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Discus Care Guide

Table of Contents

  • Discus Overview 
  • Common Names: Discus, Discus Fish, Pampadour Fish

  • Scientific Names: Symphysodon discus

  • Size: 8 – 10 inches

  • Minimum Tank Size: 75 gallon

  • Care or Experience Level: Difficult/ Advanced

  • Preferred Diet: Omnivorous

  • Original Part of the World: Amazon River Basin in South America

  • Aggression Level: Peaceful

Discus Behaviour

While Discus species are beautiful to look at, they don’t have a distinct personality. Discus are generally peaceful and calm. They tend to be shy and choose to spend most of the time staying close to each other floating in the aquarium. Additionally, they interact with their surroundings as they look for food and shelter.

However, since they are cichlids, they can be aggressive toward one another, especially males during spawning and the mating period. During this period, you should remove the shy or submissive fish if they cannot compete.

Like all cichlids, there can be competition in the shoal and have a pecking order. Therefore, if you have smaller fish, you will need to monitor them to make sure they can eat.

As part of their personality trait, discus can be quite picky in their diet. This behavior can be frustrating because they need a consistently good diet to stay healthy. If your discus is a picky eater, you need to clean the tank and carry out regular tank maintenance to remove uneaten food.

Furthermore, if you notice that your discus is a picky eater, you should space out the feeding time more. Their metabolism is faster; therefore, they will need food in a couple of days. You can alos try different types of foods to push your fish to eat. Try and feed them a large variety of foods until you get the most ideal for your discus.

Discus Appearance

Commonly referred to as the “King of the Aquarium,” Discus fish is one of the most beautiful freshwater fish available for a home aquarium. These species have been extensively bred due to their spectacular array of patterns and color combinations.

They are large, have a circular shape, and have stunning variations, which has made them popular with most aquarists. They are larger than most tropical fish and will light up any room they are placed in.

Discus need a lot of care; otherwise, their beautiful colors might start changing if you don’t do this. Ideally, discus fish species should get more colorful as they age; therefore, something is wrong if they start losing colors. Your discus will lose its beautiful colors due to age, diet, stress levels, tank conditions, sickness, or bullying.

The majority of the wild discus fish species have a red eye as a primary characteristic. However, the available discus today are mostly domestically bred mutations; therefore, the eye can be yellow, red, or albino.

When choosing discus for your aquarium, you should check and confirm that the eye is bright and clean. This is important because the eye can be used as a good indicator of the age and health condition of the fish.


Compared to other aquarium fish species, they are relatively large. Discus grows to about 8 inches (20.3 cm) long and 8 inches high. They are laterally compressed; therefore, they are very tall instead of wide.

Discus Tank Conditions

Every fish species has different tank requirements that you need to provide for the fish to survive. If you are keeping discus in your aquarium, here are the tank conditions that you need to pay attention to.


To keep your discus fish happy, you need to raise the water temperature. These fish species survive best in temperatures between 85 to 86°F (28-30°C). While this is higher than most tropical fish who prefer 78 degrees, it’s necessary because if you keep discus in lower temperatures than this, it becomes a source of discomfort, and they will not fare well.

Discus fish need higher temperatures for different reasons. These conditions keep them more active, increase their metabolism, boost their growth, and their colors become more pronounced. If you import discus fish from other countries, you’ll need to see the temperatures they are being kept at and maintain or increase that.

Therefore, if you plan to keep the discus with other tank mates, they have to be species that can survive in warmer water. In addition, the plants in the tank should be able to survive these conditions. It would be best to not keep them in a tank with plants and fish that need cooler temperatures.

The only issue with the warmer temperatures is the risk of bacterial infections. If you have an outbreak in your tank, the bacteria will produce faster due to the higher temperatures, which is harmful to your discus.


Naturally, discus fish species originate from a river that meanders. This means that the current is slowed down as the river meanders. Therefore, when keeping this fish in an aquarium, you also need to have a gentle stream of water, especially for younger discus. However, the adult ones can handle stronger currents.

The water in the aquarium needs to be treated with formulas, de-chlorinated, and neutralized if you are using tap water. In general, the flow in the aquarium should be weak.

You can break it using a spray bar, ornaments, or driftwood. Add some vertical wood in the tank and ensure that the pieces of wood are placed properly to avoid hurting the discus as it swims.



Discus grow to be quite large, about 8 to 10 inches; therefore, they require an aquarium big enough to accommodate them. In addition, they need to be in schools of 5 or 6; therefore, the smallest tank you can get is 50 gallons. If you start with 10 to 12 juvenile discus, you have to reduce them to 6 as they grow, especially males, to reduce aggressiveness.

When choosing a tank, you need to consider both juvenile and adult sizes. While the younger ones can thrive in a 50-gallon tank, you might need to transfer them to a bigger tank as they grow. Therefore, it’s advisable to get a 75-gallon water tank to accommodate them as adults to avoid all this. Adults need twice the volume of water as the young ones, so you’ll need about 10 gallons per discus.


Furthermore, these fish species will tend to be tall; therefore, you need a tall aquarium to accommodate their body shape. You should have more females and about two males in the tank to reduce the competition for food and hostility.

Water Type

When keeping discus fish in an aquarium, you need to use the water with the same quality they were raised in. Amazonian water is generally soft and slightly acidic, with a pH between 6 and 7; therefore, you should ensure that the pH should be between 6 and 7, with hardness between 1° and 4° dKH (18 to 70 ppm)

In addition, checking the temperature and pH, the fish have been raised in will prevent drastic changes that could be fatal. If the discus is captive-bred, they can be kept in de-chlorinated water treated with formulas that neutralize your tap water. Ensure that you carry out water testing frequently using home kits.

You should also change the water frequently. The frequency varies greatly depending on how many fish you have, the size of your tank, your feeding rate, and the biological filtration system you have. Keep the nitrate level lower than 40 ppm for planted tanks and less than 20 ppm for non-planted tanks.

Discuses grow much faster in acidic water, which is low in calcium. If your discus are adults, you should change the water (about 30-40% of the total tank water) once a week.

While younger, you can change the water 2-3 times to avoid stunting their growth. However, you can also do smaller frequent changes if there’s a lot of waste buildup. When it comes to water hardness, discus are okay with soft to medium hardness.


Discus require very clean water. Since their natural environment has clean water, you need to have an adequate filtration system in your home aquarium. Apart from regularly changing the water, you need proper filtration equipment to help you keep the water clean at all times.

You can add a mature sponge filter, a canister filter, or an undertank sump to help you remove the solid waste. In addition, you can add a substrate such as fine or medium grade sand or smooth surfaced gravel to keep the tank conditions at an optimum level. When the water is well filtered, the water will stay clean, and the discus will remain healthy.


Your aquarium should not be too crowded when housing discus; that is why it’s recommended that you have about 5 to 6 of them in one tank. To make the conditions better, you should add lighting in the tank.

You can add a proper LED lighting system to the aquarium. This will help with the growth of plants in the tank. These plants are necessary for water quality in the tank; therefore, you should pay attention to the lighting system.


Discus Tank Mates

Discus can live comfortably with cardinal tetras, sterbai cory catfish, gouramis, Bolivian rams, and Pencil fish or bristlenose plecos. These should be fish species that can survive the warm temperatures and not outsmart them.


However, Discus can’t survive with clown loaches, German blue rams, angelfish, barbs, and some tetras because they are too fast and speedy eaters, while the discus are slow feeders.

Discus Diet

Discus fish species are omnivores. They eat a combination of plant material, insects, worms, and small crustaceans. When feeding them, you need to ensure that there’s variety. You can include frozen bloodworms, frozen or live brine shrimp, invertebrates such as copepods and amphipods, live or freeze-dried blackworms, and live microworms.

They also eat different kinds of flake food, such as tropical fish flakes and spirulina and algae or shrimp pellets. In addition, you can also feed them beef heart; although it’s not too common, it’s not harmful. When feeding discus, ensure that you cover all nutrients they need.

Discus requires feeding every day, and they should eat within a 3-5-minute window. After five minutes, you should remove excess food in the tank to reduce contamination. You should also watch out for the pecking order to ensure that all the fish have eaten.

How Long Do Discus Live?

When kept in a home aquarium, discus fish species can live for an average of 10 years. However, some of them can survive for 15 years. This depends heavily on the level of care and tank conditions.

How Do Discus Breed?

Breeding discus is quite challenging, and all the tank parameters need to be met. Provide a spawning cone for them to lay their eggs, and place a tube of wire over the eggs to stop them from being eaten.

You can separate the female, especially the inexperienced ones, because they may eat their eggs the first few times if other fish are present. The eggs hatch in three days, and after hatching, the young feed on body mucus secreted by the parents for a few days until they begin to swim.

Related Questions

Why Are Discus Fish So Expensive?

Breeding and raising juvenile discus is time and labor-intensive. In addition, they take a longer time to reach adult size. Therefore, the breeders and local fish stores will factor in that cost. It’s advisable to avoid the cheaper ones due to quality issues.

How Do You Keep Discus Fish Happy?

To properly care for this species, you need to reduce stress by keeping the tank clean, feeding them properly, and raising water temperatures. Since they are shy, keep them away from heavy traffic areas in your home. This will keep them healthy for longer.



Discus fish are a beautiful species for your aquarium. However, raising them can be a daunting task. For your fish to be healthy, you need to maintain the tank conditions properly and avoid contamination. As long as the parameters are right, your discus will live for longer.

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