Breeding Guide

Discus Fish Breeding Guide

Did you know that 75% of discus fish breeding attempts fail? You may be shocked by the high failure rate, but Discus are stubborn fish that have very specific requirements for spawning.

To be honest, I’ve gone through a lot of trials and errors with my own breeding attempts before finally mastering the art of breeding this stubborn fish.

In this guide, I will share my years of experience with you from a beginner’s perspective, and show you how to set up a successful breeding environment for your discus fish.

1. Selecting a Breeding Pair

The most important step in the breeding process is choosing a compatible breeding pair. You should select a mature male and female discus that are both healthy and well-fed.

However, telling the difference between a male and female discus can be tricky.

The most significant differences between the two genders are that adult males have thicker lips and tend to be more aggressive. Unfortunately, there aren’t any other signals until mating season.

To avoid any confusion, I suggest starting with a group of six or more juvenile discus fish and allowing them to pair off naturally.

Male and female discus fish have different sexual maturity rates, with females reaching it at 12 months while males take a few extra months.

Once they reach sexual maturity, you’ll notice them starting to pair off and become territorial over other fish in the community tank.

If you see this pair of fish defending their area against others or start to peck at the glass, it might be a clear sign that they’re ready to mate.

2. Prepare a Breeding Tank

Not providing an adequate environment is one of the primary reasons why discus breeding fails.

In my first years of breeding, I used to set up a regular community tank and expect the pair to mate. But as you can probably guess, that didn’t work out too well.

You cannot just randomly put some pebbles at the bottom of the tank, place some artificial plants inside, add a few heater tubes, and expect the pair to mate!

In fact, discus fish have very specific environmental needs that you must meet if you want to increase your chances of breeding them successfully.

I’ll go over the most important breeding requirements that you need to create below:

Water Parameters

1. Water Change

Water quality is the key to having the least failure rate while breeding discus fish. The parents can be highly sensitive to poor water conditions, and the fry is even more delicate.

To maintain stable water conditions for your breeding tank, you need to do a partial water change of 10% every day, or 20–30% twice a week.

Also, if there is any decaying organic material in the tank, remove it immediately since it may lead to a rapid deterioration of water quality.

When you change the water, make sure to inspect the glass or sides if there is any build-up of algae or other waste. If you see any, make sure to clean it off as well.

2. Water Temperature

The dumpiest mistake I did when I first started breeding was not keeping the water warm enough!

To encourage spawning, you should keep the water temperature between 82 and 88 degrees Fahrenheit (27.7 and 31.2 Celsius).

In case your home isn’t warm enough, you can use an aquarium heater to maintain the correct water temperature for your discus fish.

3. pH Level

The pH level has an influence on how quickly discus fish lay eggs and whether they will hatch. Therefore, you should maintain the pH of your breeding aquarium at about 6.5.

Always be cautious about rising the pH level above 7.0. To keep the pH in check, you may buy a chemical solution specifically designed for this purpose.

Also, keep an eye on the mineral content in the water since it may affect the pH. You should keep it between 100 and 200 micro siemens.

4. Nitrites, Nitrates, and Ammonia

High levels of nitrites, nitrates, or ammonia are very dangerous for discus fish and can stop them from spawning altogether.

The correct levels for breeding discus fish are:

To achieve these levels, you’ll need to do regular water changes and monitor the parameters carefully.

In addition, you can use a water test kit to measure the levels of these chemicals in your breeding tank. For my setup, I like to use the API Freshwater Master Test Kit.

Tank Setup

1. Tank Size

A pair of discus are very protective when it comes to their territorial space and can even become aggressive to other fish.

To minimize the stress on them and give them enough room to mate, you should set up a breeding tank that is at least 50 gallons (191 liters) for one pair.

However, if you have four to six discus fish, use a container with a capacity of at least 70 gallons (265 liters).

2. Tank Filter

A breeding tank without proper filtration and oxygenation is a recipe for disaster! Your spawning pair need gentle water flow with plenty of oxygen to feel comfortable and lay eggs.

To provide an excellent source of mechanical and biological filtration, you can use sponge filters or canister filters. For my breeding tanks, I personally like to use the Fluval Nano Canister Filter.

As for oxygenation, you can either use an air stone that generates tiny bubbles and regular water circulation.

3. Spawning Zones

It’s critical to create spawning zones suitable for your discus fish to lay their eggs. They prefer to deposit their eggs on broad or flat surfaces, so make sure you have a range of options in your breeding tank.

To serve as a spawning zone, you can use broad-leafed plants, pieces of driftwood, or flat rocks.

A plus, you can use upturned tall flower pots, a breeding cone from an aquarium store, or a short piece of PVC pipe.

These low elevated surfaces promote egg-laying in fish and make it simpler to remove the eggs if that’s your goal.

Moreover, keeping the fish tank in a peaceful quiet setting will improve the chances of successful breeding.

3. Provide Your Fish With a Well-Balanced Diet

Of course setting up a breeding tank with the correct size, shape, and accessories is vital for breeding success.

But if you want to give your discus fish the best chance of reproducing, you should provide them with a well-balanced diet.

Live foods are an excellent way to achieve this, and luckily there are many options available.

My personal favorites are adult brine shrimp, mosquito larvae, or white worms. Also, you can use freeze-dried or frozen foods as long as they’re high quality.

If you cannot find any live food, you can feed your fish beef heart or flakes that are rich in animal protein.

As for veggies, you can feed your discus vitamin cocktails, powdered spinach, or spirulina. Be sure to blanch the veggies before feeding them to your fish.

Note: Always avoid collecting live food from freshwater sources. This is more likely to spread disease to your fish.

4. Watch for Mated Pairs

The pre-spawn activities of a mated Discus pair are quite spectacular, making it easy to tell when spawning time is near.

One of the more unique “dances” you may observe is the “bow,” which occurs when the male and female face one another from a distance at the bottom of the tank. They approach one another, both pushing themselves forward at a 45-degree angle.

After they meet, they will continue down diagonally at a 45-degree angle until each is in the other’s starting position.

Once they finish, the pair will spend time in a corner together, cleaning a spawning area and chasing away any other fish that come close.

After spawning, female discus fish exhibit their bellies, which are full of eggs, and males become violently aggressive in order to defend their mates.

At this stage in the process, your little girl will lay their eggs in the breeding site you prepared earlier. The male fish then fertilize them immediately.

After they’ve spawned, the discus fish will defend their eggs, fanning the water with their fins to prevent fungus from growing.

To prevent fungus from growing, the fish will fan the eggs with their fins. A plus, this will help in aerating the eggs and promoting growth.

Within 50 and 60 hours after fertilization, the eggs will hatch into living fry. After a few days, the fry will begin to swim freely in the tank.

Pro Tip: Add a few drops of methylene blue to the tank to prevent bacteria and fungus from attacking the eggs.

5. Decide Whether to Raise the Young Discus Alone or With the Parents.

It’s sure that discus bred in captivity are better parents than those raised on their own, which would be helpful if you want to continue breeding fish for many generations.

Also, raising the young fry with their parents would improve their survival rates significantly and can extend their lifespan.

However, some parents may lack their parental instinct and end up eating their own babies.

In this case, you should probably remove the fry to a separate tank for raising. This choice will have a big impact on how many offspring you can expect, so choose carefully.

But don’t worry, I’ll state both methods in detail so that you can make an informed decision!

Raising Discus With Parents

1. Keep an Eye on the Eggs

After two or three days, the eggs should hatch. The newborn fish generally stay attached to the egg site for a few hours.

However, if you see the parents eating the eggs, remove them and follow the instructions for raising the discus without parents.

2. Reduce Water Levels

Within a few days of hatching, the fry will be able to detach and move to swim next to their parents. They will eat their skin for nutrition.

For a better chance of fry locating their parents, lower the water levels to approximately 9 inches (25cm) for a limited time.

3. Provide These Little Guys With a Suitable Diet

After the baby fish acclimate to their new surroundings for around four days, you can start feeding them smaller portions of live baby brine shrimp. If you don’t have access to live shrimp, frozen is an adequate substitute.

Also, be sure to remove any uneaten shrimp after every feeding to prevent fouling the water.

To get the frozen baby brine shrimp moving around the aquarium, you can a medium-slow bubble on the airstone. Otherwise, the fry may not recognize it as food.

4. Change Their Diet After Six Weeks

At six weeks old, the fry can eat a wider variety of foods. You can start feeding them animal protein as well as vegetables that are high in vitamin E.

Once the fry discus fish reach this age, you can move them to a new tank with similar water conditions as their parents. This step is necessary to keep your discus healthy and to prevent inbreeding.

Raising Discus Without Parents

1. Move the Eggs into a New Tank

If you decide to separate the fry from their parents, you must remove the eggs or the fry immediately.

Before you move the eggs to a new tank, double-check that it has the same water conditions as outlined in the section on encouraging breeding.

On the other hand, if the eggs are placed on the floor of the aquarium instead of a pipe or breeding cone, you should transfer the adult fish.

Since trying to transfer the eggs in this situation is too risky, and you may accidentally damage them.

2. Wait Until the Young Fish Are Able to Swim Freely

After a couple of days, the eggs will hatch, and the tiny discus will feed on their yolk sacs for a few days.

As mentioned before, the fry will move away from the egg zone and begin swimming freely within a few days.

3. Feed Them From a Clean Source of Rotifers

Rotifers are tiny creatures that dwell in ponds and are ideal for feeding fry. You can purchase a live culture of rotifers online or from a pet store.

It’s unsafe to collect rotifers from the natural environment because they might be contaminated with dangerous diseases and parasites.

For safe feeding frequency, you can give the fry tiny dabs (about the size of a blunt pencil point) ten or more times each day, or as directed on the rotifer container.

4. Make Your Own Mixture

You can mix other discus food items like spirulina and newborn brine shrimp into the egg yolk for extra nutrition.

Also, you can mix hard-boiled and raw egg yolks to keep them from sliding off the tank’s surface. This method will ensure that the fry gets a nutritious diet and their growth isn’t stunted.

5. Feed Your Fry Ordinary Food

After six weeks of feeding your fry rotifers, you can begin to switch their diet to ordinary fish flakes, pellets, or even live brine shrimp.

However, make sure you’re providing them with high-quality food since these species are picky about their diet.

Some Tips & Tricks!

  • You can use garlic to entice your discus pair to eat, even the pickiest of them.
  • An HMA unit will provide the right water conditions for a breeding pair. Not only does it remove chlorine, but also dissolved heavy metals and additives that are safe for humans in small quantities but deadly to our fish in large doses.
  • After the first week, only feed freshly brined shrimp for just one more week then you can switch to the beef heart, garlic, vitamins, and shrimp mix


How Long Do Female Discus Fish Carry Eggs?

Female discus fish can carry eggs 6-8 days after breeding.

How Many Fry Do Discus Fish Have?

Discus fish can lay up to 400 eggs at a time. However, not all of these eggs will hatch, and not all fry will survive.

What Is the Difference Between Female and Male Discus Fish?

Adult male discus fish has thick lips and exhibit aggressive behavior during breeding. Meanwhile, female discus fish have thinner lips and are less aggressive.

Why Have Most Attempts at Breeding Failed?

One of the main reasons why most attempts at breeding have failed is because the babies don’t eat the right food.

Another typical reason for failure is that the baby fish live in opaque water. The water should be clear and free of chemicals and pollutants.

Lastly, many breeders separate the fry from their parents too early. It’s important to wait until the fry are at least six weeks old before moving them to a new tank.

What Is the Fry Discus Growth Rate?

Depending on the strain, discus fish usually grow about ¾ to 1 inch per month. However, keep in mind that this is only a general guide and not an absolute for all types of discus.

How Much Is a Discus Worth?

Proven breeding pairs of discus fish typically sell for anywhere from $200 to over $1000, depending on the rareness of their colors.

If you’re working with a smaller budget and want to get the most bang for your buck, I recommend starting by buying juvenile discus fish.

Where Can I Buy Discus Fish?

If you’re looking to buy discus fish, I recommend checking out your local fish store or searching for a reputable breeder in your area. Also, you can find many reputable breeders and suppliers online.

How Often Should I Feed My Discus?

The answer to this question really depends on the age of your fish, as follows:

  • Under 3 months of age: Ten to twelve times per day
  • 3 to 12 months of age: Five times per day
  • Over 12 months of age: Two to three times per day

Last Words

Discus breeding is not an easy task and requires a lot of dedication, time, and effort. However, the rewards are definitely worth it!

I hope that this guide has given you the information and confidence you need to start breeding discus fish. If you have any additional questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section below.

Happy breeding!