Symphysodon Discus - Pompadour Fish

The Discus Fish Is Freshwater Fish Keeping's Stunning Oddity

King of Freshwater fish the Discus
Thomas R. Reich PhD

Symphysodon Discus are among the most stunning of all aquarium fish, have always been and still remain an oddity and a beautiful addition to any large show aquarium to this day. Originally, the Discus was made internationally popular by Dr. Herbert R. Axelrod.

When Dr. Axelrod first introduced the Discus to the wonderful world of fish keeping, it was impossible for any but the most experienced aquarist to maintain a proper environment to house even one of these beautiful feats of nature, let alone breed a pair. Today, many enjoy whole collections of brightly colored specimens, though special care must still be taken for best results.

The Origin and Profile of the Discus

The Discus, like the Angelfish (Pterophyllum) and Cichlasoma festivum, inhabit the gigantic region included under the name Amazonas, extending from the middle reaches of the Amazon River too far into the jungles of the Venezuelan and Peruvian flood basins.

The Discus is quite commonly found there among profuse plant growth in the quiet bends of the rivers, under overhanging banks, and among rock crannies. In the shallow areas, it cares for its young beneath the numerous leaves of various Nymphaea species.

Ever since the Discus Fish was first introduced to the aquarists in 1933, they created a sensation. For years afterward, the Discus was regarded as the king of the aquarium fish. Even today, many aquarists regard the Discus as the choicest tropical fish available, the most challenging of all freshwater tropical fish to keep and the badge of honor for those few aquarists who are lucky enough to have a Discus or two in their collection.

It is easy to understand why the mature Discus Fish should be regarded as the most regal of aquarium fish. They swim about with a noble bearing and a touch of shyness. Fully grown, an adult Discus can reach as large as 6 inches end to end, and in good condition, they possess great beauty, both in bearing and coloration.

Sexual Differences

Can be sexed only by experts; at spawning time the genital papilla is pointed in males, flat and round in females. When viewed from the top at breeding time, females are slightly fatter, due to filling with roe (eggs).

Common Behaviour

Very peaceful, doesn’t burrow in the substrate (dig in the gravel like many cichlids) and does not dig up nor tear up plants. The Discus lives in harmony with other fish, except at spawning time, when they will vigorously defend their young. It is best to get a group of young Discus and let them pair off, a Discus will mate for life; it will be obvious when mates have found each other, and they will no longer hang out with the group, but stake out their own portion of the aquarium, establishing their own territory. Only one pair should be left in any one aquarium if you want successful breeding to commence. Remove the rest of the young to another aquarium, where it is likely another pair may find each other.

Water Conditions

The Discus needs very pure clear clean water, which is filtered through peat, and in a well established planted aquarium. The temperature should be a steady 82F, pH 6.5 – 7.5 1 – 12 dH. For breeding we recommend you read further articles, however in brief; 86F, pH 6 – 6.5, 0 – 5 dH.

Feeding the Discus

The Discus is a finicky eater, it is very important that you give the Discus a diet of live and frozen food. If you do not, they will quickly die on a diet of dry flake food, though it may be offered as a supplement occasionally. Also for rearing fry; you will find that the fry feeds off the parent's sides, yes just as you would image a mammal would feed off its mother, but this means they (both the male and the female) need extra protein.

Aquarium Requirements

An absolute minimum size aquarium for a Discus is 40 inches long by 20 inches wide and 20 inches tall for young Discus. Adult Discus needs a 5-foot long aquarium or about 75-gallon minimum to be happy and have any chance of breeding successfully. It can possibly happen in a smaller aquarium, it happens all the time, but for maximum success with one of the most finicky fish in freshwater fish keeping, we suggest 75 gallons minimum well planted and well filtered. Discus does not like changes in water conditions, and the larger the body of water, the more gradual the change in water conditions.

More Facts About the King of Fresh Water Fish

Viewed from the front Discus are extremely thin for their size, but from the side, they are nearly round. This is how they got the name discus, which is Latin for plate or dish. Their basic body color in nature is brown. Brilliant blue bars cover both dorsal and anal fins, and the bars extend onto the back and stomach. Dorsal, ventral, and anal fins are edged in bright red. There is a variety of discus, from Lake Tefe, Brazil, that has bright metallic green or blue bars all over its fins and body. This variety is occasionally called the Royal Discus.

Over the decades, many varieties have appeared, red, yellow, even a beautiful orange to a yellow burst of color called the Sunset Discus. All of these varieties are not from nature, like many of the fish we keep in our aquariums today; they have been developed over many years of careful breeding by experts.

One of the most exciting and unique things discovered about the Discus is the way they feed their young or fry. For the first 4 days or so the parents move the fry from one place to another in the aquarium, much like angel fish. Then, when the fry become free swimming, they go immediately to the parent’s side, literally.

At first, it looks like they are clinging to their sides for protection, but upon closer inspection, you will find they are eating something from under the parent’s scales. The Fry will dig their heads in under a scale and jerk from side to side breaking off “food”. Eventually, the one parent tires of this constant pecking and shakes the fry off her sides, the fry go immediately to dad and do the same thing.

Back and forth for weeks, until they are mature enough that the young discus is ready for life on its own among the plants in the aquarium. Great parents, great story, and if you have the patience and expertise to raise Discus, a great experience to keep the king of the aquarium, The Discus!