Breeding Discus Fish

Discus are quite difficult to care for and breed, and you may not achieve a high survival rate for the young on your first attempt. One feature not found in most other aquarium species is the young fish's instinct to feed from the parents' skin, making them easier to care for if you are willing to leave the two generations in the same tank. However, if you wish to raise the fish in a controlled environment, away from the threat of cannibalism or disease present when adults are around, you will need to feed them a specialized replacement for the parents' nutrients. Both methods begin with creating an environment to encourage breeding, and are then described separately.

 Encouraging Discus to Breed

    Keep several fish to increase the odds of having both males and females. There is no surefire way to visually identify discus fish sex, and it is especially difficult before the fish are fully grown. Adult males usually have thicker lips, and may act more aggressive. However, if you have a large enough tank, the best approach is to keep at least four discus fish, to increase the odds of having both a male and a female.

  • Some strains of discus may tend to display different patterns on the male and female fish, but this is not guaranteed.

  • Females usually mate at about 9 months of age, while males usually mate at 13 months.

     Keep your discus fish in a spacious aquarium. Discus are unlikely to breed if they are kept in too small a container. Any discus pair tank should be at least 15 inches (38 cm) deep. Keep a pair of discus in a tank that can hold at least 20 gallons .


  • Make sure the temperature is above 82 F, it needs to be a warmer climate to try and coax them into mating behavior. Replicating the summer and therefore 'rainy' climate of the amazon is a common tool in breeding aquarium fish.

  • The pH will need to be kept as close to 5.8-7 as possible and as stable as possible. The summer amazon rainstorms collect substrate and mud in the wild softening the water. The aquarium water will need to be as soft as possible Conductivity between 80 and 120ms. Soft water has poor buffering ability hence it is important to check the water each day to ensure the parameters remain stable (especially pH). You will need to keep nitrates at a minimum by performing small water changes every other day or daily if possible and siphoning out the waste. About 30-50% will be perfect. These water changes are important and also signify breeding conditions to the breeding Discus.

  • When feeding breeding Discus, protein rich foods are the best choice. Diversifying food sources will help to balance the Discus diet. Professional breeders use beef heart but this should also be combined with bloodworms and vegetable matter such as spinach to aid in vitamin uptake. To keep them in good health use some high grade tropical granules twice a week to supply them with the required nutrients and vitamins they may be lacking. Also live Blackworms are one of the best food for breeding pairs.

  • Placing a breeding cone in the discus tank will give a hard surface for the discus to lay eggs on. Be sure the surface is clean and will not pollute the aquarium. Is recommended to use natural terracota breeding cones. These may be a good consideration to increase laying chances.

  • Add methylene blue to the tank. A few drops of methylene blue added to the water helps protect the eggs from bacteria and fungus. Look for this substance at our online store, and add with an eyedropper.

  • Place the spawning medium in the center of the aquarium. The discus will spawn eggs on one side and portion of the cone. The discus will begin cleaning the medium in preparation by constantly 'sucking' at the surface.

  • If the discus have not visibly begun to clean the cone, recheck the water quality and ensure they are being fed consistently. It is at this stage it is imperative to ensure the water is soft. This is crucial in the formation of the eggs shell. In hard water conditions, Discus eggs can form an impenetrable shell which young cannot break.

  • This stage is the longest of all stages and unfortunately the stage where chemistry is realized. Some discus pairs will never mate in the wild and many more will never mate in captivity. Tank bred Discus have a much higher chance of spawning when compared to wild Discus. This stage requires patience and careful monitoring.

  • When and if the discus spawn in this stage, they will lay eggs every week for up to fifteen weeks. This cycle usually occurs twice a year and can be rigged with careful adjustment of feeding, temperature and water conditions. This point is extremely rewarding, Discus mate for life and will hopefully continue to mate for years ahead.

  • After courting the eggs will then be laid on the cone or pots surface. They will be very small, mildly opaque spheres stuck to the cone in the order of thousands. The Discus will care for the eggs by constantly fanning them for aeration. The parenting Discus will even pick off and consume the unfertilized eggs to eliminate the chance of disease spreading to healthy eggs.

  • From this stage the eggs will hatch within 48 hours. When the eggs hatch you they do not have to be fed directly as they instinctively feed off a secretion delivered from their mother. After 48 hours they should be free swimming and growing very quickly.

  • Fry can stay with their parents for a lengthy period of time. However in captivity the young can become very aggressive and begin to remove scales from their mother. At the week old stage it is advisable to remove the parent Discus from the aquarium for their own safety. It is at this point it is necessary to raise the young with commercial food.

  • Carefully cared for discus fry can yield survival rates of up to 70%. It is recommended to only sell the Discus young when they reach at least 2" in size. This is to ensure they are strong enough for travel and acclimatization into a new aquarium.


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