How to Enhance Discus Fish Color?

The color changing phenomenon in Discus fish is not only fascinating but also an indicator of its health and situation. Various factors govern the color change from stress to lighting color to the types of plants in the aquarium.

So, how to enhance my discus fish color? There are various methods of enhancing color in discus fish. From hormonal methods to food coloring to aquarium setting and lighting, all of these can be used to enhance the color of your discus fish. Also, never forget to keep the fish stress-free or else it will start darkening in color.

If you are looking for ways to enhance the color of your discus fish, dive in to get some helpful techniques and methods.

Food Coloring

One of the most common methods used by the aquarists to enhance the color of their discus is food coloring. The red coloration is usually achieved by adding high carotene foods like beet juice, shrimp or lobster roe, paprika, astaxanthin, ground marigolds, etc. to prepare food.

Food coloring has rather astounding effects on a discus. When a dull fish is fed food that contains astaxanthin, it can turn tomato red within a matter of time. However, color enhancement due to food is only temporary. For instance, I had a discus female who laid bright red eggs, and almost all of them were fertile. Although the fish itself wasn’t a true red discus. Rather it was a Symphysodon aequifasciata axelrodi (brown discus). I noticed that I had been feeding it with freshwater shrimp eggs (Macrobrachium) which enhanced its color to red. The red color of both the fish and the eggs lasted for about three weeks and then started fading away.

In a nutshell, the color-fed discus fish will require the coloring agents to be a part of its diet constantly if you wish the color to stay the same or it will begin to fade away. Coloring foods are already available in the market that has coloring agents incorporated in the prepared foods. There haven’t been any side effects or ill effects of using these foods for your fish so far.

Hormonal Methods

Hormonal methods have been used by the aquarists to induce and enhance color in fish since long. For decades, hobby guppy breeders have been using this method to enhance the female fish colors to make them look more attractive and hence selected for line breeding. As it is believed that a colorful female most probably engenders colorful mates. This statistic is well-documented as well.
Fran Alger has discussed his preparation method for the hormones in Mervin Roberts’ book called Fancy Guppies which was published in 1957. The method is as follows:

  1. Take 1/10th of a gram of methyltestosterone and dissolve it in a half cup of 70% alcohol.
  2. Next, take a quart bottle and transfer this alcoholic solution to it.
  3. Add water to the solution in the quart bottle and shake it well. The stock solution is ready.
  4. You must add six drops of this stock solution to 3 gallons of water every other day.
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The treatment is recommended to be continued for four weeks in order to bring out the hidden colors. This method is used by the breeders to make discus more sellable.

Coloring Insights

The use of hormones to enhance the color of fish is questioned by many. One of the most common reason is quite evident. Since the young discus is dull and colorless. Although the pigeon blood is a bit more attractive they still appear to be unappealing to most.

An average aquarist would most probably past by their tank in a pet store unless they are particularly interested in the discus species. So, the pet stores use hormonal methods to make them look flashy and compete with other attractive fish.

Even some breeders resort to the hormone-altered and color-treated discus to sell it. However, a breeder who believes in producing excellent quality discus will never go through such lengths to sell their fish when they know its true worth. They understand the nature of the discus fish pretty well that they are like flowers which require proper nurturing environment and habitat to blossom slowly.

Hormone-treated Discus fades in Color

The issue with the hormone-treated discus fish is that this method is also temporary and the color will fade away until and unless you keep adding the hormone to the water. However, prolonged exposure to hormone can have poisonous effects. For instance, it can render the female guppies infertile.

The problem is that hormone-treated fish will fade unless the hormone continues to be added to the water. But prolonged hormone use can have deleterious effects. For example, in female guppies, it can cause sterility.

Hormones may not be entirely bad. They can be used to induce adult color in the younger fish to allow them to be selected for future breeding. For instance, hormones cannot induce a color that the fish can’t have as an adult. The only problem with hormone-induction is the prolonged use which starts to have negative effects on the fish particularly sterility. Luckily, most of the breeders and dealers are aware of this fact and stop the hormones before any damage is done.


Since hormones are controlled substances, so they need to be handled with extreme care and guidance. This fact is not widely understood. Although hormone-treated discus can bring more enthusiasts into this hobby since aquarists are fascinated by bright colors. But it is the duty of the dealer to let the aquarist know of the hormone treatment or else it would be a fraud. They must also let them know that this color will fade away gradually, but that doesn’t mean the discus will not have bright colors naturally. The ideal solution is to educate the aquarists and hobbyists about the true colors of the discus fish so that they don’t have unrealistic expectations of the future colors.

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Natural Method

The natural method of enhancing the colors of the discus fish is by providing it with the conditions as close to its natural habitat as possible. These include the quality of the water, lighting, enough hiding places with plantation and pebbles, etc., and a group of fellow discus fish. You must also ensure that the discus isn’t under any sort of stress due to factors like bullying, transportation, noisy background, inappropriate lighting, etc. Stress can make the discus sick and darken its colors as well. So, ensure to provide your discus fish with the most favorable conditions to enhance its colors naturally.

Related Questions

Why the discus fish turns dark? Usually, the Discus turns dark when it is stressed or sick. First of all, make sure that the water parameters of your tank are at their best at all times. You will need to have frequent water changes with discus. It is also possible that your discus is being bullied by its fellow discus fish, in that case, provide it with more hiding places and introduce special vitamins in its diet to help it cope with the stress.

When do Discus Fish develop their colors? When the discus fish hatch and start swimming, they all appear almost similar to a brown body and large black eyes. As they start growing and take shape at the size of 1 to 1-1/2 inch, all the colors of Discus fry and take an orange or burnt reddish shade. At 2 to 3-1/2 inch size, they start showing about 10% of their inherited colors. At one year old and 4 to 5 inches in size, they show 70% of their inherited colors while it takes a discus two years to develop its true colors and patterns.

Why do Discus Fish Have Black Spots (Peppering) Black spots are also known as peppering, appeared with the introduction of a new strain called the Pigeonblood discus which happened in the early ’90s. Before this strain, discus had nine vertical black bars that helped them camouflage. However, this new mutation displayed black freckles on its face and body. This change can be referred to as a genetic mutation and not at all a disease to be treated.

The freckles keep fading and appearing depending on the mood of the Discus as well as its surroundings. If the aquarium has a dark bottom, the freckles will start appearing and become pronounced. On the other hand, if you have a light background for the aquarium, the freckles will start to disappear just like the vertical bars did. Breeders selectively breed the Pigeonblood Discus in order to produce Discus with more vibrant colors and reduced black spots or freckles.

This practice is also known as ‘clean’ which allows the fish to display brighter colors and lesser freckles which usually fade the colors. This doesn’t mean that lesser freckles are desirable, but this practice of selective breeding is used to offer a range of choices.

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Nadine Oraby

My name is Nadine; I am a passionate writer and a pet lover. People usually call me by the nickname “Joy” because they think that I am a positive and joyful person who is a child at heart. My love for animals triggered me to create this blog. Articles are written by vets, pet experts, and me. Thanks for visiting. Your friend, Nadine!

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