Discus Fish : Complete Guide to Care, Breeding, Tank Size and Disease

Discus are extensively bred and have an infinite array of patterns and color combinations. With many stunning variations, both in the wild and in-home aquariums, Discus has won the hearts of many aquarists. 

Unfortunately, discus fish care might be overwhelming for beginners, especially if they started with hardy fish like goldfish or betta fish. This guide will help you care for your Discus without spending too much time and money and getting too deep into specialized aquarium equipment.

Discus Overview 

Discus is often known as the king of aquariums because of its beauty. They are, in fact, the most stunning freshwater fish available for the home aquarium. They can light up their tanks.

Although they are a little larger, they have a peaceful nature. This fish species is notoriously tricky to maintain. But if kept correctly, they can become the price of the tank. 

discus fish care

And most interestingly, the color of these fish changes with changes in their stress levels, age, diet, and tank condition. 

If you are ready to keep Discus in your tank, read the below information.

Information chart Discus
Scientific name Symphysodon
Family Cichlid
Care level Difficult
Temperament Peaceful and shy
Color They come in vibrant colors like blue, mixed with white, black patterned lines
Lifespan 10-15 years
Size 12.3-15.2 inches
Diet Vegetable and algae
Minimum tank size 75 gallons
Temperature 82-86 °F
Water conditions 6.0–7.0 pH
Tank mate compatibility Cardinal tetras, neons, rummynose tetras, dwarf cichlids, and more.

Discus Appearance 

Discus- a unique freshwater fish, has a colorful look. The dish-shaped form of this fish inspired its name, where some Discus varieties are flatter, and others are triangular or round. 

They have rounded anal fins and dorsals, making them look even more stunning. Their pronounced caudal fins and pelvic add to their overall body shape. Considering their size, this fish can grow up to 8-10 inches. Thus, they are a larger addition to home tanks. 

Discus looks more vibrant and beautiful when bred in captivity than its wild counterparts. The coloring comes in horizontal and vertical stripes, evenly covering the fin and overall body. 

If they feel threatened, they flare and become more pronounced, which looks beautiful. However, it would be best if you tried to maintain a peaceful environment as Discus are sensitive to stress. 

Varieties of Discus 

Red Discus 

It is known as Heckel Discus and is rounder than other varieties. Also, it has lines across its eyes, body, and caudal fin. Certain Red Discus have white mixed on their heads and ends.

Blue Discus 

Blue Discus

It’s a new coloring Discus, which has an attractive blue appearance. It comes in various blue colors with white or black pattern lines. 

Green Discus 

Green Discus

This attractive Discus variety has a strikingly green color. While some of this Discus variety looks luminous green, others are a mix between green and light blue. 

Brown Discus 

Brown Discus

Surprisingly, Brown Discus is a subcategory of Green Discus. That’s why they have a brown and green hue. But some have yellow and brown colors. 

Heckel Cross Discus

It’s a new Discus species with an attractive orange and blue pattern. The head has a deep orange color, and the ends have a yellow tinge.

Blue Diamond Discus

Blue Diamond Discus

These Discus fish have a bold blue color with a white undertone. It makes them glow. Also, these have translucent fins, red eyes, and brown faded in the base.

The lifespan of Discus 

The typical lifespan of Discus is 10 years, but certain species are known to live for 15 years. 

Discus Size

The typical Discus grows up to 12.3 to 15.3 inches. 

Natural Habitat and Origin

The beautiful Discus fish comes from the Amazon river delta that experiences extreme changes in the water level. Thanks to their years of breeding in captivity, they are available in multiple colors. 

The fish species likes to live in the breaks and crevices in the water flow. It is how they protect their large bodies from the current. One can replicate the wild and natural habitat of Discus but doing this is difficult for beginners. 

This fish species likes to feed on algae, plant material, invertebrates, and detritus in the natural environment. 

Discus Care and Tank Set-Up 

The key to successful discus fish care isn’t necessarily top-notch equipment or gigantic aquariums. It is so deceptively simple yet difficult to perform consistently: consistent water changes. In the wild, lakes, seas, rivers, and oceans can dilute the waste of decaying matter with the massive volume of water. In the home aquarium, however, these wastes quickly build up.

Discus Care and Tank Set-Up

Even with top-notch filter media, some wastes and byproducts remain, like growth stunting hormones, or nitrates, which require anaerobic bacteria, which is rather hard to achieve in aquariums. Nutrients that plants need are also steadily depleted.

Regular water changes solve these problems; performing at least a 25-40% water change in a week will keep your water clean and your Discus and plants happy.

Discus Tank Size and Specifications 

Optimum Tank Size for Discus 

The recommended tank size is around 60 gallons, with a 75 gallon tank.

When choosing a tank for your Discus, you should always consider both the adult and juvenile size of the fish. One juvenile Discus per 5 gallons is preferable. 

But if you’re not planning to move them to bigger tanks as they grow, you’ll have to consider that adults need twice the volume of water as the juveniles, which means you’ll need 10 gallons per adult discus. Because Discus is schooling fish, keeping at least six or more of them is a good idea. 

Discus Tank Size and Specifications

Tank Shape for Discus 

As Discus is tall with slender bodies, it likes to stay in a tall tank. Also, you must have a bigger tank as this fish can grow big and likes to live in groups.

Filter Type 

Remember that a good filtration system can keep your Discus fish in good shape. Also, this fish species is not known to do well in tanks where nitrogen level is high. Make sure you add them to a fully cycled tank.

You can choose a sump filter for filtration as it’s great for large tanks. Besides this, canister filters can work well as it provides a current that can pull the debris from the tank to the filter. 


Discus likes to live in soft to medium sediment.

Moreover, they have a habit of searching for food on the substrate. 

How Many Discus Can Live in 75 Gallons Tank

For a 75 gallons tank, 5 Discus fish is sufficient. Pick a larger tank if you want to add more Discus to create a sturdier group. 

Water Parameter for Discus 

Water Temperature 

Discus is tropical fish, which means they do better in warmer temperatures of 28-30°C. Discus prefers warmer water; certain plants and fish that require cooler water are out of the equation. It includes plants and fish with 28°C as their upper limit for temperature.

Water Parameter for Discus

Water Flow Rate 

Discus in the wild come from rivers, which, by nature, meanders. The current effectively slows down as it meanders. In aquariums, this means having a gentle stream of water. It is especially important for juvenile Discus. Adults should be able to handle stronger currents.

pH Level 

The perfect water pH level for Discus is 6.0 to 7.0. 

Water Hardness

When it comes to the hardness of water, Discus likes warm, soft, and acidic water. So, the water hardness is between 1° and 4° dKH (18 to 70 ppm).

Discus Tank Landscape 

You can start setting up the Discus tank by placing it 1 to 1.5 meters above ground level. Make sure the tank is 75 gallons to become a perfect house for 5 Discus. 

Discus Tank Landscape

You can add small sediment for the substrate, and the filter should properly clean the water. Without a better filtration system, Discus won’t do well. 

Best Plants for Discus Tanks 

Not just filters but also the right kind of plants can provide better filtration to the Discus tank. As Discus loves to live in slightly hotter water, you must add plants that can survive at such a temperature. 

Below are some of the best plants for Discus tanks.

  • Java fern
  • African bolbitus 
  • Cryptocoryne
  • Echinodorus 
  • Bucephalandra 
  • Hygrophila
  • Dwarf tiger lily
  • Anubias 
  • Jungle Vallisneria
  • Spatterdock 

Worst Plants for Discus tanks 

Not all the live plants are suitable for the high water temperature of Discus. Thus, you must avoid adding plants to the Discus tank that cannot survive hot temperatures. 

Decorations for Discus Tanks 

Discus prefers to live in a tank with plenty of roots and driftwood. That’s because such decoration mimics their natural habitat.

Also, you can add several hiding spots where Discus could relax. 

Lighting for Discus Tanks 

Discus is sensitive to lights as they have bigger eyes. Hence, the use of fluorescent light similar to daylight is advisable. Also, you can keep the light on for 10 to 12 hours.

Feeding Discus 

Best Diet for Discus 

Feeding the right food is one of the most important aspects of discus fish care. Try feeding a variety of food as feeding the same kind of food may deprive your Discus of some of the nutrients they might be able to get better in other types of food. There are plenty of frozen food types, from bloodworms to mysis. 

Feeding Discus

There are plenty of ones formulated for flake and pellet-type foods, especially for Discus. Quality frozen, pellet, and flake foods are preferable, as live food can act as parasites, bacteria, or virus carriers that can quickly compromise the health of your Discus.

Discus are as unique as they are paradoxical; they are quite sensitive to bacteria, viruses, and parasites, but as bottom grazers, they will scour the bottom of the tank for scraps of food, often havens for harmful bacteria and parasites that could end up killing them. 

To minimize the chances of this happening, one could either have a bare bottom tank or feed the Discus several times a day with food that they can completely consume in up to 3 minutes max.

How Often Should You Feed Discus? 

You could feed the younger Discus in the tank three times a day. But you should feed the adults twice a day only. 

Discus Behavior and Temperament

Discus Behavior and Temperament

Although Discus fall in the larger freshwater tank fish category, they are peaceful and shy. They believe in avoiding conflict through intimidation and escape. 

When first added to the tank, this fish species can be very timid. But they are graceful swimmers, which is why tank keepers like to have them in the aquarium. 

Are Discus Lone or Societal in Nature? 

Discus is a social fish that does well when living in a community. 

Discus Tank Mates

Ideal Discus Tank Mates

Discus Tank Mates

While it is preferable to keep Discus with their kind, it’s possible to keep them with other peaceful community fish to make the tank more lively. Discus, however, prefers a specific type of water – one that’s warm, soft, and acidic; this rules out livebearers, goldfishOscars, and another common fish one might be thinking of adding. 

Discus are timid and rather slow, so mixing them with boisterous fin nippers is a death sentence.

Fish that are ‘too hardy’ can also carry strains of disease that the more delicate Discus cannot handle.

One of the most common misconceptions regarding discus fish care is that, as with any other fish, adding a bottom dweller like kuhli loach or catfish balances out the sections of the tank while keeping the bottom of the tank clean. Discus fish care becomes more challenging when adding bottom feeders to the tank. Discus will no longer be able to graze on the bottom since the more active corydoras or loaches would rattle them.

As a beginner, you might want to stick to just keeping them with their kind.

Bad Tank Mates for Discus 

Avoid keeping any fish with Discus that can get aggressive. That’s because they can cause potential harm to Discus, making them stressed. 

Breeding Discus 

The best thing about this fish species is that it does not have a complicated breeding system. You can leave them, and they will breed. Usually, Discus reaches sexual maturity when it is 1-year-old. 

Breeding Discus

While breeding, the mating Discus pair will move away from the rest of the school. It is to protect the young from adults. Both parents play their part when the larvae are born, but first-time parents might eat their young. 

Discus Breeding Level 

Breeding Discus is easy. 

Discuss Sexual Dimorphism 

You can notice their lips to distinguish between males and females. Males are known to have thicker lips than females. 

Discus Common Disease and Treatment 

Discus are sensitive fish; they can develop certain diseases. When you see them acting strange, check for any illness. And if found, offer proper care because the sooner you care, the quicker Discus recovers from the disease. 

Below are some common diseases found in Discus. 

  • Fin rot
  • Ich
  • Columnaris
  • Parasites 
  • Dropsy 
  • Tuberculosis
  • Hexamitiasis
  • Lateral line erosion 
Discus Common Disease and Treatment

Fin Rot Treatment 

You can increase water quality to treat fin rot. You can also remove fish that bully Discus and frequently engages in fin nipping. 


If your Discus has developed ich, you must treat the entire aquarium as it’s a highly infectious disease. Ich can be treated with saltwater and medications like Malachite Green, Formalin, potassium permanganate, and more.


The early this disease is detected, the better the chances of survival. Columnaris can be treated through saltwater. 

Facts about Discus

  • Discus do well when brought in a group. 
  • Ensure the Discus fish you bring are clean and look healthy
  • You cannot add all live plants to the Discus tank. 

Is Discus Right for You?

Discus is not great for beginners because they need plenty of care. Also, they are sensitive fish that don’t seem to do well under stress. 

If you can offer proper care to the Discus fish, you can house them. Also, they are easier to bread. 


Do Discus fish have a personality?

Discus fish are known to be shy and peaceful. They do not like to involve themselves in any kind of violence. Also, they are graceful swimmers.

How to tell if a Discus is stressed?

If a Discus is stressed, it will darken. If the stress level increases, it will turn almost black. 

How do you know if Discus is happy?

If Discus is happy with the living environment, it would actively swim around. Also, it would eat regularly and swim on the surface. 


With the knowledge and technology we have today, Discus can thrive even in the hands of the most inexperienced aquarist. By taking time to know about the specific requirements of Discus and the simple tips you can employ to keep them happy and healthy, you should have minimal problems in the long run.

I encourage you to be patient and diligent. What you’re taking care of is no longer a simple goldfish you can keep with minimal effort, but a unique, colorful, and often sensitive Discus. What often kills Discus isn’t a skipped water change or a skipped meal; it’s the buildup of bad aquarium husbandry of repeatedly skipped water changes and feedings.

Discus fish care entails a lot of research and meticulous setups. Make sure that you do not skimp on quality equipment, water changes, and tank size from the start. You’re all set to start your first discus tank if you’re ready to combine this with proper aquarium husbandry!

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