How to Breed Discus Fish?

Breeding pet fish is a challenging journey for an aquarist as he moves through various steps from mating till the birth of little fry inside his aquarium.

How to breed discus fish? When both male and female discus fish reach the age of sexual maturity, they will mate through spawning under appropriate water conditions. Feed them with a healthy diet and keep them in a peaceful environment to encourage mating.

In this article, we’ll share the possible ways to breed your discus fish. Let’s start by acknowledging how to identify the gender of discus.

HOW TO: Breed Discus fish (Video)

Gender identification of discus

It is quite obvious that the presence of both male and female discus fish inside the tank is essential to initiate the mating process. In order to do that, you must first have knowledge about identifying the gender of fish so you can ensure reproduction in your aquarium.

When a discus fish is young, it is not possible to discriminate them on the basis of gender. Their bodies are almost identical. However, you can identify the gender when their body starts changing at around 6 months of age.

You can identify the gender on the basis of:

  • Body size
  • Fin shape
  • Spawning time
  • Color & pattern

Body size

The average size of a discus is 6-8 inches. The body length of male fish is longer than the female. The male discus possesses thicker lips and forehead.

Fin shape

The dorsal fin of both genders looks similar in shape when their body length is shorter than 4 inches. But after maturing into an adult, the dorsal fin of male fish’s body becomes pointed from the corners. The dorsal fin of the female is rounded at the corners and shorter in size as compared to the male’s fin.

Spawning time

This is the best time to identify the exact gender of your discus. You can determine the sex of your discus accurately by paying close attention to the fish during spawning. Female fish would have a fatter abdomen during pregnancy and it will lay eggs later. While the male discus will swim around the eggs in order to fertilize them and keep them safe.

Also, watch the breeding tube of both fish that is located between the anus and the anal fin of both genders. The breeding tube of the female is wider and rounder than the male’s tube because it has to lay eggs.

If a female lays eggs and they never hatch, it is a sign that both fish inside the tank might be female. The eggs, in this case, would not hatch because they wouldn’t get fertilized due to the absence of a male discus fish.

Color & pattern

Another way to identify the gender of discus fish is to closely observe the color and pattern on their bodies. The female discus has lesser pattern and more vibrant colors on the body. The male fish tends to have more patterns with lesser vibrant color.

Now that you can find out the gender of your discus, let’s discuss the breeding process. To enlighten you with all the aspects related to breeding of discus, we have divided the article in following sections:

  • Breeding behavior of discus
  • Breeding tank requirements
  • How to initiate breeding
  • Spawning period
  • Growth of discus fry
  • Useful instructions to breed the discus successfully

Breeding behavior of Discus

Discus fish commence breeding on their own when they reach their sexual maturity. Female discus attains sexual maturity when it is 9 months of age while a male needs a few more months after that and starts mating when it reaches roughly 13 months of age.

Keep one male discus with several female fish when you want to breed them. The male will pair with only one of the females at a time. Once you have established a breeding pair, shift them to a breeding tank or eliminate all other fish from this tank. You can also shift the breeding pair to a separate tank.

When both male and female fish begin to form pairs, you will see them moving around together. The male fish is much likely to show off in front of the female by swimming around her and chasing her. The female gets mesmerized by this act, and as an expression of interest, she would reciprocate the male’s actions by moving around him. When you establish a breeding pair, you should keep them separate from others.

Keep in mind that it is not safe to encourage mating between new adults because early breeding can restrict the development of the fish; early pregnancy could cut down the life of a fish. It can also stunt the number of eggs you get from this fish as compared to the number of eggs you get from mature adults.

Breeding tank requirements

For successful breeding, you need to set up a tank accordingly. The perfect tank size and water conditions will build a suitable environment for breeding.  Following are the things you need to consider to setup your tank:

  • Tank size
  • Water conditions
  • Tank placement
  • Tank decoration

Tank size

Due to their very active nature, discus fish need a deep and big tank to survive cheerfully. The ideal tank size for a pair of discus fish when you want them to breed is 25 gallon or 30 gallons. It would be big enough to satisfy the requirements of both parents and fry when they are born.

But if you compromise on tank size and get a smaller tank, then your fish won’t be able to move around freely. It may stress the fish and that leads to complication in pregnancy.

Water conditions

Many aquarists choose to leave the bottom of their discus tank bare. This makes it easier for them to clean the tank rather than having sheets on the surface. Install sponge filters inside the tank to keep the water clean. Big electric filters are not suggested inside a breeding tank as their suction capacity is stronger which puts the eggs or fry in danger.

Also, fix an aquarium heater which will provide a warm and cozy water temperature for fish. The recommended water temperature for breeding of discus fish is 82°F- 88°F. The temperature level is slightly higher than the normal temperature for discus fish as it would stimulate the pair to spawn.

Change the water of the tank on a weekly basis to assure the best water quality. Use monitors to detect the pH and hardness for water.  For a breeding tank, the ideal water is soft, warm, and  a little acidic.

Tank placement

Breeding tanks should be placed in a warm and quiet place. They do not require a lot of light. A dim bulb inside the tank would do great but make sure it doesn’t get too hot. Do not place the tank under direct sunlight. However, if the tank is receiving indirect sunlight or artificial light, then you don’t need to install any bulb inside. Turn off all the lights during night time to give some rest to your fish. As for the aquarium walls, do not paint them with dark colors otherwise the newborn fry would get frightened or stressed.

Tank decoration

Keep the bottom surface of the tank bare to determine the water quality clearly. Add decorations like driftwood, plants or flat rocks inside the tank. These are not just accessories but they will also serve as the spawning surfaces.

The breeding tank of discus fish must have spawning surfaces. You will notice the breeding pair will start pecking at the selected surface to clean it prior to spawning.  You can buy breeding cones, flower pots or a section of pipe as spawning surfaces for the discus.

How to initiate breeding?

Under the right conditions and the influence of a healthy diet, an adult pair of discus fish will breed naturally. You do not have to concern yourself with trying different techniques to sex discus fish.

Breeding discus is considered hard but not impossible, so refrain from trying something that is threatening to the fish.

To ensure successful discus breeding, keep 8 adult fish inside a tank and allow them to form pairs according to their choice. This way, you will surely achieve great results.

The discus fish breed through spawning. In this article, I’ll share the complete details of spawning so it gets easier for beginner aquarists to get through the breeding period successfully.

Spawning period of discus fish

Discus fish breed through spawning which makes it very critical time for your fish. You need to give extra care to both male & female fish for successful breeding results.

While breeding discus fish, you have to keep track of the following:

  • Food
  • Overcrowding
  • Secure environment
  • Egg protection


After setting the breeding tank, the next step is to feed both fish with a variety of healthy or nutritious foods like live worms, shrimps, frozen flakes or dried food. The right amount of food will provide strength to the fish for spawning.

Change the baby discus’ meals after 1 and a half month as they get bigger and can intake extra food. Try to feed them vitamin-rich plants, vegetables, and animal protein. Healthy food will make for the deficiency of nutrients which they possess due to staying apart from parents and escalate their growth.


Besides that, you also have to provide an appropriate place for spawning inside the tank. Sometimes, due to the presence of extra fish inside the tank, the expecting fish will not be able to find a secure place for spawning.

That’s why you are not recommended to add extra fish inside the tank if your discus is expecting. If there are other fish present inside the tank, the parents will see them as a threat and end up fighting them to save the eggs from danger.

Secure environment

If you have to keep the eggs separate for their safety, then you have to take some precautionary measures to ensure the survival of the eggs and fry. For this purpose, add methylene blue into the water which will protect the eggs from fungus. But after adding it, you have to do frequent water changes until the eggs hatch.

Egg protection

After mating, the female fish will lay eggs each week for 15 days.  The first time, discus fish start by laying a few eggs on the spawning site. Right after deposition, the male fish will fertilize the eggs.  Once the process begins, the female starts laying more eggs and while the male fertilizes one group of eggs, the mother will guard the other group herself.

Following spawning, the female discus shields her eggs by fanning the surrounding water with her fins. It aids in preventing the growth of fungus on them. The parents dispose off the unfertilized eggs as they can produce harmful bacteria which are dangerous for others. The eggs hatch in 3-4 days after spawning. The newborn fry will take some days to develop until they turn into free swimmers. The newly born fry look quite like a tadpole.

If the mating pair is kept under proper care, then they can stay devoted to each other forever and produce many offspring as long as they live.

Growth of discus fry

Discus fry take some time to grow into adults and there is quite some effort involved on the aquarist’s part for this matter. We will be discussing the following points in this part:

  • Dependency of discus fry on their parents
  • Food
  • Preventing the adult fish from eating the fry

Dependency of discus fry on their parents

The fry are dependent upon their parents in the initial days after birth for food. They feed on the mucus that is present on the scales of adult discus. Adult discus releases the secretions by reprocessing the food that they eat. So, feed them with proper food to maintain the health of parents and fry.

The discus fry should be kept with the parents for 10-14 days and after that, you can separate them because they can survive on their own.


During early stages, you can feed the fry liquid food that is easily available at fish stores. Beef heart is also considered very healthy for fry but since they have a small mouth, they can hardly consume it. You can, however, grind it into a powdered form to feed it to fry.

You can also raise the fry on a diet of brine shrimp unless they grow up enough to eat chopped bloodworms and frozen flakes. The growth rate of a discus fry depends on their food intake. They will grow rapidly if you feed them with proper and healthy food at right time.

Preventing the adult fish from eating the fry

It is a common behavior of aquarium fish to eat their own fry. The discus fish is not prone to show this behavior but in some cases, you can see a young pair of discus eating the eggs or newly born fry.

If the adults in your tank eat your discus fish egg or fry, then you can either place them in a separate tank or screen the eggs to limit the adult fish’s reach to them. It will preserve the eggs until they get hatched and the fry are able to swim on their own.

Meanwhile, the parent fry will bond with the fry by watching the eggs hatch and they will less likely eat their own babies. A screen can be made up with plastic fencing around the spawning surface.

It is important to note that the survival rate of discus fry becomes low if you keep them separate from parents.

Useful instructions to breed the discus

Following is a step-by-step guide to breed discus fish successfully:

  1. Keep several fish together to ensure the presence of both genders
  2. Keep the fish in a spacious tank
  3. Adjust the levels of nitrates, ammonia, and nitrites
  4. Test the water conditions regularly
  5. Keep the tank clean all the time
  6. Change tank water on a regular basis. 10% of water change daily and 30 % bi-weekly
  7. Feed animal protein to your fish
  8. Install spawning surfaces inside the tank
  9. Look out for a mating pair
  10. Add few drops of methylene blue into the water to secure the eggs
  11. Install sponge filters to raise the fry safely

Related questions

Which other fish are the best tankmates for discus? You can house discus with various other breeds which can adjust to the same water conditions. They can share the tank with small tetra fish like cardinal tetras, neon tetras, ember tetras, rummy nose tetras, and harlequin tetras. However, mixing discus with large and aggressive fish breeds like Oscar is not suitable.

 What are the symptoms of a sick discus fish? By having a closer look at your fish’s body, you can detect if it is sick. When the discus is breathing hard, it usually has a disease called “gill flukes”; the tiny holes in the head indicate ‘hole in the head’ disease; if the head is bigger than body then it has ‘stomach parasites’; dark-colored fish or folded fins also indicate sickness.

How can I prevent my discus from getting sick? While you are keeping discus fish, you have to be extremely careful about tank cleaning, maintaining the water conditions, and feeding the fish appropriate food. Discus is a very sensitive fish and can get sick instantly due to your negligence. If you see your fish and notice something unusual, immediately consult a fish expert. Also, keep the infected fish separated from other fish.


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