Are Discus Fish Hardy?

By Nadine Oraby | 2020 Update

If you have never kept a fish before, then you need to know this; selecting a ‘hardy’ fish is important. Fish that are classified as ‘hardy’ are easy to care for, require minimal maintenance and can survive in most water conditions.

Are discus fish hardy? No, a discus is a sensitive and demanding fish which is not recommended for beginners. However, with thorough understanding of the water parameters, aquarists with limited experience can meet the needs of this beautiful, bright-colored fish.

Belonging to the ‘Cichlid’ family, the discus is often referred as the ‘king of aquarium’ for their colorful and graceful appearance. Although the discus sold today is captive bred and much easier to take care for, their high-maintenance nature does require extra precaution from the aquarists.

If they are your choice for your aquarium, the following overview will help you determine if the discus and you are a good match.

Housing the discus

Native to the Amazon River, the discus prefers well-planted aquariums with lots of long-stemmed plants, foreground greenery, and driftwood.

Alternatively, some aquarists also choose to keep discus in a bare bottomed tank. Although, this may not seem aesthetically appealing, but expert fish-keepers find this tactic to be more convenient for cleaning. Moreover, a bare bottomed tank is highly recommended when you are breeding the discus as this offers a safe environment for the fry and keeps the water quality stable.

Because of their size, a tall aquarium works best for the discus. It also needs to be large—very large as these colorful fish grow extensively in size. In fact, it is recommended that you keep a tank of minimum 50 gallons for a community for 4-6 discus.

Additionally, you may need to separate an adult breeding couple as discus can become quite territorial when mating. A 29-gallon aquarium is sufficient for the couple.

Tip: Many of us, especially children have a habit of knocking at the aquarium glass. Avoid the urge to do so if you have a discus in your tank. The knocking can stress the fish, frighten them, and may even cause illness.

Discus Fish Care Guide FOR BEGINNERS (Video)

Water parameters

In the wild, the discus is used to the clean, soft and slightly acidic water of the South American river. In the captivity, they also prefer similar conditions which include the following:

  • Temperature
  • pH and hardness levels
  • Ammonia and nitrate levels
  • Water change

Temperature

The ideal temperature for the discus is between 82 and 88 degrees Fahrenheit. Use of a water heater is recommended for the optimal temperature.

Moreover, if you plan to house other fish along with the discus, make sure to use the same temperature-bound fish such as the Rummynose tetras, catfish, and the German blue ram.

pH and hardness levels

The ideal pH level for the discus is between 6 and 7. Anything above 7 and below 6 can cause stress in the fish.

Hardness should be between 1dH and 8dH to mimic the soft water conditions of the Amazon River.

Ammonia and Nitrate levels

Presence of ammonia in the water can be distressing for the discus and requires immediate water change. The levels of ammonia should always be 0 ppm.

Similarly, any nitrate level above 20 ppm can be harmful for the discus fish. You can lower the levels by adding more aquatic plants and removing decaying matter.

Water change

As a member of the Cichlid family, the discus is a messy eater and contributes significantly to the nitrate accumulation in the aquarium.

On the other hand, they also prefer a clean environment that means frequent water changes by the aquarists.

For the discus to thrive, a water change between 25 – 50% is necessary each week.

Tip: Test the water parameters regularly and be confident enough to make the adjustments according to the demands of this unique fish.

Feeding the fish

It comes as a surprise to many, but truthfully discus are ‘big eaters’ and can tolerate a varied diet processed and frozen live food. Give them beef hearts and bloodworms as occasional treats. However, be careful as they pollute the tank greatly and may even carry harmful parasites.

Make sure to supplement the diet with quality flakes and pellets for the right dose of vitamins and minerals.

Tip: Feed your discus fish three times a day and only give them what they can eat in five minutes.

Behavior of the discus fish

Unlike other fish, discus generally possesses a friendly and peaceful nature. They usually get along with their own kind and are happy to swim around in suitable water conditions. However, they can become aggressive when spawning and we recommend separating the ‘discus couple’ to a separate tank until the mating process is over.

The discus is also a very reactive fish and can react to any activity in the room including your presence. Keep the tank in a quiet place where activity is minimal. Even shadows, vibration, and sudden sounds can frighten the fish and make them jumpy.

Tip: Discus is a shoaling fish and one should never keep a discus alone. It is best that you keep them in a group of five or six as this will make them feel more secure. As we mentioned above, a mating couple can be kept in a separate tank to avoid hostility between tank mates and danger to the newborn.

House companions for the discus fish

Expert aquarists do not mix their discus with other species and prefer keeping them with a group of discus fish only. However, discus is a cordial companion of many other types of fish including tetras, neons, clown loaches, and dwarf cichlids. All of these fish are prone to high temperatures—similar to the water requirements of discus.

Breeding discus

Unlike other freshwater aquarium fish, the breeding level of discus is difficult. In fact, they require coaxing of months—even years to start reproducing.

Their breeding requires specific water conditions. Some experts claim to be successful breeders by using a shallow tank for the couple. Moreover, replicating the ‘warm summer’ climate of the Amazon is a common way to initiate the mating process.

To set up a spawning tank, make sure the water temperature is around 86 degrees Fahrenheit. The water should also be stable with pH level not extending 6.5. Soft water conditions with hardness between 1-4 DH are optimal for breeding while regular water change and elimination of wastes is necessary.

To keep your fish healthy during the mating process, feed them a variety of protein-rich food along with tropical granules for the nourishment.

Care for the mother and the baby

Some freshwater fish are livebearers. This means that they give birth to fry that are ready to swim and feed on their own as soon as they are born.

However, discus fish are not livebearers and lay eggs that are hatched within 48 hours. As a responsible breeder, provide them with a hard surface in the form of an overturned clay pot or a plastic cone to lay eggs on.

If coupled successfully, the discus can lay eggs every week for up to fifteen weeks.

Before the eggs hatch, the parent discus constantly cares for the eggs by fanning them for aeration. Once the eggs hatch, the fry instinctively feed off a secretion from the mother for another 48 hours after which it is free to swim and eat independently.

This is an extremely rewarding time as discus mate for life and are generally responsible parents. They take good care of their fry but it is recommended that you remove the baby fish from their parents after it is a week old to avoid aggression towards its parents.

Conclusion

Although, they are not as hardy as other freshwater aquarium fish, discus is a fun addition to your aquarium. They are one of the most colorful fish and provide an appealing sight.

Nevertheless, they are not hardy and experts do not recommend novice aquarist to start their fish-keeping journey with a discus fish.

However, if you are keen on trying your luck with the discus, we recommend that you educate yourself fully regarding the care guidelines of this type of fish. We guarantee that with extra care, patience, and determination, you too can enjoy discus fish to the fullest.

Related questions

Are discus fish expensive? Yes, discus is amongst some of the most expensive aquarium fish. High-quality fish of their kind are hard to find and their specific water conditions add up to their expenses. Additionally, the requirement of a large aquarium and different water monitoring tools increases their expense, making discus an inappropriate fish for complete beginners.

Should you quarantine discus before adding them to the aquarium? Definitely! Make sure to quarantine every fish that you add to the community tank as on many occasions, the fish can carry parasites, bacteria, and other harmful substances.

How to check the discus you purchase for diseases? Make sure you purchase fish from a reputed dealer who is an expert in discus breeding. It is also a good idea to keep new fish separate for 2-3 weeks for any sign of illness before putting them with the other fish.

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