How to Keep Silver Dollar Fish

silver dollarsI have kept a small shoal of Silver Dollars for years now. These are hardy, fast, and fascinating in a large community aquarium. They are fun to watch and extremely easy to take care of. Of course, I’m referring to this one shoal that I have. There are literally endless varieties of SD’s. There are in fact so many different subspecies and morphs that exist in the wild that the experts can’t seem to keep them straight. Some of the ones I’ve seen for sale are the Common Silver Dollar, Schreitmuller’s, Silver Pacu and Red Hook Silver Dollar (Also called Red Hook Pacu). Note that these are not Red BELLIED or Black BELLIED Pacu.

It’s important to pay attention to that distinction. Silver Dollars, Pacu, and Piranha all look very similar in their juvenile stages. Silver Dollars don’t change a whole lot as they get bigger but Red Bellied and Black Bellied Pacu become enormous. Silver Dollars are basically Pacu; however, Silver Dollars max out between 5 and 10 inches. My Silver Dollars are most likely a morph of the Red Hook Silver Dollar. At nearly five years old they range from just under four inches, to a little over five inches. Also, Piranhas are often seen in their juvenile stages at fish stores sharing a tank with silver dollars. It’s up to the skill of the employees to insure that you aren’t going to go home with an innocent looking fish that will eventually transform into a completely different looking and wholly savage beast! I must also note here that there is another commonly seen SD called the Silver Dollar Tetra. This fish is not of the same subfamily as SD’s, Pacu, and Piranha. Though it may be very similar to its closely named cousins, I have no experience keeping that fish.

My Silver Dollars are very peaceful shoalers. I have five of them. They tend to stay together but when the tank is exceptionally quiet one or two will break away and go off and explore. They aren’t at all timid of their tankmates which are all much larger than them. Many references suggest tall plastic plants for a place in which the SD’s can feel safe. This certainly isn’t the case with mine. In fact, when I had my SD’s in a 55gal without any other fish, they ignored the plants and hung out near the bottom. The only time they were active was when they were fed. These fish seem much happier in a large open community setup. Silver Dollars are extremely fast when they want to be. They dart very quickly when there is food in the water or when you have to try and net them. If you ever find yourself having to net an adult SD, use the biggest net you can find. SD’s can easily jump out if the net isn’t deep enough. Also, chasing them with a net is futile. It’s best to corner them with a large enough net that they will swim into it on their own. When fed floating foods, my SD’s hammer the surface and dart back down deep in the aquarium all in one swift motion. Every now and then they actually break the surface enough to hit the condensation tray about an inch and a half above them. Sometimes that stuns them a little, but they always seem to shake it off.

Just about every piece of info that I’ve found on SD’s lists them as herbivores. Mine lived for years amongst Amazon Swords and totally ignored them. It’s also widely suggested that you supplement their diets with lettuce. Mine just couldn’t care less about a leaf. They eat just about everything else, though, including; flake food, pellets, beef heart, lunch meat, freeze dried worms, and wafers. They much prefer foods that either float or tend to stay suspended in the water. They will sometimes go after food that is moving across the substrate but they don’t actively patrol the gravel for morsels. Mine also constantly check the strainer on my filter intakes for anything that got caught there. My Silver Dollars love feeder fish, dead ones that is. Anytime there’s a floater they gang up on it and nibble it in a spinning motion, sort of like eating corn on the cob. Silver Dollars have no trouble eating foods that are larger than their mouths because they are equipped with many highly effective front teeth. It’s not uncommon to see a couple of them swimming around with a large floating pellet passing it off between eat other as they fill their mouths up. Don't just assume that your SD's will shed your plants. Give them a chance to behave, you may be surprised.

Are Silver Dollars compatible with Oscars? They most certainly are. Personally, I think that SD’s are a great addition to any cichlid tank because they eagerly gobble up all that wasted food that cichlids (especially Oscars) blow out of their gills. This keeps the bottom much cleaner. A side benefit is that since Oscars only partially digest their food, the SD’s eat the poo, further reducing the amount of waste overall in the tank. In times of stress and aggression, these fish use their speed and the “Safety in Numbers” theory to stay out of trouble. They are also really cool looking in the sunlight. If your aquarium is lit at all by a window, their shiny bodies will reflect the light rather effectively to make your tank sparkle. Silver Dollars are extremely hardy and will tolerate just about any water conditions. It’s probably a good idea to stay away from treating with salt though. Mine are also the last to show any signs of disease (such as ich) in an infestation.

If you are going to get a few of these guys there are three important things to keep in mind. First, these fish need to be with their friends, get at least five of them and do it all at once. This way you have a greater chance of having them all actually be the same species. Secondly, because you need to get a handful of them, you need a good sized tank. Five potentially ten-inch fish is potentially a whole lot of fish. Even if yours stay the more likely five to six inches, they are going to need some room to swim around. Third, Silver Dollars do not grow nearly as fast as your Oscar. Make sure that when you buy them they are big enough to outpace the growth of your Oscar’s mouth. I’ll end this all by saying that basically, Silver Dollars are the ideal tankmates for your Oscar. Give them a shot if you’ve got the room.

Article by MNielssen