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Book Review - Bleher´s Discus Volume 1
by Lee Finley

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Bleher's Discus, Volume 1 by Heiko Bleher. 2006, Aquapress Publishers, Italy, Hardcover, 671 pages. List price, U.S. $125.00.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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Editor's note: Mr. Bleher's book is available for purchase online on his website.
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