Discus Fish – Care, Tank Conditions, Feeding, Breeding

This page may contain affiliate links, which will earn us a commission. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.

Discus Fish Care Guide

Nearly every aquarist will tell you that discus fish is the king or the diva of the aquarium. Whichever reasons these wonderful names, we are yet to find out.

Discus are a group of fish that belong to the Family Cichlidae. Their regal colors and majestic beauty goes unnoticed in their serene aquatic environment.

Three species that belong to the discus fish have so far been described despite the prolonged debate over the validity regarding their assigned scientific names.

More often than not, wild caught discus have proven to be quite challenging to keep because of their specialized habitat.  Their natural habitat has some uniqueness in terms of water chemistry as well as dietary needs.

However, most of the discus fish sold are usually the captive bred varieties and are easier to keep. This statement should not confuse you further if you are a newcomer in the field.

This type of fish is not a good choice for beginners as you will come to realize later in the discussion. That being said, selective breeding of discus has contributed to the availability of different colors while a number of them are still under development.

From their names, you can have a slight idea of their appearance. This means discus have their bodies shaped in a flattened manner, with a rounded overall shape that looks almost like a discus.

In most cases, you can identify them with their red, blue and brown bright patterns and a few variants here and there resulting from selective breeding. These fish grow to about 6 inches in length although the unthreatened varieties living in captivity are capable of growing even larger.

Much to your surprise, there’s no sexual dimorphism for discus fish, meaning that females and males look practically identical in nature. But the obvious differences emerge in their growth whereby males tend to grow larger in size in comparison to females.

On the other hand, females possess a coloring that is a little bit pronounced in most cases although this goes unnoticed from time to time.

Despite the availability of 3 different genetic types, discus fish come in dozens of patterns and colors. These include the Leopard Skin, Albino White Snake, Super Red Melon, Super Red Turquoise and so on.

However, there are three types of scientifically recognized discus which include the Symphysodon aequifasciatus (brown or blue discus), Symphysodon discus (Heckel or red discus) and Symphysodon tarzoo (Green discus).

In this article, you are going to learn how to take care of discus fish right from their habitat to feeding and finally to breeding.

Discus Fish Tank Conditions

Discus fish thrive well in floodplain lakes or rivers found in the lowland regions of the Amazon Basin. Normally this geographical location changes vastly especially across different seasons of the year.

For instance, the rainy season in the month of December is characterized by flooding as a result of ice water and tropical showers increasing water levels.

Beyond that time, water levels subside, paving the way for the blackwater. The black water is common in riversides and in such an environment, discus fish find plenty of places to hide.

Also, black waters expose them to detritus and coverage upon which they find their food. This information is vital, especially when preparing aquariums.

That’s why you need to be very keen on the following discus fish tank conditions.

Water Parameters

Just like most freshwater fish, the discus is extremely sensitive to the conditions of their environment, particularly water quality. With that in mind, you need to consider acquiring a very powerful canister filter.

In addition to that, the water in the tank will have to be renewed at least once per week. Discus fish do well in a tank water environment that is slightly acidic and soft.

The acidity of water should have a pH ranging between 6.0 and 6.5. Apart from that, warm water is necessary and the temperatures should range from 80 degrees to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

Don’t forget to include water hardness when considering the ideal water parameters for your discus fish. The hardness should stand at 1dH to 8dH. This type of hardness will definitely replicate relatively softer conditions such as those found in the Amazon.

Most significantly, you can also soften water hardness by adding a few pieces of driftwood to your aquarium water.

These water parameters are recommended in relation to the natural conditions with which the discus fish thrive especially in the Amazon River Basin.

Tank Parameters

Apparently, discus fish grow to become large and might need an aquarium that can accommodate 75 gallons or even more. In this regard, tall aquariums are the best choice so they can accommodate your discus fish entire body shape.

Besides, the current in the tank should somehow gentler while the decor needs to be large and include larger broadleaf plants. These plants and the driftwood should be arranged in a vertical manner to simulate downed trees and branches, similar to those found in the natural habitat for discus fish.

You can as well add some floating plants to provide that much needed shaded regions and cover within the tank. The discus detests being overcrowded in their environment despite the fact that they like to school so much.

As such, you will have to find ways of providing them with enough room for them to spread out. Therefore, the tank parameters should be in such a way that they can comfortably accommodate discus fish without denying them enough space to grow to their full sizes.

Often times, it gets difficult to acclimate the discus fish to their tanks. And as usual, relocating any type of fish can cause them some extensive stress during the whole process.

To overcome these problems, you need to plan the movement or location accordingly as a way of helping your fish to overcome stress in the course of transit.

Water Filtration

One of the best tips of caring about your discus fish is the installation of a good filter on the tank. This feature should not be overlooked because it plays a very critical role in keeping the right environment in the aquarium for the discus to thrive.

An overhead filter has one major advantage over the others. This type of filter is easy to clean and it is designed primarily for the community aquariums.

Water filtration is a must if you want to keep ammonia and nitrites in check throughout. Whether you settle for biological or mechanical filters, you can rest assured that the right conditions will be maintained within the aquarium.

Generally speaking, water filtration will ensure that water quality in the tank is ideal for the survival of your discus fish.


When it comes to the substrate for the discus fish, sand plays a very significant role. Normally sand acts as a natural substrate for nearly all aquatic habitats. Besides, sand is easy to clean and replace.

Discus fish enjoy having sand substrate in the aquarium because they are fond of shooting water at the substrate in the hope of stirring up some snacks.

For that reason, you should consider equipping your fish tank with enough sand to create a better environment for your discus fish.

Another common substrate is the bare bottom. These are ideal for breeding as well as raising offspring. These types of substrates are a preferred choice for many people simply because they allow them to carry out vacuuming so easily.

In other words, bare bottoms are easy to clean and maintain, unlike other types of substrates.

Plants for Discus Fish

Naturally, discus fish tend to be shy. This should tell you that their habitat needs to have something that will make them feel comfortable. In this case, you need to acquire a heavily planted discus fish aquarium.

You may add some decorations, rocks, and driftwood to provide ideal hiding locations for your fish. This type of coverage will ensure that they feel secure inside the tank.

Maintaining such an environment in the tank can pose some challenges considering that there are other important parameters to be included.

Warm temperatures, in particular, need to be maintained by all means and this can cause some trouble when it comes to keeping plants alive.

That should not discourage you from including plants in the aquarium to provide the ideal conditions for your discus fish to thrive. Plants such as Vallisneria, Didiplis Diandra, and Rotala indica are a perfect choice for your fish tank.

Even though it is a sound idea to keep your discus fish in planted tanks, you can as well house them in bare bottomed tanks.

This way, you will be preventing the buildup of substrates in a bid to make your cleaning easier. In the end, your aquarium’s water quality will be preserved all the time.

Discus Fish Feeding

In their wild setup, discus fish consume a variety of food. Most of their diet consists of plant materials like the detritus and algae, or small invertebrates. Discus fish consume more invertebrates during the high water seasons. They may also eat zooplankton and small insects.

You can feed your fish on either live or frozen food. You can also give them commercial flakes and granulates food or provide them with homemade food.

One interesting feeding habits of discus fish is their tendency to hide somewhere in a corner of the aquarium while the rest of the fish are feeding. This shows clearly that you should watch out for the type of fish to keep in the tank with your discus fish because they will have difficulties in feeding in the presence of other types of fish.

Anyway, you will find the following types of food to be ideal for your discus fish:

Commercial Flakes and Granulates Food

When it comes to feeding your discus fish, you may consider including a variety of commercial flakes or granulates food in their diet. Such foods are prepared with all essential nutrients to make your fish grow healthy all the time.

Here are three examples of commercial flakes and granulates food that you can purchase for your fish:

  • Nutridiet Discus Flakes (with Probiotics)-This type of food is fortified using garlic guard, vitamin C and chlorella for enhanced health as well as vitality. These flakes are rich in marine protein, an assortment of different types of vitamins and minerals. Moreover, this diet is nutritionally balanced with the highest quality of ingredients (including earthworms, fish and shrimp) to ensure that your fish gets a perfect diet. In addition, these flakes are formulated with probiotics that play a critical role in providing maximum health as well as vitality.
  • Sera Discus Granules-It is the topmost product among the Sera granulated range of food. This diet was designed specifically for discus fish and other cichlids and they contain high nutritional diet requirements. Most of the nutrients included in Sera Discus Granules are protein-rich stable foods and vitamins to improve growth, development, and colors of every young discus fish.
  • TetraPro Tropical Color-Crisps-This is fish food that comes complete with their natural color enhancers to provide your fish with the right amount of nutrients. TetraPro Tropical Color-Crisps has a tropical formulation that is meant to provide advanced nutrition for a discerning tropical fish-keeper. That is why it is made with an exclusive low heat process to preserve essential nutrients that are enhanced with biotin and vitamins for optimal health of the fish. Given that they have color enhancing capabilities, these types of food can promote the development of beautiful coloration among the tropical fish. Above all, they have been designed to make it easy for the fish to digest them efficiently. In the end, you will realize that no amount of food waste is left in the fish tank.

Homemade Food for Discus Fish

Discus fish thrive on various types of homemade food. These may include veal, beef, turkey meat, shrimp, liver or even fish fillets. Other foods are mainly tropical fish foods like flake food, peeled shrimp, green beans and oatmeal.

When preparing these foods, ensure that the beef heart, turkey heart, shrimp mixture, and fish are in plenty or make up the main diet. You may include other supplements to vary your homemade diet as well.

Live / Frozen Food for Discus Fish

Besides the commercial flakes and homemade foods, discus fish can also feed on live or frozen food. These foods include mosquito larvae, blood worms, white worms, glass worms, mysis shrimp, red worms as well as frozen or dried adult brine shrimp.

You may go ahead and make some modifications to get the best diet for your discus fish as you desire. Keep in mind that frozen or live food is included in the fish diet to help them induce spawning.

Otherwise, ensure that you rotate the diet of your fish on a daily basis and feed them only what can they finish in 2 to 3 minutes each day.

Discus Fish Breeding

It is really difficult to differentiate between female and male discus fish. But you can easily tell the difference during the spawning period. With experience, you will come to realize that the males have fuller lips and receding foreheads.

Should you wish to breed discus fish, and then consider adding more fish to your existing number. You will require at least 6-8 young species to make sure that there are couples among them. Therefore, it is advisable to provide another spawning tank just in case.

Discus fish are known to take good care of their young ones and will always produce some secretions through the skin for their larvae to live off in the first 4 weeks of life.

Mostly, parent discus fish take care of their young ones for a few weeks before “weaning” them off.

Actually, this is a very rare behavior among different fish species but very common in a number of cichlid fish varieties. Discus fish attain their sexual maturity in one year or so.

A major challenge that breeders face when handling discus fish is their tendency to eat their own eggs. This behavior is prevalent among young fish thus the need to use a glass wall to separate the young discus fish from their parents.

Also, you may take such precautionary measures to prevent other discus from eating their eggs.

Discus Fish Tank Mates

Discus fish are a social species that tend to appear in large groups with a dozen other individuals. On the contrary, they seem to be shy and this can be seen when subjected to loud noises or sudden movements.

These fish are slow eaters and prefer living in warm waters most of the time. This behavior poses some challenges to other types of fish, making it difficult to deal with them.

On top of that, they aren’t compatible with any aggressive fish. But the good news is, you can keep them in the same aquarium with the following fish species:

  • Tetras
  • Corydoras
  • German rams
  • Rainbowfish
  • Gouramis
  • Siamese algae eater
  • Angelfish
  • Agassiz Cichlid
  • Clown Loaches
  • Livebearers

Discus Fish Tank Maintenance

A good fish tank maintenance practice leads a functional and healthy aquatic environment for your fish. In fact, this practice will help solve time-consuming and expensive maintenance problems that may occur from time to time. Perhaps a few minutes on maintenance on a weekly basis can save you a lot in return.

Needless to say, the biggest factor when it comes to discus fish tank maintenance is actually the tank stability. Once your tank is stable, other parameters will not need major changes as such.

Only a few changes such as change of water, filtration, testing the fish tank water, and other minor issues will be of great concern.

Water Changes

Water change is a major part of discus fish tank maintenance. As a matter of fact, this practice should be performed every two weeks utmost.

During this operation, 10 to 15 percent of water is sufficient in providing a conducive environment for the discus fish.

You may do a replacement of the extracted water while vacuuming the substrate to get rid of leftover food or any other residues that may have settled on the substrate.

Before any changes take place, check the parameters of both the replacement and tank water.

Testing the Fish Tank Water

It is advisable to check the water chemistry on a regular basis. The most important parameters to check are the pH, water hardness, and levels of nitrates, nitrites, and ammonia.

Filtration of the Fish Tank

Water filtration is essential if you want to keep conditions in your discus fish tank favorable. Filter inserts should always be changed every four weeks to ensure that the filtration process goes on well.

If your tank has a lot of fish, the changes can be done after a short while. Also, clean the filter once a month to avoid contamination of tank water.

Are Discus Fish Aggressive?

Just like other cichlids, discus maintains a strong pecking order. In simpler terms, discus is territorial and likely to display some aggressive behavior towards other types of fish.

What is the Average Lifespan of Discus Fish?

When taken good care of, discus can live an average of 6 to 8 years. But remember this is just an average age although some aquarists claim to lose their discus fish at 13 years old.

Do Discus Fish Jump Out of the Tank?

Yes, discus fish can jump out of the tank but only when there are reasons to do so. Some of the reasons your discus fish may jump out of the aquarium are lack of oxygen, poor water conditions, extreme temperature changes, overcrowding and commotion with other tank mates.

Are Discus Fish a Great Choice for Beginners?

Due to the extensive care and their demanding nature, discus fish are not a great choice for newcomers in the world of aquarists.

Instead, they need someone who is experienced to handle them perfectly.

Do Discus Fish Eat their Fry?

Yes, discus fish have a tendency of eating their fry. This behavior is most common in young discus fish pairs, when they breed for first time.


Also known as the diva of the aquarium, discus fish are incredibly beautiful thanks to their vibrant colors and stately appearance when they are in the aquarium.

Even though this type of fish may be somewhat demanding than the rest of the aquarium species, you will find them to be a fantastic choice for your tank fish.

This is because discus fish add some color and life to your dull tank. Hence you may have them if you really want to add some vibrancy in your aquarium.

Sadly, they are not a good choice for beginners.

Discus Fish


  1. Silviya Arsova says:

    Hi, all information was very educational for me and my son. After 10 years owning a 20 gal thank we are ready to expand and take the challenge with discuss fish. We just cannot resist them anymore.
    What Brand overhead filter would you recommend for 75 gal thank?
    We are considering 3-4 Discuss fish in it.
    Thank you in advance for you time!

    • avatar Fabian says:

      Hey Silviya, I’m really glad that you found this guide useful.
      I would not recommend using an overhead filter (hang on back filter) for a tank that is larger than 50 gallons, because they are not very effective with large volume of water.
      I would rather suggest going for a canister filter; highly recommend the OASE canister filter (check price on Amazon).
      If you really want an overhead filter, then I would recommend the AquaClear 110 (check price on Amazon), which is rated for tanks between 60-110 gallons. I had great success with these filters on fish tanks of up to 50 gallons.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *