Discus Fish Breeding Guide

Did you know that 75% of discus fish breeding attempts fail?

You may be shocked by the high percentage, but the fact is that Discus are difficult to maintain and breed, and most people won’t have a good survival rate on your first try.

To be honest, we are one of those who failed a lot before finally mastering the art of breeding this stubborn fish.

And if you are reading this now, you are already on the right track to get successful breeding.

The rest of this article is our ten years’ experience on how to breed discus fish from how to select the right pair to the point you are watching your new babies swimming freely.

So, without further ado, let’s jump into the first step.

1. Selecting a Breeding Pair

Discus fish sex is difficult to distinguish visually, and it’s especially hard right before they mature.

The most obvious distinctions between the two genders are that adult males have thicker lips and are more inclined to be aggressive, but there aren’t any additional signals until mating begins.

And due to the uncertainty of who is a male and who is a female, it’s best to start with a group of six or more juvenile discus fish, raise them together, and wait for them to form pairs.

Female discus fish reach sexual maturity at 12 months of age, whereas males require a few more months to mature, and this is exactly the time when you’ll see some of them pairing up.

When they reach sexual maturity, keep an eye out for a pair of discus fish that are trying to establish their own territory.

If this pair begins defending their territory against other fish, or if they start pecking at the glass, then it might be an indication that they’re ready to spawn.

2. Prepare a Breeding Tank

One of the reasons why many fish breeders fail is because they don’t provide a good breeding tank.

A lot of beginners might think that just putting some pebbles at the bottom of the tank, placing some artificial plants inside, and adding a few heater tubes is enough to prepare a breeding tank.

However, there are many critical components you need to provide before spawning your discus fish.

In this section, we will discuss all of these crucial components in detail.

a. Water Parameters

1. Water Change

Water changes are necessary especially during the breeding season to maintain water quality.

The key is to change enough water so that none of the parents are affected by the decaying organic substances.

Change 10% of the water every day, or 20–30% of the water twice a week, to keep the tank as clean as possible while breeding the discus.

Note: If the tank’s sides need cleaning, do so before replacing the water.

2. Water Temperature

To provide ideal breeding conditions, the temperature in your aquarium should be between 82 and 88 degrees Fahrenheit (27.7 and 31.2 Celsius).

As a result, you will need to install an aquarium heater to keep the temperature constant in this range.

This is a few degrees above the typically recommended range for discus fish, which should encourage them to breed.

3. pH Level

pH can affect how easily fish lay eggs.

The pH level in the breeding tank should be stable at around 6.5 pH, never rising to 7.0 or higher, meaning that you may have to adjust your regular pH level upward with a chemical solution for this purpose.

You should also inspect the water’s mineral content. According to experts, it should be between 100 and 200 microsiemens.

4. Nitrites, Nitrates, and Ammonia

Discus fish are very sensitive to these compounds, and they can quickly become sick and unable to breed.

Therefore, you need to test the water regularly for these compounds. 

If your nitrite or ammonia levels are above 0 ppm, or if your nitrate levels are at least 20 ppm, the water may be harmful to your fish.

So, you must do water changes to keep these levels at bay.

b. Tank Setup

1. Tank Size

When the breeding pair is ready, you’d better prepare your tank to suit these picky species.

As a rule of thumb, you must keep your discus fish in a spacious aquarium.

But why?

The answer is very simple. If discus are kept in a container that is too small, they are unlikely to breed.

Keep two discus in a tank with a capacity of at least 50 gallons (191 liters).

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

2. Tank Filter

A discus breeding tank should have a filter that produces a gentle flow to keep the water in good shape.

If it’s too strong, your discus fish might get hurt, but if the filter isn’t strong enough, the tank will become dirty quickly.

Therefore, you should choose a filter that can maintain appropriate water flow without causing disruption.

Sponge filters are an excellent source of mechanical and biological filtration, and they won’t create strong enough suction to harm eggs or newly hatched fry.

3. Spawning Zones

Discus fish prefer to lay their eggs on broad, flat surfaces, so make sure you have a variety of options in your breeding tank.

Broad-leafed plants, pieces of driftwood, or flat rocks to serve as spawning surfaces are all welcome additions to the breeding tank.

If you don’t offer plats, rocks, or other spawning surfaces, your discus fish may just drop their eggs against the tank wall.

However, surfaces low to the ground, such as those previously mentioned, can encourage fish to lay eggs and make egg removal easier if you intend to remove them.

3. Provide Your Fish with a Well-Balanced Diet.

When breeding discus, the food that your fish eat plays a critical role.

And choosing the proper foods for them is what you should pay attention to.

Mosquito larvae, adult brine shrimp, or white worms are ideal for supplying adult discus with the nutrients they require to breed.

Additionally, you need to give them vitamin cocktails, powdered spinach, spirulina, or high-quality flake food on occasion for extra nutrients.

Live foods are also essential. However, if live food is not accessible, feed them beef heart or, as a last resort, flakes that are high in animal protein.

Note: Collecting live food from freshwater is more likely to spread disease to your fish.

Many aquarium hobbyists obtain healthy, disease-free animals from a reputable source and then grow the live food at home for additional protection.

4. Watch for Mated Pairs

When the time is right for spawning, you’ll be able to tell.

A pair of discus fish will begin to hang out together in a corner, cleaning a spawning area, and chasing away any other fish that come near.

Also, female discus fish begin to show their bellies, which are swollen with eggs, and the males become very aggressive when protecting their mates.

At this stage, you can easily realize that your discus is about to lay their eggs.

When your discus fish lay their eggs in the prepared breeding site, the male immediately fertilizes them.

Then, the female begins to deposit greater groups of eggs as the spawning progresses, and she will take over the site’s protection while the male fertilizes them.

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

Within 50 and 60 hours after fertilization, the eggs should hatch, and the fry will take a few days to mature before they can swim freely.

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

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

It’s conceivable that discus bred in captivity are better parents than those raised by their own, which might be beneficial if you intend to continue breeding fish for many generations.

Also, raising the young “fry” with their parents will improve survival rates significantly which can prolong their life cycles.

However, some discus parents may consume eggs or fry, or spread disease, so you will need to assess the situation before deciding whether or not you want these fish to raise their young.

This choice should be carefully considered, as it will have a major impact on how many offspring you can expect to have.

In this section, we will discuss both, so whether you intend to raise the young on your own, or with your parents, you will be able to make an informed decision.

a. Raising Discus with Parents

1. Keep an Eye on the Eggs

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

Note: If you see the parents eating the eggs, move them and follow the instructions for raising the discus without parents.

2. Reduce Water Levels

The fry should be able to detach and move to the parents’ sides within a few days of hatching, where they will eat the parents’ skin.

You can improve the chances of the fry finding their parents by lowering the water levels to around 9 inches (25cm) for a short time.

Note: If the fry try to feed on the surface where the unhatched eggs were attached, you must quickly remove them.

3. Provide These Little Guys with a Suitable Diet

When the fry have swum freely for about four days, start feeding them a tiny bit of live baby brine shrimp four times a day. If you can’t use live, frozen is fine.

It’s also crucial to remove dead shrimp from the water if they haven’t already been eaten on the same day to maintain the aquarium clean.

Note: use a medium-slow bubble on the airstone to get the frozen baby brine shrimp moving around the aquarium, or the fry may not recognize it as food.

4. Change their Diet After Six Weeks

At the age of six weeks, the fry can consume a wider range of foods.

Try to offer them animal protein as well as vegetables that are high in vitamin E.

Note: you can move the fry to a new tank once they reach this age.

This Step may be required to prevent overpopulation.

b. Raising Discus without Parents

1. Move the Eggs into a New Tank

If you decide not to allow the parents to raise their young, remove the eggs or fry immediately.

But, before you transfer the eggs to a new tank, double-check that it has all of the same water qualities as described in the section on encouraging breeding.

Note: If the eggs are deposited on the floor of the tank, rather than on a pipe or spawning cone, you’ll need to relocate the adult fish instead.

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

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

It might take a few days for the fry to move away from the egg zone and begin swimming freely.

3. Ideally, feed them from a clean source of rotifers. 

Rotifers are tiny organisms that may be found in ponds, which are ideal for feeding your newly hatched fry.

However, rotifers collected in the natural environment might be contaminated with dangerous diseases. Instead, get a supply of clean rotifers from an aquarium shop.

Note: rotifers may reproduce on their own, making precise feeding instructions difficult.

Feed the fry tiny dabs (about the size of a blunt pencil point) ten or more times a day, or as directed on the rotifer container.

4. Make Your Own Mixture

Many breeders place egg yolk to the side of the tank for the fry to feed on.

This might result in slower growth than the rotifers technique, but it may be less expensive or simpler.

For extra nutrition, mix other discus food like spirulina and newborn brine shrimp into the egg yolk.

Also, you may need to combine both hard-boiled and raw egg yolks together in order for them to stay put on the tank’s surface.

5. Feed Your Fry Ordinary Food

After six weeks of living off a diet of rotifers, you can switch your fry to ordinary fish flakes, pellets, or even live brine shrimp.

However, make sure the food you feed them is quality food since these species are picky when it comes to nutrition.

Last Words

Too many people simply throw their discus in a tank and feed them whatever they eat, and don’t care for their water parameters, and wait for them to pair and lay eggs!

This method of breeding is often unsuccessful, and sometimes fatal and will never lead to anything useful.

If you really need to breed your discus, make sure that you have applied all our steps carefully, and you will see a lot of success!

We hope you have enjoyed this article as much as we did.

If you still have any questions, please share them with us in the comment section below.