Discus Fish – Care, Breeding, Tank Mates & Details!

Discus Fish (Symphysodon Sp) also referred to as discus, is native to the Amazon river basin which is in South America. Pompadour fish is another term that is used for the discus.

It is a very popular fish for aquariums due to its unique shape and extravagant colors. It tends to brighten up each aquarium and become its focal point.

Its social nature makes it easier for it to be a part of most tanks. In many Asian countries, breeding has become an entire industry of its own.

It was first discovered by Dr. Johann Jacob Heckel in 1840. It was then studied throughout the waters of the Amazon. It usually lives in groups in the wild because of its highly social nature. Discus fish are often shy and peaceful in nature.

It sometimes seeks solitude and can be found under plants in the water. It possesses a flat body, and its movements through vegetations are, therefore, somewhat unrestricted.

It is naturally found in South American regions such as Peru, Brazil, and Columbia.

We are going to discuss the attributes of the discus fish in detail in this post.

Quick Stats

Name: Discus
Family: Cichlidae
Size: 6 inches
Care Level: High maintenance
Minimum Tank Size: 3 feet (36 inches)
Temperature: 25 to 28 degrees Celsius
Water Conditions: Soft to medium (4.0 to 7.0 pH)
Diet: Omnivorous
Tank Size: 25 gallons
Temperament: Highly social


The discus fish has a somewhat compressed shape. Its body is round. The name discus itself comes from its round body.

Most discus fish have various patterns of different colors on their sides. Breeding has also helped form a variety of brightly marked patterns that do not exist in the wild.

Graceful and colorful are two words to describe the discus fish. They are referred to as the king of freshwater tanks. They are eye-catching creatures and become the focal point of any aquariums. Their unique shapes and colors justify the term king. They are easy to breed due to their highly social nature.


What makes the discus especially rare is that it thrives in non-African waters as well, unlike most other members of the Cichlid family. It is usually found in the secluded waters of the Amazon, where the river is calm.

These magnificent creatures require underwater foliage such as roots of trees to survive as they find shelter among the foliage to ward off predators.

They also prefer areas that are not directly affected by lighting and choose to stay in shadowy areas, which also serves to keep them out of sight of potential predators.

Discus fish have a noticeable preference for warmer, clean, and slightly acidic water, which means that they are not the easiest fish to keep as a pet or even in an aquarium.

Types of Dicus Fish

The systematics of the discus underwent certain changes during the study of the life of fish. Initially, all discus was assigned to one species, considering the differences in color only as color variations.

But a more detailed examination of the characteristics of these fish led to the isolation of three species within the genus Symphysodon.

Red Discus Or Heckel Discus (Symphysodon discus)

In honor of the scientist who first described this species, it was named the Heckel Discus. The red discus or the Heckel discus is a common fish and can be seen at aquariums often.

They live in South America, in the Amazon: in particular, in the Rio Negro, Rio Branco, and other rivers. They prefer water rich in humic substances, the so-called “black water”. The soil in natural biotopes is sandy with a large number of dying leaves.

The shape of the body is standard, disc-shaped, flattened laterally. The iris is bright red. The body color of the Heckel discus varies from reddish yellow to brown. Longitudinal wavy blue lines cross almost the entire body of the fish, with the exception of the chest and the middle of the body.

There are nine vertical dark stripes on two sides of the flattened body, the first, fifth, and ninth bands are most pronounced (brighter and wider). Depending on the condition of the fish, discus fish coloration may vary.

If the fish is excited, the vertical lines practically disappear, but the blue ones become much brighter. In stressful situations or with poor maintenance, everything happens exactly the opposite: the blue lines fade, and the vertical ones become more contrast.

In especially neglected situations, an almost complete loss of discus discoloration may be observed. In nature, Heckel discus grows up to 20 cm, in aquariums, the size usually does not exceed 10-15 cm.

Sexual dimorphism is weakly expressed. The basis of the natural diet includes zooplankton and phytoplankton, as well as detritus in the dry period.

Green Discus (Symphysodon Tarzoo)

Despite the fact that the main color of the body of the fish is brownish-yellow when looking at the individuals of the discus caught in nature with a reflection of the blue sky, the scales seem greenish.

The fish received a species epithet in honor of a Colombian company from the city of Leticia, specializing in the export of fish. It was in the surrounding area that Symphysodon tarzoo was caught and described.

There is a green discus in the Amazon basin (Peru, Colombia, Brazil). Prefer “black water”. They live near the coast among sunken trees and dying leaf litter.

The iris is bright red. Along the whole body and the dorsal fin of the green discus, there are longitudinal wavy lines of turquoise color.

A wide black stripe runs along the dorsal fin. Morphologically, this type of discus differs from others in the presence of reddish dots on the body and fins, which appear in fish at the age of six months.

Sexual dimorphism is not expressed. The average size of the green discus in the aquarium is 13 cm.

Blue Discus (Symphysodon aequifasciatus)

The name reflects the main morphological difference from other species – the presence on the sides of the body of vertical stripes of the same width and intensity. These fishes are flocking fish.

For keeping Blue discus, an aquarium of 250 liters or more is recommended. It is necessary to strictly maintain the optimal water parameters (temperature, acid levels) and prevent the accumulation of nitrogen metabolism products.

Discus of equal frequency lives in the basins of the Amazon and Rio Negro and prefer clear and clean water. The length reaches 15 cm. The head and mouth are small. The body is disc-shaped, there is a wavy pattern on it.

The background color of the fish varies from brown-yellow to red. Horizontal stripes of blue or greenish color.

A wide dark stripe runs in a semicircle along the dorsal and anal fin. Body-color may vary depending on the condition of the fish. Distinguishing a female discus from a male is rather problematic.

There are several subspecies of Symphysodon aequifasciatus with a characteristic coloration – brown and blue discus.

Determining the exact type of discus in an aquarium is almost impossible due to the fact that many years of work by breeders have led to the appearance of a large number of color variations. Sexual dimorphism in these fish is not expressed.

Discus Fish Care

They require a higher level of maintenance as compared to other fish. They require a tank with a large area. Clean water is an absolute necessity for the discus fish to survive. The water has to be stable for this fish to be comfortable with its surroundings.

The discus fish is not for beginner aquarists. It requires a stable environment and high maintenance.

It is not too aggressive and fits well with most other fish. It can be added to a tank with other fish without much trouble as long as the other fish require the same conditions.

However, it should be kept away from fish that are aggressive. Fish such as the Oscar and those that nip fins are not compatible with the discus fish.


Do not be fooled by the discus fish’s placid and somewhat innocent appearance. It can consume anything that its relatively tiny mouth can take in.

That being said, it most certainly has a penchant for meat and protein, which means that it loves to consume zooplankton, invertebrates, minuscule fish, water-based insects, and worms.

Its eating habits can be described as lazy as it eats at a rather slow pace by meandering through its habitat and searching for the perfect treat.

Ultimately, the discus fish scavenge for smaller portions the whole day and eat time to time instead of having a sizeable amount of food in one instance.

This is because the nature of their bodies does not allow them to have sizeable amounts and having a lot of food together can prove to be detrimental to their health.

Sometimes, wild discus consumes aquatic vegetation but, when domesticated, will most probably not do so.

If one desires to keep these creatures as a pet, it is imperative that a high protein diet is maintained and that they are not constantly fed off-the-shelf fish flakes, which can prove to be detrimental to their health.

It is necessary to feed the discus at least 2-3 times a day in such an amount that can be eaten by fish in a few minutes. It is recommended to remove uneaten food residues from the aquarium using a siphon.


Discus are very loyal creatures and tend to procreate with only a single partner throughout their life.

What is interesting is that they select a site where they feel it is safe to reproduce and the female proceeds to lay anywhere between 100 to 500 eggs.

Then, the male proceeds to fertilize the eggs, and both parents look after the eggs until they hatch.

Even after their offspring are born, the discus fish fiercely protect their children and even allow their younglings to feed off them by releasing a transparent serum which the younglings can consume to sustain themselves.

When it comes to domesticated discus, it is important to remember that breeding is only possible in a relatively deep setting. A discus couple will not spawn in an aquarium that is too shallow.

They also have to be given a warm environment, so the temperature has to be given special attention. The pH value of the water also has to be maintained at around 6.5 to get the best results.

When considering nutrition, a high amount of protein has to be given to the breeding fish. That being said, it is important to keep switching the food item itself that is being provided to the breeding discus.

As advised previously, the discus fish need a suitable space to procreate and lay eggs. Something like a clay pot placed upside down in the aquarium will create a suitable space for these fish to lay eggs and proceed with their fertilization.

Discus Fish Tank Mates

The main problem in the selection of tank mates for discus is the water parameters, especially temperature. Very few fish are comfortable at a water temperature of about 30° C.

It is also necessary to take into account the fact that discus fish are extremely slow fish, and when kept with very active relatives, they can remain without food. Most aquarists agree that keeping discus is best in a species aquarium in a flock of 6 individuals.

Due to a large number of color selection forms of discus, even if they are alone, you can create amazing color diversity in the aquarium.

It usually lives in groups or, rather, schools. What’s more, is that these groups live like a proper society and display a proper social structure.

The social structure is exemplified by the fact that bullying within this social structure exists. So much so that it even leads to the death of some fish.

Generally, the temperament of these fish is quite contained unless the space of their partner or offspring is invaded in which case, they can become quite aggressive.

Discus fish can get along well with Neon tetras, Rummy nose tetra, Ember tetra, Gourami Fish, Bolivian Ram, Pencil fish, clown loach, Apistogramma, Cory cats, and, on certain occasions, angelfish if neither of the two is breeding or spawning.


Flicking (scratching and clamped fins)is one of the more prominent diseases that these fish face.

The onset of this disease is indicated via the fish’s behavior with skin-related discomfort and itching themselves against whatever hard surface they find.

Another disease that this fish is susceptible to is fin rot caused by a bacterial infection, which leads to the degeneration of scales and skin around the fins of the fish, ultimately exposing their bony structure.

The bacterial infection can also manifest itself in the form of skin abrasion, sores, and spots. This leads to extreme discomfort within the fish, which causes loss of appetite. This can also lead to the death of the fish.

The fish is also susceptible to the cloudy eye, which manifests in the form of a cotton eye, harming the vision of the fish and ultimately leading to blindness.

A blind discus fish will often go into depression, stop eating, and die.

All of the above diseases are mostly caused by contaminated water and, therefore, can be dealt with a thorough replacement of the tank water along with cleaning the aquarium.

The diseases are also caused by an imbalance in the pH level, so special attention has to be paid to it.

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