Discus were not imported out of Brazil until the 1930's, and then their destinations mainly were the United States and Germany. There followed reports of spawnings for some years and possibly the first rearing is accredited to Herbert Haertel, a German tropical fish shop owner. It is not sure which species of Symphysodon he had, but after many spawnings and a change to soft water he finally witnessed the free-swimming fry nibbling at the sides of the parents. It is said that he succeeded in 1933 and had thirty-two survivors from this spawning. He further tried with his wild fish and later with his grown on tank-bred fish but never again repeated his first success. There are many well known names that deserve credit for being quality discus keepers and breeders of the past, that have strived to breed exceptional Discus to grace our hobby over the years. However, there are two men that really pioneered the Discus fish that are known to us all, the great founding fathers of the Discus we have today; Dr. Eduard Schmidt-Focke and Jack Wattley.
DR. EDUARD SCHMIDT- FOCKE
Dr Eduard Schmidt-Focke is a Doctor of medicine, born in Frankfurt on the 5th of December 1913 and now lived in Bad-Homberg at the foot of the Taunus Mountains in Germany. He was the father of six, and is a dedicated aquarist having been a fishkeeper for over seventy years. He has line bred Siamese fighting fish (Betta Splendens) to use for medical research as well as breeding the first all black Betta. He handed over stocks of this fish to the world but no one has been able to continue to breed the black fighting fish and so now it seems to have been lost to the hobby. His first Discus were Symphysodon Axelrodi, (Brown Discus) that his brother Hans Rudolf Schmidt, the owner of the Tropicarium in Frankfurt bought from the Netherlands for him in 1950. He successfully bred the Brown Discus using soft well water by 1955 and then in late 1959 received from Dr Herbert R. Axelrod his fist Green Discus.
After transporting them from America to his home in Germany, the four specimens he had obtained took a year to recover and settle into the routines of aquarium life. Then one pair finally bred for him and produced a large batch, some of which he gave to the Frankfurt Zoo. He reports that these early Discus were much more infection free than later imported specimens. Then he received Royal Blues and Royal Greens from Willi Shwartz, the owner of Aquario Rio Negro in Manaus, Brazil, from which he bred his first Turkis Discus, and from these the first solid strains started to appear after five or six generations. He received specimens of many other Discus species and colour varieties shortly after this from Heiko Bleher, the well-known German collector and importer of aquarium fishes. He then had excellent specimens of both Royal Green and Royal Blue Discus. He then in the following years experimenting with line-breeding and cross-breeding the wild strains and produced fish of magnificent colour and shape and set standards that many breeders are still trying to emulate today. The quality of his Red and Brown Pearl Discus have still not been equalled or copied and the photographs of these fish are a wonderful memory to their magnificence.
Dr. Schmidt-Focke was in his nineties and in poor health when I visited him in July 1994, but he is still able to keep a few of his beloved Discus. I discussed the future of Discus keeping with him. He felt that the future is bleak for Discus in their native Amazon waters and unless something is done to safeguard them and that captive breeding programs to preserve the species will need to be set up. At this point in time there is only one Discus breeder that we know of who lives in Germany that concentrates solely on breeding and maintaining the wild species, although occasionally we do hear that someone else is giving this exceptionally hard task a go. Dr. Eduard Schmidt-Focke passed away in 1998, a great man, a pioneer who should be remembered for the wonderful Discus he bred for our hobby.
Jack Wattley is an American, of English and French descent. He was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on the 9th October 1924, and has now made Fort Lauderdale in Florida the base of operations for his Discus Hatchery, which is famous the world over. He has been a dedicated keeper, breeder and has studied the Symphysodon species for over thirty years. In 1962 Jack Wattley found himself in Brazil fishing for Discus. This was his first of several trips to the Amazon to catch at first hand the basis of the fish required for his breeding program. He caught. Discus of all types, and searched out the best specimens that he could find of the Royal Green and Royal Blue colour forms of the species. These fish undoubtedly by careful breeding and crossbreeding were what enabled Jack Wattley to create his famous ‘Wattley Turquoise Discus.’
Jack Wattley was the first to pen the name ‘Turquoise’ for his Discus and now this is the most common name to be used in the Discus world. However this is not the only thing Jack Wattley is famous for, his fish have always been of superb quality, the Coerulea Blues can be exceptional, but he is also famous by the fact that a large percentage of the baby Discus bred in his hatchery have been artificially raised. That is that the fry are removed as eggs from the parents, and placed in a shallow pan. After hatching they are fed very carefully with an egg yolk mixture and grown on in this manner. Jack Wattley is not the only one who does, or has done this, but he is certainly the most successful. Anyone who has attempted to artificially raise fry will know what a laborious exacting job this is. The fry have to be fed so frequently and are transferred from pan to pan after every feed.
This is to maintain water quality as the egg yolk mixture fouls the water. It is easier to change water in a pan of this nature, than in any aquarium, this is needed to maintain the utter cleanliness that is required for the rearing operation.
Jack Wattley is also well known on the lecture circuit and is a frequent visitor to his many friends in Germany and the Far East also on the lookout for new bloodlines for his hatchery. Jack Wattley in 1992 has opened a second hatchery in Miami, Florida. This hatchery is apparently completely devoted to breeding his Panda Discus, which is a Jack Wattley Discus crossed with the Pigeon Blood Discus from Thailand and now come in quite a few different colour morphs.