The Discus Fish: The King is Back!

The Discus Fish is a beautiful South American Cichlid.

For a long time, this “King of the Aquarium” was very difficult to care for in captivity. That’s because these fish required pristine tank conditions and soft water that was at a very low pH.

Furthermore, these fish were initially wild-caught, and the journey from Brazil to North America and Europe often caused irremediable levels of stress.

Their difficulty in care contributed to the Discus’ royal status. Some (elitist) aquarists prided themselves for being able to keep and breed Discus in captivity.

Yes; the Discus had a bumpy entry in the aquarium hobby. But, times have changed and so has our understanding of this extraordinary fish. Even the fish, itself, has changed. The king is back, but he’s wearing a different robe.

Sadly, the Discus’ former reputation of being a very difficult fish to keep in the home aquarium has generated a lot of myths and misconceptions about this beautiful species.

In this Fish-of-the-Month post, I hope to debunk some of these half-truths.

Discus have come a long way in recent years. Although they’re still not a good beginner fish, Discus have become much easier to keep. Selective breeding has produced not only a multitude of color variations, but also hardier fish.

While wild-caught specimens should only be kept by experienced aquarists, captive bred varieties will fare well under the care of hobbyists with moderate experience.

The vast majority of Discus Fish available on today’s market are captive raised. You can have great success with these fish, provided that you arm yourself with knowledge of both Discus and of aquariums in general. The Kick-Ass Aquarium is a good place to start.

Basically, Discus Fish need three things to do well in an aquarium. They need efficient and quite filtration (canister filters are great at providing both), a hearty and varied diet, and the appropriate tank and water conditions (see Aquarium Care below)

Okay, what about the myths, then?

Myth #1: Discus Fish are finicky eaters.

The people who claim that Discus will eat only one type of food are doing something wrong! Loss of appetite is a sign of stress.

Discus will take a variety of foods as long as you provide them with a healthy environment. A healthy environment makes for a healthy appetite.

My Discus gobble up frozen beef heart, frozen mysis shrimp, frozen brine shrimp, and even flake food. You too should offer your fish a varied diet in order to ensure their long term wellbeing.

Of course, if you train your fish to take only one type of food, they will learn to accept only that food.

Myth #2: Discus are very shy.

Discus can be shy, especially in aquariums that have noisy power filters and in ones that house boisterous fish. But, if you provide your fish with a quite tank and suitable tankmates, Discus can be very sociable.

My beauties stay in the front of the aquarium most of the time. Rarely do they hide. In fact, when I stick my hands in the aquarium to do some tank maintenance, I often have to physically (but gently) push the curious critters aside! They just follow me around!

Myth #3: Discus have to be in a species-only tank.

Some people think that Discus should not be kept with other fish. This is a valid concern, but this “rule” is not etched in stone.

No; Discus should not be kept with large, fast swimming, or aggressive fish. But, there are plenty of fish in the sea, as the saying goes. If you do some research, you’ll find that there are a few types of fish, such as cardinal tetras and blue rams, which make for great additions to a Discus tank.

Again, provide your fish with the right environment, and they’ll reward you with beautiful displays of color and long life.

Aquarium Care

-Scientific Name: Symphysodon aequifasciata spp.

-Origin: Parts of the Amazon River, but most occur in some of the Amazon’s many tributaries, including the Rio Negro.

-Water Temperature Range: 82-86 °F (28-30 ºC)

-Water pH Range: 5.8-6.8

-Temperament: peaceful but territorial during spawning.

– Maximum Size: 8 inches (20 cm)

– Minimum Tank Size: 50 U.S. gallons (190 liters)

– Diet: Frozen beef heart (recommended), Frozen mysis shrimp, frozen brine shrimp, frozen bloodworms (not recommended), flake food (okay when fed in addition to frozen foods).


4 people commented on "The Discus Fish: The King is Back!"
Feel free to join the conversation and leave a comment as well.

  • Ray says:

    I just found this article.My apologies.They are beautiful fish.

  • admin says:

    Hi Ray,

    I’m glad you found the information on Discus Fish you were looking for. In addition to my above explanation on proper aquarium care for these gorgeous fish (yes, I agree, they are beautiful), let me also answer some of the questions you asked in the comment you posted on the my fish tanks page.

    1) Recommendations for specific Discus breeds:

    Most of the Discus breeds available to the aquarium hobby are relatively hardy. However, there are two categories of Discus varieties that don’t make for good beginner Discus.

    The first are the two are wild caught Discus. As I mention in the body of the article above, these fish are not only difficult to acclimate to the home aquarium, but also require water that very closely resembles that found in their natural environment.

    The second of the two are heavily bred specimens – I’m referring to fish, like the Snowflake Discus or White Diamond Discus, that have been selectively bred to accentuate particular features (in the above example, a completely white color).

    Although some may disagree with me on this point, it is my opinion that such fish have been far too rigorously bred (and, perhaps, inbred) to create a color variety at the expense of the breed’s health! While working with Discus at aquarium shops, I’ve observed that the heavily bred specimens were far less hardy and resistant to disease than the more common varieties.

    That said, most other breeds, such as the Turquoise, Red Turquoise, and Pigeon Blood Discus, make for great beginners’ Discus. They have been aquarium raised for generations (hence, they are used to aquarium conditions), yet are derived from a relatively large gene pool (making them far less delicate).

    2) Should you keep Discus in schools or pairs:

    If your aquarium can accommodate a reasonably sized group of 7 or more Discus –at least a 90 gallon (340 liter) aquarium – I say go for it. Otherwise, I recommend keeping Discus in pairs in order to circumvent their tendencies to enforce a rigid pecking order which will take its toll on the more shy specimens in smaller groups.

    Finally, having a good Discus breeder in your area is a wonderful thing. That’s great news! When you go to pick up your fish, be sure to ask him or her many questions and even ask for the fish to be fed in front of you to help you determine their health.

    Hope this information helps.

    Wishing you the best of luck with your new fish,

  • tony breslin says:

    Hi ,
    thanks for the valuable info—-max size ? some say 6″ some 8″
    I’ve even heard 10″ –can they begrown on to be really big ?

    Tony Breslin

  • admin says:

    Hi Tony,

    Sorry for the late reply.

    Most Discus Fish will grow to about 8 inches provided that they are fed a healthy diet and given a clean aquarium environment. If you want to grow them big, make sure that they stay healthy. Also, I’ve noticed that females seem to stop growing shortly after they begin to breed (though I’m basing this solely on my own observations and on those of my friends).

    That said, I’ve seen one group of imported wild-caught discus that seemed to tip the scales so to speak! I can’t say for sure how big they were, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were larger than 8 inches.

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