Discus Fish History

Did you ever look at your discus fish and wonder about its history? In fact, this fish tale is full of twists and turns, going back to the very beginning.

When I first started keeping discus fish, I was really interested in their history and origins. I wanted to know everything about where they came from and how they got to be the way they are today.

In this article, I’ll take you on a journey through time to discover the Discus fish history, from its humble beginnings to the present day!

Where Do Discus Fish Originate From?

The discus fish are native to South America, primarily the Amazon River and its tributaries.

They prefer to dwell near submerged tree roots and branches near the coast, where their compressed physique can swiftly move around obstructions in order to seek safety from predators.

In the upper tributaries of the Rio Negro and Rio Madiera, you’ll find wild discus in addition to some surrounding floodwater-formed lakes. Because of their extremely low mineral content, these waters are “soft” with a pH value between 4.0 and 7.0.

In addition, the water temperature is quite constant during the day and at night, generally ranging from 80 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit.

Furthermore, they dwell in colonies among submerged tree trunks or exposed roots that get indirect sunlight.

What Is Discus Fish Family?

The discus fish is a member of the Cichlidae family, which also includes other cichlid species such as freshwater angelfish.

Previously, people believed that the upkeep and care of discus fish would be similar to that of angelfish due to their biological family ties. However, this was incorrect since discus is far more docile than its aggressive relatives.

Also, it is easy to notice the big difference between the two species when you compare their fry.

For example, while angelfish fry must be separate from their parents when they are still young, newly generated discus fish can survive quite well on their parents’ food supply in early life.

When Was the First Discus Fish Discovered?

Johann Natterer discovered and described the discus fish to the world between 1817 and 1835, which sparked global interest in studying this new discus fish species as well as other organisms living in biologically diverse areas near the Amazon River.

In 1840, Austrian zoologist Johann Jakob Heckel journeyed into the Amazon in hopes of finding the discus fish. On this journey, he gave it its scientific name, Symphysodon discus, which translates to “disc-shaped with teeth in the middle of the lower jaw.”

In recognition of this discovery, this discus got its name after him. In comparison to other Discus species, the Heckel discus looks unique due to its nine vertical bars, the one through the eye, the fifth or middle bar, and the caudal or tail bar.

The next member of the genus Symphysodon to appear was the Green Discus (Symphysodon aequifasciata aequifasciata). In 1904, Pellegrin discovered them in Lake Tefe and Peruvian Amazonia.

In 1960, Schultz discovered two new subspecies of Symphysodon aequifasciata: the Brown Discus from Belem, Brazil, and the Blue Discus from Manaus, Brazil.

Even now, there is still disagreement among taxonomists about these classifications. Some people say that only one species exists, with the sub-species being nothing more than regional variations in color.

When Was Discus Fish First Imported to Europe?

German importer Eimeke was the first to import premium discus fish to Europe in 1921, though the fish died shortly after arrival. This is due to the stressful shipping conditions and the lack of knowledge regarding their care.

In fact, this severe journey from South America to Europe resulted in a high mortality rate. Even those that made it across did not live much longer owing to sickness, brain damage, or nervous disorders.

What Are Discus Fish Colors in the Wild?

Discus fish tend to be dark and dull-colored in the Amazon, where they adapt to better blend in with the murky water and debris below. Their colors can vary from pale green to dark brown, with black vertical bars that help the fish camouflage among the dark leaves and roots.

However, today’s discus fish are considerably brighter than their ancient counterparts that Heckel discus and Natterer described in the 1800s.

This is due to the fact that discus fish keepers had a far better success rate when they could move their attention from simply maintaining the fish to selective breeding them.

In the 1970s and 1980s, some breeders achieved success by breeding certain fish together to create more colorful, vibrant strains.

For example, Mack Galbreath, Carol Friswold, and Mack Galbreathwere some of the most famous discus breeders in history for developing new strains such as the Turquoise discus and Hi-Fin blue discus.

Therefore, it is hard to believe that the striking, bright-colored Discus fish of today are actually descendants of the dark and drab Discus fish that once inhabited the Amazon River.

When Did the Discus Fish Enter the Aquarium Hobby?

In the mid-1930s, Discus entered the aquarium hobby. Since they are closely linked to Angel Fish (P. scalare), breeders that their hatching procedures would be similar. They took the eggs out and attempted to hatch them in a separate tank before raising the young fry.

However, this method was not successful because Discus fry need to be with their parents to survive. In the wild, Discus fry would feed off of their parent’s mucous and skin, but in an aquarium setting, they need a different food source.

It was only in the late 1950s, with Jack Wattley in the United States and Eduard Schmidt-Focke in Germany, that successful Discus breeding began at home aquariums.

For most of the 20th century, hobbyists were limited to a rather drab color palette including blue, green, brown, and heckle with a few blue/green striations. However, in the 1970s American breeders began concentrating on producing more colorful discus.

By selectively breeding for blue striations, they eventually produced Turquoise Discus and Cobalt Discus. Breeders in Europe also developed a discus with intense red striations that is now known as the Red Turquoise Discus.

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was an explosion of new discus types in Asia. This includes Ghost, Blue Diamond, Snake Skin, and Pigeon Blood discus that developed through mutation.

How Did Discus Fish Breeding Evolve Over Time?

Mid to late 20th-century discus fish care improved significantly when the breeders became more knowledgeable and focused on creating new strains.

At this point, the airlines allowed the transport of discus fish from South American countries such as Brazil, Peru, and Colombia. This resulted in a lower mortality rate due to the less time the fish spend in transit.

The first set of discus fish flew into London’s airport in 1948, where they became known as “strange flying saucer fish.” By the 1950s, people could cultivate discus fish successfully and on a consistent basis.

In 1956, the Skippers, the first discus fish breeders in Great Britain, established a group of brown discus that could successfully reproduce. In the 1960s, papers on the discus began to appear in scientific publications as public awareness of this new aquarium attraction rose.

Over the years, there are some variations we have seen in Discus fish coloration, patterning, and body shape, including:

  • Ghost Discus Fish: The Ghost mutation is a Brilliant Blue discus that doesn’t have vertical stress bars or body striations. They’re mostly grayish-white with white eyes, which is where the name comes from. However, you can find some of them do have a partial bar above the eye or at the tail.
  • Blue Diamonds: They are a uniform blue color with no vertical stress bars or striations or designs on the body or fins, and their eyes are red or yellow.
  • Snake Skin Discus: They feature a distinct pattern of fine lines on the forehead, face, gill plates, and pelvic fins with 12 to 18 vertical stress bars.
  • Pigeon Blood Discus: Pigeon blood originally came from Thailand and is now world-famous for its lack of horizontal stress bars with a wide array of colors, including white to yellow, bright orange, or nearly red. Also, they can also be either one solid color or have patterns of striations and spots.
  • Snow White Discus: They are white-eyed, and lack vertical bars or striations. These beautiful discus fish were brought to the market in the late 1990s.

However, nowadays we have over 50 different Discus fish strains, and the number is still growing! Some of the most common Discus fish strains include Blue Discus, Green Discus, Red Discus, Yellow Discus, Brown Discus, Leopard Discus, and Panda Discus.

With so many different variations of Discus fish, it’s no wonder they are one of the most popular fish in the aquarium trade!

Last Words

Discus fish are one of the most popular freshwater aquarium fish due to their beauty, grace, and wide array of colors. With their variations in color, patterning, and body shape, discus fish are a feast for the eyes.

I hope you enjoyed reading Discus Fish History. If you would like to learn more about keeping discus fish in your aquarium, check out our blog for more tips and information.

In case you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.