Discus in your home tank is a sightseeing phenomenon. They are the best pick for you if you are specific about maintaining the vibrant aesthetics of your home aquarium.. Their exceptional beauty has earned them the name king of the aquarium. As stated in a study, these tropical fish species are the most popular ornamental fish species, the others being koi and Arowana.

As for captive species, this freshwater fish comes in as many colors as your senses can imagine, resulting from cross-breeding between different species. However, you won’t see much diversity among wild-type discus.

Although they are the center of attraction of your tank with the eye-catching charms of their flat and almost round bodies, they are equally tough to care for. Still, this definitive guide will make things much easier for you.

Quick Fact: Females of this fish species mature in one year, whereas males take a relatively longer time to reach that level of maturity.

An Overview

Whenever you contemplate having your own discus in your fish tank, it’s crucial to have an overall idea about the species beforehand. The table below will come in handy in this respect.

Quick species Facts
Scientific Name SymphysodonAequifasciatus
Other Common Names King of the Aquarium, Pompadour Fish
Family Cichlid
Origin Amazon river basin
Average Lifespan 10 to 15 Years
Average Size 6 to 10 inches
Type Freshwater Fish

Origin and Habitat

The origin of discus is found in the floodplains, flooded forests, and isolated tributaries of the Amazon river delta, where the water level goes through rapid changes during different times of the year.

As they are not very fast swimmers, the flattened beauty prefers habitats with slower water currents, such as openings and crevices around rocks, fallen trees, and tree roots.

Considering their shy and sensitive nature, discus fish are fond of shelters providing them with lots of hiding places. This is why wild species choose blackwater from the flood to live in, where they can also have enough debris to feed on.

How Big Does a Discus Fish Get?

Although the wild species of the fish don’t usually go beyond 6 inches in length, aquarists have seen captive discus freshwater fish coming up to 12 to 15 inches in length within favorable conditions.

Appearance and Color

This species comes in an almost round, disc-like shape, earning its specific title. Some variations might yet come into view allowing some species a more flattened shape, while others tend to be triangular rather than rounded. The gracefully shaped enlarged fins make them look rounder.

Likewise, their variegated and magnificent color variations allow discus species to be the glow and warmth of an otherwise unattractive fish tank. Because of captive breeding practices, you can find mixtures of various shades within the species. Usually, red, orange, blue, green, and brown varieties are more prominent, whereas other hues, including white, yellow, and mixed shades are also found within discus species. You’ll come across different tones of one particular color.

Apart from the color, the entire body has stripes or spotted patterns like the icing on the cake. Solid-colored discus cichlids are not rare either.

Quick Fact: They have an evolutionary trait of changing their color when scared. They alter their color, merging themselves with the surrounding environment to avoid coming into view of others.

Types of Discus Fish

Several types of these aquatics are available across the market. Let us know about the most popular ones among those.

Red Turquoise Discus

With captivating turquoise stripes and spotted patterns on a bright crimson-colored body, they are popular and expensive types of this particular species. They show red highlights on their fins. Although adorned with the same hue, you will find varied patterns on them.

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Blue Diamond Discus

This type shows a rare solid shade of shimmering powdery blue with contrasting red eyes. This hybrid aquatic has gained immense popularity among the aquarians because of its brilliant shade. The fish needs quite high-quality care.

Ring Leopard Discus

The ring-shaped patterns on their body look identical to leopard print, as the name suggests. You will find them bearing red markings on a white base or white markings on a red base. Apart from this spotted pattern, a few obscure vertical stripes make them patterned.

Marlboro Red Discus

They are another unique diversity revealing a red or orange-based solid-colored body with usually a black tail and patterned fins. However, you will find several varieties among them. You might find a white or yellow face and sometimes small blue patches on solid red.

Cobalt Discus

This particular type of species will enchant you with its solid cobalt blue-colored look. However, you might sometimes find patches on their face and fins. They were admired among hobbyists during the last decade of the 20th century.

Maximum Life Expectancy

You can normally expect your fish to live for 10 years on average within favorable conditions. However, in case you can manage to keep them under exceptionally good conditions, your discus will potentially outlive this lifespan by up to 15 years.

Sexing of Discus Fish

Determining whether your fish is male or female is quite an intriguing task. If your fish is less than 4 inches in size, it’s nearly impossible to determine its sex.

However, some fish experts recommend a way to determine their gender when the fish comes into a size of 4 inches or more. It’s the dorsal fin that declares its sex. A rounded-cornered dorsal fin denotes a female, whereas males often have pointed-cornered dorsal fins. But, this method is not scientifically proven. The only way is to observe them spawning.

Pro Tip: Since it’s fairly difficult to determine if your fish is male or female, consider buying at least two-three pairs to get at least one breeding pair among them.

Sale Price and Availability

These fish species can be quite expensive costing up to about $150 each. The difficulty inherent in caring for discus and maintaining them can be a potential reason for their being so expensive. Still, young ones come at a cheaper price, costing you less than $20 per piece. Nevertheless, prices may differ based on places of sale or sellers.

Availability is not a setback when it comes to these underwater creatures. Although expensive, the species is fairly available with its diverse types. Along with nearby sellers, the huge online presence of this market is remarkable. Thus, you can choose to buy discus fish online too without any hassle.

Care Guide

Caring for your recent favorite needs cautious and calculative moves.

Quick Care Facts
Care Level Difficult
Social Highly sociable
Temperament Peaceful, shy, and distinctly sensitive
Diet Plant materials, detritus, and worms
Breeding Difficult

Food and Diet

Practically, this species of freshwater fish is omnivorous. Wild discus feeds on plant matter, including algae and detritus with worms.

A slight mistake can affect your fish’s health. Be very specific and cautious regarding what to feed them.

The species need highly protein-rich food. Thus, variety is required in their food. But, feeding them live food might make them prone to bacterial and viral infection or expose them to parasites. With this concern in mind, you can choose proper frozen/live food, flakes, pellets, etc., if you want to treat your discus fish with the best food.

Experts often advise feeding them up to 3% of their body weight. If the adult discus needs two meals a day, the younger ones can be fed one more time considering their rapid growth.

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Pro Tip: These aquatic beauties are bottom grazers. Thus, they will end up eating the leftovers, thereby risking themselves to infections. Therefore, consider feeding them as much food as they can completely eat within a very short period of time, ideally two-three minutes.

General Behavior

Thesecreatures are peaceful and sociable in nature and feel comfortable in large groups of dozens. Despite being a large freshwater fish species, they are apprehensive to a level where they feel discomfort even at the sight of their shadows.

Highly active tank mates or the presence of any noise or sudden movements around their tank can easily make them stressed and anxious. They might show extreme timidness when first added to a tank.

Still, they display a great sense of sociability while living in a community. The only exception is seen in spawning season when breeding pairs keep themselves from the rest of the group to escape cannibalism of the young.

Mating, Breeding, and Spawning

Once you add a good number of fish in your tank to ensure the presence of a pair among them, they will pair off on their own. As soon as discus fish choose their mates, they clean the spot to prepare for breeding. When they find the spot clean enough, the female will lay the eggs, which will then be fertilized by the male. But wait, before the eggs are laid, they are fanned for three days.

Once the female is done laying the eggs, the hatching process starts. It again takes three days to hatch the eggs. As soon as the eggs hatch, it’s the caring season. And the fry feed on the mucus coats of the breeding pair discus. As a research report states, genetic involvement is found behind this peculiar parental care behavior. During this time, the parents need to be fed well.

These aquatics are great parents. They move the fry around the whole tank during the first few days. Before gradually weaning them off, the parents stay with the fry for several weeks.

Quick Fact: Young, first-time breeders of this freshwater species tend to eat their eggs, especially when they are kept with other counterparts.


The intense susceptibility to any slight discomfort makes them prone to certain diseases. If your discus is acting strange or changing colors, then it’s a matter of serious concern. Besides, symptoms such as rapid breathing, red skin, and rubbing of the fins against rocks can indicate that your discus is in danger.

Some types of infections including parasite or tapeworm infection, viral or bacterial infection, and certain ailments such as fin rot, ich, cloudy eyes, dropsy, etc. are commonly seen among these species.

Your discus might catch diseases due to causes including poor water conditions, the inappropriate nutritional value of food, pollution inside the tank, etc. As a study reveals, the inappropriate temperature can also risk your fish getting infected by certain diseases. Hence, proper sanitation and cleaning are inevitable when discus is your preferred pick.

Tank Care

Sheltering a highly sensitive fish involves risk. Thus, tank care is a significant step before and during you introduce your aquatic pet into the tank.

Quick Tank Facts
Minimum Size 75 Gallons
Water Temperature 82-86°F (28-30°C)
Water Hardness 1° to 4° dKH
Lighting Moderate light
pH Level 6.0-7.0

Ideal Tank Size

Since they are large enough to be kept in captivity, the tank size matters a lot. Your fish are supposed to be in their best condition when you keep an ideal discus fish tank size of 75 gallons at a minimum. A larger one will do even better when the inhabitants are full-grown.

How to Set Up Your Ideal Tank?

  • Plants: Plants inside your fish tank are an ideal setup for a discus tank.Keeping in mind that these creatures prefer spots with enough hiding places, the plantation will come in handy in this case. On the other hand, plants aid the filtration process inside the tank by absorbing ammonia and nitrates right away.
  • Lighting: Vibrant lighting is not recommendable for discus fish. Nevertheless, you can provide moderate lighting for showcasing purposes.
  • Substrate: Rather than bare-bottomed tanks, the nutrient-rich substrate can prove to be immensely fruitful in improving the surrounding environment making it discus-friendly. Considering their food-searching habit, your fish will love it.
  • Oxygen and Filtration: Another one of the highly remarkable discus tank requirements, proper oxygen level, and filtration are the most crucial necessities. Hence, to avoid unfortunate consequences, make sure that these facilities are convenient for your fish before putting them into the tank.
  • Decor: Replicating their natural habitat within the tank setup can offer your fish the most favorable conditions. Using decor including a good number of plants, driftwood, tree roots, etc. can serve this purpose. However, a planted tank is actually hard to maintain when it comes to discus fish. Since the water temperature needs to be higher with these species, survival is a real challenge for plants.
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Quick Fact: These creatures are immensely vulnerable to ammonia and nitrate levels.

Water Parameters

Considering the vulnerability of their nature,even slight alterations in water parameters can potentially lead a discus to dire conditions. Hence, you need to keep special care in this particular field.

An ideal discus fish temperature can vary between 82-86°F (28-30°C). But, keep a special note so that the set temperature is stable and not fluctuating. If the temperature happens to recede from this level, it becomes a source of great discomfort for the species.

After the right temperature, your fish requires the perfect pH level in the surrounding water. The reason is simple —a pH level between 6.0 and 7.0 with soft, acidic water is perfect to maintain good health of your aquatics. Alongside, you can set the gH level up to 1-3.

As they stress easily, it’s necessary to maintain the water parameters. To do this, regular water change can be an effective option. Changing the tank water at least partially every week can bring you good results.


You need to be very particular while choosing tankmates for your discus fish. Their peaceful nature prevents them from competing with aggressive tankmates. Besides, since discus needs warm water, you have to find companions with similar requirements.

Plus, they are slow eaters apart from being shy, and will not be able to compete with fast feeders.

So, with all this in your mind, you can introduce species such as-

  •  Cardinal tetras
  • Rummynose tetras
  • Sterbaicory catfish
  • Bristlenosepleco
  •  Small plecos
  •  Rams

Frequently Asked Questions

What do discus fish like in their tank?

Enough hiding spaces to keep themselves away from the sight of others pleases them. Apart from that, favorably warm, soft, and acidic water in a pollution-free environment is crucial to keep your fish healthy.

How to stop discus fish bullying?

Although discus fish are social, aggressive behavior is not uncommon with them. In many cases, one particular fish (especially the big one) might bully others in the group.

However, with proper measures, you can potentially check such behavior.

For instance, spreading the food all over the tank instead of pouring it into one particular part, controlling the number of fish according to the tank size, and sometimes separating the aggressive fish from the rest of the group can solve the issue.

Are discus fish endangered?

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has not yet red listed discus as endangered. The species is not endangered yet, considering its high availability and popularity.

Is bloodworm good for discus?

Bloodworms have proved to be a popular food for this colorful species. Since they are rich in protein, bloodworms can be a good choice to feed these aquatics in any form, including live or frozen. Plus, their small size is convenient.

How many discus fish can I add at a time?

Since they are highly sociable, adding one or two fish in a tank will do no good to your fish. You can put 5 to 6 of them in a 55-gallon tank to get the best results.

Final Words

So! Are Discus Fish hard to keep?

Well, they are.

Then, should you get them home with all these precautions?

It depends upon your experience level and preferences. Since they need intensive care, they are not the right pick for beginners. But, if you are quite passionate about caring for them, remember that where there is a will, there is a way.

About the Author

Victoria Lamb

Victoria is a freshwater aquatics specialist, fish keeper, and amphibian enthusiast. She has had more than 6 years of experience caring for aquariums and keeping several fish species, and her home boasts of 3 aquariums and a garden pond. Her goal is to educate fish owners on raising healthy and happy aquatic pets.

Career Highlights:

  • Has worked with several aquarium manufacturers as a consultant
  • Organized and hosted workshops on freshwater fish keeping at retail stores, educational facilities, and libraries
  • Released content for the amphibian community through her writings

Educational Highlights:

Bachelor of Science in Animal Behavior and Welfare

  • University of Lincoln, Lincoln, UK (2014-2018)

Writing Experience

Victoria has done ghostwriting for many aquarium and pet websites in the past. She has also worked for Canada's largest natural health magazine- ALIVE, with 300,000 monthly circulations as a freelancer. She had six published articles on animal behavior and welfare during her graduation for her thesis.

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