments and observations in regards to the previously published scientific works. At the end of the chapter there are two sections (“Comments on Taxonomy”, parts one and two). The first is written by Bleher and J. Géry and the second by Bleher alone. In the first part the discussion deals with various aspects of the fishes and their past (and current) taxonomic ranking. In Bleher’s solo entry an arraignment of the genus Symphysodon is presented and three species are recognized: S. discus, S. aequifasciatus and S. haraldi. This may not (probably) be the last word on discus systematics, but it is now the classification that must be addressed in any future revisionary studies and/or discussions on the topic.
The next two chapters (“Distribution” and “Discus Variants in Nature”) can be considered together. The first of these, excellently illustrated with a series of eight maps, lays the base for the second. The latter chapter, which consists mainly of discus photos from numerous localities, is a highlight of the book and is arraigned by river basins and/or geographic localities. Referral back to the above mentioned maps will only increase the readers knowledge and appreciation of the distribution of discus fishes.
The next, and last chapter, is far and away the largest in the book and encompasses over 400 pages. The title of this chapter is “Natural Habitats of Discus & Collecting”. This is where the book really takes off on illustrative material. There are almost an unbelievable amount of photographs in this section (remember, I noted above the “…almost 5000 illustrations.”). There is hardly an Amazonian topic that is not discussed and lavishly illustrated. These range from the habitats of all covered discus to the annual tropical fish festival that is held in Barcelos, Brazil. (These last photos brought back many pleasant memories of my trips to the event). This section also amply demonstrates that this is not a book for just discus fans. Although there are numerous discus and discus related photos, an amazing amount of other fishes are illustrated offering an overview of just about any group of fishes that might be found in the general area of discus distribution are covered. This, much to my personal delight, includes a very large amount of catfishes. One can spend many hours going though this section, and this does not even take into account the reading of the text.
One main section of this last chapter could have well stood by itself as a separate chapter. This section, which covers 85 pages, is titled “Discus Nutrition in the Wild”. This is an extremely important section, and not only to those who have an interest in discus nutrition. Any aquarist can draw a great amount of outstanding practical information regarding the availability and use of natural foods by Amazonian fishes. I personally am interested in the natural diets of catfishes and this section offered some tantalizing tidbits in this area. All together this section is a textual and visual delight.
In ending, I will note that the whole book is a pleasure in its complexity of text and illustrative materials. It is a book that can truly be regarded as a primary reference resource, and it will be returned to again and again over the years to come. Certainly there are some areas that can be expected to generate differing opinions but these will serve as a jumping off point for future discussions and/or writings on the topic. Serious “discus folk” can be quite stringent in the way they view their fishes, so I have no doubts that this book will generate future discussions and counter discussions on a variety of topics. Heiko is a man of observations and opinions and they are offered here. One could not ask more, or expect less, from him. I feel that this book will stand the test of time and only lead to a greater understanding and knowledge regarding its topic. As readers, we could not ask for more. It is an expensive book, but more than well worth the price of admission. I think that you will not be disappointed.
P.S. Although it has nothing to do with a review specifically, I will note that I find the bound in cloth bookmark a very nice touch. It adds a little extra class to an already classy book.
by Ross Socolof
Heiko is undoubtedly the premier fish collector of all time. His perserverance and dedication in his unique style dwarfs the efforts of pseudo-scientists who have cluttered up the genre for the past fifty years.
Heiko is like a son to me, and I am proud of him. I am forever grateful to Heiko for teaching me the history of Discus, and he is on a very short list of people who I would turn to for information, as his word has always been his bond. The fish illustrations and photographs are profuse and masterful.
Bleher’s Discus, Volume 1 is a true labor of love, and the last word on Discus.
by Ingnatius Tavares
Heiko Bleher Aquapress Bleher’s Discus: Vol 1 Welcome Outstanding monograph. A truly unique portrayal of a lifetime of experience at every stage of Discus collecting. If only there were more quality books like this being published these days. So many authors publish articles, chapters, and monographs of their "experiences" which are little more than summaries of "belief statements" based on the endeavours of others before them. Not so trite with Heiko Bleher, an explorer, collector, scientist, aquarist, showman, and skeptic. Above all, a man of integrity with detailed documentation of his own explorations, who forms opinions from his own experiences. I am totally convinced by his analysis of the Discus phylogeny of just 3 species: Heckel (S. discus), Blue/Brown (S. haraldi), and Green (S. aequifasciatus). The latest crazy redefinition of the western distribution of wild greens into a "new species" S tarzoo is just another example of ivory tower researchers basing their assumptions on the previous works of armchair authors. The "new" opinion they have given is only as good as the information on which it is based, and that information is notoriously unreliable. They have apparently failed to appreciate that many historical authors describing Discus
variants and distribution have limited experience of collecting the range of discus with their own hands, relying instead on local collectors’ less-than-perfect documentation and advice. As a result, they may not actually know where their fish really truly come from (local collectors not wishing to give away their local secrets in case others sneak in and plunder their assets hem hem). Heiko Bleher, in refreshing contrast, is frank and open about the problems of Discus categorisation and local variations. He manages to cut through the Discus mystique in the most satisfying way. He has been here, there, and pretty well everywhere, collected and studied his own specimens, and drawn conclusions based on reliable data. Full of stunning photographs, this is a compelling and readable narrative of a lifetime’s experience of living and collecting in the most demanding tropical environment, whilst dealing with potentially incendiary political threats. His explanations of the discus habitat are extremely enlightening for hobbyists and professional breeders alike. He then goes on to review breeders’ methods and commercial discus strains.
This book is an absolute must for the dedicated discus professional or hobbyist. In typically teutonic throughness, this is titled "Volume 1", though some of us mere mortals would say he has already said it all!!!
I am agog waiting for the sequel…. Passionate "eclectic_collector" 17 Jun 2007
by Fred Goodall
We have all read the "hype" of this two volume, 1,300 plus page work by Mr. Bleher. The question always asked is does this first volume "live up to the hype" ( 671 pages, approximately 5000 photos, paintings and drawings, 50 maps of waterways where the author has personal tracked down the discus shown, taxonomy and an accurate history spanning 150 years ). The answer is no, this book surpasses that hype… far exceeds it in fact!
In his forward to us the author admits that some of his findings are deemed "controversial" by his contemporaries. With the scientific support Heiko offers in his book there should be no "controversy" only more factual information for those willing to learn.
The five chapters of volume I might seem "too little" for some who do not actually read a book, but I assure one and all that every page is a "must read"…. especially the page the author tucked away on page 671.
Now that the "facts" are covered let me say that this is another "must have, must read" book on my short list. Every page is an "adventure in discus" either in history of the species or in "what wild discus DO in the wild". Tucked into different places in the book are nice "gifts" of insight into what the author holds in value on a personal level regarding his beloved fish, their habitat and the native people he has met and stayed with during some of his trips into the truly wild parts of the Amazon. We are lucky that he has chosen to share all this with us at the cost of his beloved collecting and exploring of the waterways of the Amazon while supplying the "names" in discus with top wild breeding stock. Do yourself a favor while thanking the author by purchasing this book. Do your pocket book a big favor and buy this volume so that you will KNOW exactly what that wild fish is… and whether it is a wild discus.
For all this "learning" one obtains from this book, it is a "great read", clear, easy to read yet teaching a lot without preaching and is completely quality made to last a very long time. A very nice touch besides the glossy, acid free paper of each page is the old style built in ribbon bookmark. In keeping with the author’s "style" in this book, I have left out mention of some "pleasant surprises"… why spoil what the author clearly intended each reader to find for themselves.
by Passionate "eclectic_collector" (Stoke on Trent, UK)
If only there were more quality books like this being published these days. So many authors publish articles, chapters, and monographs of their "experiences" which are little more than summaries of "belief statements" based on the endeavours of others before them. Not so trite with Heiko Bleher, an explorer, collector, scientist, aquarist, showman, and skeptic. Above all, a man of integrity with detailed documentation of his own explorations, who forms opinions from his own experiences. I am totally convinced by his analysis of the Discus phylogeny of just 3 species: Heckel (S. discus), Blue/Brown (S. haraldi), and Green (S. aequifasciatus). The latest crazy redefinition of the western distribution of wild greens into a "new species" S. tarzoo is just another example of ivory tower researchers basing their assumptions on the previous works of armchair authors. The "new" opinion they have given is only as good as the information on which it is based, and that information is notoriously unreliable. They have apparently failed to appreciate that many historical authors describing Discus variants and distribution have limited experience of collecting the range of discus with their own hands, relying instead on local collectors’ less-than-perfect documentation and advice. As a result, they may not actually know where their fish really truly come from (local collectors not wishing to give away their local secrets in case others sneak in and plunder their assets hem hem). Heiko Bleher, in refreshing contrast, is frank and open about the problems of Discus categorisation and local variations. He manages to cut through the Discus mystique in the most satisfying way. He has been here, there, and pretty well everywhere, collected and studied his own specimens, and drawn conclusions based on reliable data. Full of stunning photographs, this is a compelling and readable narrative of a lifetime’s experience of living and collecting in the most demanding tropical environment, whilst dealing with potentially incendiary political threats. His explanations of the discus habitat are extremely enlightening for hobbyists and professional breeders alike. He then goes on to review breeders’ methods and commercial discus strains.
This book is an absolute must for the dedicated discus professional or hobbyist. In typically teutonic throughness, this is titled "Volume 1", though some of us mere mortals would say he has already said it all!!! I am agog waiting for the sequel….