Overview of Discus Fish

Discus fish are often regarded as the crown jewel of the aquarium, due to their spectacular coloration and regal presence. Sometimes referred to as the King of Aquarium fish, they sport a variety of names such as Cobalt Discus, Blue Discus, and Red Thunder Discus, just to name a few. These striking species are indigenous to the Amazon River basin, extending from Colombia and Peru down to the Rio Tocantins drainage in Brazil.

The Natural Habitat of Discus Fish

Deep within the still, slow-moving waters of the Amazon basin, the Discus fish finds its haven. This native habitat is characterized by soft, acidic conditions which the Discus fish have adapted to thrive in. They particularly favor the sheltered, shadowy areas around tree roots and rocks. In their natural environment, Discus fish can often be found in large groups, basking in the muted light beneath the canopy of the Amazon rainforest, like hidden treasures awaiting discovery.

Historical Context and Species Classification

The Discus fish’s introduction to the scientific world dates back to 1840, when it was first described by Dr. Heckel. It later made its way to the United States and Europe in the 1930s and 1940s, where it began to charm aquarium enthusiasts with its stunning appearance and unique characteristics. Belonging to the family Cichlidae, under the order Perciformes of class Actinopterygii, Discus fish comprises three recognized species:

  • Symphysodon aequifasciatus – Blue Discus
  • Symphysodon discus– Heckel or Red Discus
  • Symphysodon tarzoo– Tarzoo Discus

Tragically, over-exploitation has pushed the Discus onto the IUCN Red Data List as a threatened species.

Dietary Habits

In the wild, Discus fish display carnivorous tendencies, primarily feeding on small fish, fry, larvae, and various aquatic insects and invertebrates such as worms. In captivity, they exhibit a more flexible palate. Live and frozen foods such as brine shrimp, bloodworms, chopped beef heart, and white worms form part of their diet. They also enjoy a selection of specialized flakes, discus pellets, and small fish. It’s recommended to feed them 2-3 times a day for their optimal health.

Housing Discus Fish: Not for Beginners

Housing Discus fish poses a challenge even to experienced aquarium enthusiasts. They require a well-maintained environment that mirrors their native habitat as closely as possible. Here’s what they need:

  • An aquarium with a minimum capacity of 50 gallons
  • Good water movement with strong and efficient filtration
  • Warm, soft, and slightly acidic water conditions
  • Open swimming area with some aquatic plants
  • Suitable tank mates such as Characin species

Discus fish are incredibly sensitive to water fluctuations, necessitating a weekly 25% tank water change to maintain a healthy environment.

Breeding Discus Fish

Discus fish are known to breed in captivity. A female can lay between 200-400 eggs, which cling to various elements within the aquarium, such as plants and driftwoods. Following the female’s laying process, the male fertilizes the eggs. Optimal breeding conditions include slightly acidic, soft, and warm water, with a pH range of 6.0 – 6.5 and a temperature between 82 – 88° F.

Eggs hatch approximately two days post-fertilization, with fry initially feeding on skin secretions from the parents. After ten days, the parents should be removed from the tank, and the fry should be fed brine shrimp.

Sexing Discus Fish

Determining the sex of Discus fish can be quite a challenge. However, during the breeding season, some physical differences may be noticeable. Male Discus fish are typically larger with a more pointed dorsal fin and thicker lips. In contrast, females have a rounded papilla – the small tube-like organ used for egg and sperm release. Nonetheless, these differences can be subtle, and it takes a keen eye to distinguish between the two.

The Appeal of Discus Fish: The King of the Cichlids

Undeniably, Discus fish are the royalty of the freshwater fish world. Their vibrant colors and unique patterns make them a captivating addition to any aquarium. They might not be the easiest to care for, but the beauty they bring to your aquarium is truly unparalleled.

Discus fish are readily available in pet stores, from breeders, various dealers, and even online. Their price can range from moderate to expensive, depending on the size and variety. Many online vendors specialize in selling Discus, offering a range of options for aquarium enthusiasts to bring home their favorite fish.

Health and Wellbeing of Discus Fish

Maintaining the health and wellbeing of Discus fish goes beyond providing an appropriate diet and water conditions. These creatures can fall victim to various diseases, some common ones being Discus Plague, which manifests as a rapid loss of weight, and Hole in the Head Disease, characterized by lesions on the head and body. Regular monitoring and prompt response to any signs of ill-health are crucial. Furthermore, integrating a variety of foods and maintaining optimal water conditions can aid in promoting their overall health and resistance to diseases.

Social Behavior and Tank Companions

Discus fish are known to be peaceful and sociable creatures that enjoy the company of their own kind. Therefore, it’s advisable to keep them in groups of at least six. For a harmonious community tank, compatible tank companions include smaller, peaceful fish like the Neon Tetra, Rummynose Tetra, or the Glowlight Tetra. It’s crucial to avoid aggressive or fin-nipping species, as they could stress the Discus and cause health problems.

The Role of Plants in a Discus Tank

Aquatic plants play a significant role in replicating the natural habitat of Discus fish. Not only do they provide shelter and breeding grounds, but they also aid in maintaining water quality by absorbing harmful substances. Suitable plant choices for a Discus aquarium include Dwarf Lily Bulbs, Water Onions, Ozelot Swords, Rangeri Swords, and fern and moss type plants like the Java Fern and Subulata.

Discus Fish Varieties: A Rainbow of Choices

Over the years, selective breeding has given rise to an impressive array of Discus fish varieties, each boasting unique color patterns and traits. From the vibrant Blue Diamond Discus to the captivating Leopard Skin Discus and the radiant Golden Sunrise Discus, there’s a spectrum of choices for hobbyists. Whether you prefer the more traditional strains or the exotic hybrids, there is a Discus fish out there to mesmerize every aquarium enthusiast.

Impact of Human Activity and Conservation Efforts

Human activities, including deforestation and overfishing, have severely threatened Discus fish populations in their native habitats. As we continue to marvel at their beauty in our aquariums, it’s crucial to acknowledge our responsibility towards their conservation. Supporting sustainable fishing practices, responsible pet trading, and efforts to restore and protect the Amazon basin is a step towards preserving these aquatic gems for future generations to admire.


Discus fish are truly a testament to the breathtaking beauty that lurks beneath the waters of our world. Despite the challenge they present, their striking appearance and intriguing behavior make them a rewarding choice for dedicated aquarium hobbyists. As custodians of these stunning creatures, it’s up to us to provide them with a slice of the Amazon in our homes while promoting efforts to protect their natural habitats from over-exploitation.

Frequently Asked Questions about Discus Fish

Q1: What should I feed my Discus fish?

A: Discus fish enjoy a diverse diet of both meat-based and plant-based foods. This can include live or frozen foods like brine shrimp, bloodworms, and chopped beef heart, as well as flakes, discus pellets, and small fish.

Q2: How often should I change the water in my Discus fish tank?

A: Discus fish are highly sensitive to water quality. It’s recommended that at least 25% of the tank water be changed weekly to maintain optimal conditions.

Q3: Can Discus fish live with other fish?

A: Yes, Discus fish can coexist with other peaceful, non-aggressive species like Neon Tetras, Rummynose Tetras, and Glowlight Tetras. However, they should not be kept with fin-nipping or aggressive species.

Q4: How can I tell the difference between male and female Discus fish?

A: Sexing Discus fish is a challenge due to subtle physical differences. However, during the breeding season, males may show a more pointed dorsal fin, thicker lips, and a more pointed papilla.

Q5: What diseases are common in Discus fish?

A: Discus fish can be prone to several diseases, with Discus Plague and Hole in the Head Disease being relatively common. Regular monitoring of their health and maintaining optimal water conditions can aid in disease prevention.

Q6: What size tank do I need for Discus fish?

A: Due to their size and social nature, a Discus fish tank should have a minimum capacity of 50 gallons.

Q7: How can I breed Discus fish?

A: Discus fish can breed in captivity. The breeding process involves the female laying eggs, which are then fertilized by the male. Optimal breeding conditions include slightly acidic, soft, and warm water, with a pH range of 6.0 – 6.5 and a temperature between 82 – 88° F.

Q8: Are Discus fish endangered?

A: Discus fish are listed as a threatened species on the IUCN Red Data List due to over-exploitation.

Q9: Where can I buy Discus fish?

A: Discus fish are readily available in pet stores, from breeders, and various online vendors. Their price can range from moderate to expensive, depending on the size and variety.

Q10: Why are Discus fish called the “King of Aquarium Fish”?

A: Discus fish are renowned for their stunning colors and unique patterns, which makes them a captivating addition to any aquarium. This distinctive beauty has earned them the title of the “King of Aquarium Fish.”