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Discus Fish Species Profile, Types and Care Guide

The Discus fish is popular among aquarists due to its unique appearance. The fish is not recommended for beginners as they are hard to care for and feed. Due to selective breeding, various types continue to develop with time.

Here, you will learn detailed information about the discus fish, including their care, feeding, and breeding tips that can help aquarists who want to keep these magnificent fish in their aquariums.

Species Overview

Level of CareDifficult
AppearanceRound shape
Life Expectancy10 years
Size8-10 inches
DietPlants, worms, and crustaceans
Tank Size50 gallons
Water Conditions820F to 860F (280C to 300C); pH level between 6 and 7
Tank EnvironmentPlants with soft sandy gravel
Tank MatesOther peaceful fish

Discus presents a pleasant spectacle in an aquarium. The freshwater fish belongs to the family Cichlidae, including angelfish, convict cichlid, oscar, and Nile tilapia.

The fish can be challenging to keep due to its special dietary needs and water properties. But most find the effort is worth it as they get to see these fish swim in the aquarium.

Natural Habitat

Discus are native to the Amazon River Basin’s lakes and rivers and its tributaries, including the Rio Negro. The fish tend to congregate near ‘galhadas’ or fallen tree crowns near the shores. They are commonly found in quiet waters and rarely seen in waters with strong currents.

These are also found in breaks in the water flow created by fallen trees or a small inlet. They are also found in shaded areas with soft sediments. You can replicate these natural conditions in an aquarium but it can be difficult for beginner aquarists.


Discus fish are named due to their disc-shaped appearance. They vary in appearance, with some fish rounder or more elongated than others.

They also have different color patterns. A group of discus with different colors and display patterns can make your aquarium look breathtakingly beautiful.

The fish have rounded anal and dorsal fins and have a pronounced caudal fin and pelvic. They have horizontal and vertical patterns on the body and fins that add to their appeal.


Discus, in most cases, will be the largest in a tank. The fish can reach up to 10 inches in size. The average size of the discus fish is 8 inches.


Discus fish tend to live for up to 10 years. To ensure that the fish lives a long time, you should feed them twice and minimize stress. They are also rather shy creatures. So, you should limit the amount of traffic near the fish. Additionally, please do not allow your kids to tap on the aquarium glass and disturb them.

Avoid putting the aquarium near the TV or flashy lights. Anything that will make them feel safe and comfortable inside the aquarium will help enhance their life.

Behavior & Temperament

Discus are generally nonviolent. But they can sometimes get aggressive towards one another. They tend to become aggressive during breeding time. Therefore, keep the submissive and shy ones in a separate aquarium as they can’t compete with others when feeding.

Similar to other cichlid species, these can compete in a shoal as per a pecking order. Larger discus fish should be kept separately from the smaller ones to ensure that they live in harmony.

These spend most of the time in the middle level of the aquarium. But the fish will rise to the top of descent to the bottom to forage. They are free-swimming fish that occasionally require some cover, such as plants or large driftwood inside the tank.

Discus Fish Types

Albino discus fish

Discus fish are categorized based on their color and patterns. They have a range of intense colors, including red, green, blue, brown, and yellow. Fish, such as Albino Platinum discus, are white with glowing red eyes, while the Red Alenquer has a deep blue and red color.

A common variety is a checkerboard discus fish with a mottled turquoise color over a deep red base.

You can find many different types at pet stores.

Tank Mates

Most aquarists don’t consider mixing discus with too many other types of fish. There are only a few fish that are compatible with them. Most fish species cannot tolerate the warm water conditions that are needed for these to thrive.

Some suitable aquarium mates that can live in warm water include:

An important thing to consider when selecting fish to keep with discus is that these are slow eaters. If you keep them with fast eaters like barbs or cardinal tetras, they will probably starve.

Even suitable mates like German blue rams and clown loaches will be too fast for the fish. Avoid putting discus with too many other fish as they may lose out on nutrition.

Tank Conditions

Discus can thrive in soft and warm water. Water hardness levels should be between 1 and 4 dH. The aquarium water temperature should be 820F to 860F (280C to 300C). But the ideal temperature for wild discus is 900F (320C). The water pH level should be between 6 and 7.

You can use an aquarium heater to maintain the ideal water temperature. Moreover, consider using deionized water to create the best condition for your them.

Changing water is essential to remove waste buildup. Replace up to 25 percent of the water every week. Make sure to treat tap water using a water conditioner when refilling the aquarium. Also, Should keep the nitrate level in the tank at 20 ppm for non-planted tanks and 40 ppm for planted tanks.

Tank Setup

Discus requires a large aquarium with at least 50 gallons of water. If you are keeping a group, you should keep them in a 75-gallon tank. The best aquariums are tall rather than wide as they can accommodate the body shape of the fish.

Discus, as mentioned previously, live in calm waters in the wild. To create a natural environment, you need to ensure that the tank’s water movement is gentle.

You can decorate the tank with floating plants, broadleaf plants, and wooden objects. Consider arranging the wood vertically to simulate downed trees and branches.

These love to forage at the bottom of the tank. So, the tank substrate can be sand or any smooth surfaced gravel. You can find many different types of plants that can survive warm temperatures, such as bacopa, java fern, anubias, and sword plants.

Higher water temperature decreases the oxygen level. So, adding air stones is recommended as it can improve oxygen levels inside the tank.

The water inside the aquarium should be de-chlorinated before putting the fish inside the tank. You should also make sure that the water flow is slow as it mimics the fish’s natural condition.

Using driftwood or a spray bar is recommended to slow down the flow of water. However, make sure that the wood pieces do not injure the discus fish as they swim inside the tank.

Food & Diet

Discus freshwater fish are omnivores. They tend to eat both plants and insects. The fish forage at the bottom in the wild, looking for small crustaceans. They also eat a variety of plants growing in lakes and rivers.

It would help if you feed them twice a day. You can give a wide variety of food items to them. Algae rounds, shrimp pellets, corn flakes, and tropical granules should constitute the majority of the diet.

You can also give treats, such as frozen and live warms, to them occasionally. Consider rotating the diet daily for the best results.

A common problem with feeding is giving them food that is too big for their mouth. If you see the fish-eating food and spit it out, it indicates a problem with the food size.

Breeding Guidelines

Breeding discus fish is relatively tricky. The fish pair up and spawn quickly. But it can be challenging to keep them from eating their eggs. The parents eat their eggs the first few times, especially when there are other fish in the tank.

You can place a wire tube over the eggs to prevent the eggs from being eaten. It would also help if you considered separating the females after they have laid their eggs since they are more likely to eat the eggs.

The breeding cycle typically occurs twice a year. Discus fish may lay eggs every week during the breeding period. They lay their eggs for up to fifteen weeks. The fry will hatch from the eggs after three days of laying the eggs. They eat the body mucus produced by the parents during the next three days.

2 discus fish swimming

Dangers & Diseases

Discus fish are sensitive to pathogens. They usually scour for food scraps at the bottom of the aquarium which is a haven for parasites, viruses, and bacteria.

To reduce the risk of diseases, you can buy a tank with a bare bottom. Another option is to feed your them twice or thrice a day for up to 3 minutes so that they become full and don’t go looking for food at the bottom.

Here are some of the common diseases that affect discus fish, along with the suggested treatment options.

Hole in the Head

Discus fish may sometimes develop a hole-in-the-head caused by bacteria. The disease commonly occurs due to the high nitrate content of the water. The hole is sometimes near the mouth or eyes.

Afflicted fish appears stagnant and motionless. The condition can be fatal if left untreated. You can treat the condition using a solution of Potassium Permanganate, formalin, or fluke tabs. Make sure to continue the treatment for up to four weeks. If the condition is not improved, you should use another formulation.

Gill Fluke

Gill fluke is another common disease that affects the gills of the fish. Fish afflicted with the condition display labored breathing. The affected fish can also become paralyzed and lay at the bottom of the tank. Sometimes, the affected fish displays aggressive behavior.

Another visible sign of gill fluke is that the fish may rub against the aquarium wall or piping. You can use an antibacterial chemical solution such as a formulation to treat the condition. Quarantine the affected fish before using the solution for treating the disease.

Cloudy Eyes

Cloudy eyes are also a common illness that affects discus fish. The condition mostly occurs when the pH level becomes too low. Sometimes, this happens when the fish scratches against something or gets injured in a fight.

Their eyes have a protective layer, which means it won’t result in a complete loss of eyesight. A bit of salt and a coat from API with aloe vera will help in restoring the condition.

Their eyes will start to heal, and the circle around the eyes will begin to disappear. But it would help if you treated the condition early; otherwise, you will lose the eyesight.

Internal Parasites

A discus may become ill due to a parasitic infection. It would help if you treated the fish with Metronidazole (Flagyl). Also, increase the ventilation and water temperature, which should be between 86 °F and 92 °F (300C and 330C) for treating parasitic infection.


Tapeworms can also cause illness. If the fish has not lost appetite, feed medicated food to it. Soak the food in a cup of water and about 10 mL of Flagyl for an hour. You should feed the fish with the medicated food every two days for up to ten days.

In case the fish has stopped eating, you can use a syringe to feed the fish. Put the discus on a wet towel to feed the fish in this manner. The fish may not absorb all the food. But it will ensure that the medication gets inside the body, thereby treating the condition.

Where to Buy?

Blue discus fish closeup

You can buy discus from pet stores, local breeders, and online shops. These fish are available at different prices.

Discus are schooling fish that will be happier if surrounded by a group of their kind. You should purchase 10 to 13 juvenile fish of the same size and place them in a 75-gallon water tank.

Once they get bigger, you should look for fish that display aggression and sell them to the pet store. In this way, you will end up with a group of six or more discus swimming peacefully inside your aquarium.

When purchasing one from a pet store, you should ask about the water conditions where they raised them. Make sure that raised the fish in an aquarium with pristine water and ideal conditions. Properly raised fish tend to live longer than the fish that were raised in stressful conditions.


Taking good care of the fish through frequent observation and adjustment of the water parameters is essential. The fish is sensitive to water changes. An imbalance can create stress on the fish.

The fish also require more frequent cleaning of the tank. You should change 25 percent of the water and clean the bottom of the tank weekly.

You can buy kits at the pet store to test water parameters. Check the water temperature daily to ensure that the temperature is within the recommended range.

Spend time with your fish and notice their behavior. If you notice something unusual such as a loss of appetite or rubbing against the aquarium wall, you should immediately quarantine and treat the affected fish.

Final Thoughts

Discuss freshwater fish require great care. The water temperature should be monitored and kept warm at all times.

It would help if you also fed them a special diet mentioned in this guide. The fish will be active, grow faster, and show off spectacular colors with the right diet and tank conditions.

Keeping discus fish healthy involves a lot of effort. You have to clean the water and continuously monitor the water conditions. Moreover, breeding the fish is also not easy.

But the rewards are worth it. You get to see a mesmerizing display of beautiful fish swimming peacefully in the aquarium.