Topic we’re going to cover is how to breed discus. In this article I’m going to share with you my experience with breeding discus. It wasn’t too long ago where I had a few breeding pairs and established a breeding program that produced about a thousand discus fry.
Why you want to breed discus doesn’t matter to me. All I’m going to do is share my experience and my advice with what i did and how I did it. Some of you will agree some of you will do with different. None of this is written in stone but I do hope that you find something useful from this video. At some point when it came to discus breeding for me there were three main aspects that I focused on and really what I focused on throughout my entire hobby. The first is consistency and simplicity. That will make more sense in a little while the second is there’s a do-it-yourself aspect to almost everything that I do. You also need to put in a lot of work and have a lot of patience. Those are two things that most people don’t want to do or don’t have. OK so one last disclaimer and then we’ll get started. I swear for this video i decided i would basically do this in conversation style basically sharing my accounts off the top of my head however i did take some bullet points of things that i want to talk about and make sure i touch base on. With that set if I miss anything I apologize however we can revisit this at a future time. we have a lot to talk about so let’s get started.
The number one thing everybody wants to know is how do you get discus pairs, how do you sex discus and in my opinion there’s three main options that people turn to. I’ll start with the least recommended and then work my way up. Many people want to sex discus they want to go to a store and see at all discus to say i want that female and I want that male and I want to take them home and I want them to breed and that’s how it’s going to be. That’s not the way it works. Even if you could sex the adults and bring them home there’s no saying that they’re going to be compatible at all but chances are you’re not going to be able to sex them in the first place. They’re not really a fish that you can tell their sex. There will be people out there that will argue that the male has more coloration yet the female will have more variation in its patterns the male will have more pointed dorsal fins the females will be rounded, the male will have thicker lips so it’s able to liplock and fight other males to prove dominance. Others will say a dominant male will grow with thick forehead yet others will say the anal fin on a female is shorter on the body then on a male. I mean the list goes on and on and on and on and the fact of the matter is this – there’s really no guaranteed way to sex a discus based on appearance alone unless you see their breeding tubes which only occurs when they’re starting to lay eggs.
Now typically speaking your chances are you’re not going to be able to buy a lot of adult discus anyways because they’re typically not that commonly available. You’ll probably run into smaller discus that are two and three inches which are absolutely impossible to sex at the end of the day though when it comes to finding out which one’s the male and the female the female lays the eggs. So if your mind is on going to the store and viewing and sexing a couple of discus and bringing the male and a female and creating your own pair, that they’re going to breed because you have a male and a female I’m sorry but that’s just not going to happen but hey people win the lottery all the time. so you never know but that’s not the way I would do it.
The second thing is that you can buy a proven pair from established breeder but even then just because you buy a breeding pair doesn’t mean it’s going to breed in your tank. For example I’ve done that myself. I paid almost six hundred dollars for a breeding pair took it home and it took almost two years for them to start breeding in my tank. Four to six hundred dollars is an average price for a good breeding pair. don’t be scared of that price though. Chances are you’ll make your money back on that first batch of fry if you plan to sell any. The most successful way to get a pair of discus is is by buying six to eight juveniles, raising them up and letting a pair naturally form, it’s as simple as that. That is the number one recommended method. The reason you buy six to eight is because you give yourself enough odds to get a breeding pair in the first place. Even though six to eight might sound like a lot of fish it’s really not because even that can be a roll of the dice. It is just as simple as that. if sexing discus and getting breeding pairs of discus were that easy everybody would have them.
OK now let’s move on to the tank setup. So before we move on to the actual setup and the aquarium there’s a couple of concerns that I want to address first. A lot of people commonly ask can you breed discus in community tanks, can you have other fish in the aquarium and so forth. A discus breeding pair should be kept on their own in their own aquarium. No tank mates. Reason being is simple, tankmates will disrupt their breeding process and or just simply eat the eggs or fry especially when the lights go out. community tanks and tankmates really shouldn’t be concerned when you’re interested in breeding discus. The focus should be on the discus and providing them with what they need, and what they don’t need is other fish getting in the way.
So what is the best size tank for breeding discus. Personally I have found the 33 gallon tanks to be the best.They are three feet long, 12 inches wide and about 18 inches tall I like the length as I’m able to distribute the flow a little more evenly and not have any really turbulent spot. It’s also big enough to allow the fry to grow a little bit with the parents which we’ll talk about in a little bit. It’s also a nice volume of water which will help dilute a lot of the waste that the discus produce which will help maintain the water quality a little longer. With that said some people breed them in 20 gallon tanks, others breed them and bigger or smaller 30 gallon. 33 gallon tanks are very calm and very easy to come by and is what i have had my most success with. I’ve also bred discus in a variety of other sizes so if this doesn’t work for you shoot for around the 30 gallon range as a minimum. You also don’t want them to be too big so between 30 and say 40 gallons would be ideal. Too big and the fry are not going to be able to find their parents, too small and too many fluctuations can occur.
How should we actually set this up. As you can see this tank is bare and that is exactly how I set them up for breeding. What I start with is painting the tank and I paint all surfaces that I don’t need to see into, which is the bottom the back and the two sides. The only place that’s not painted is the front panel, the reasons for this are pretty simple. First reason is it provides a sense of security for the discus which is arguably important for a breeding pair, the second is I find that it also helps isolate the site of the parents. When the fry are looking for their parents they can see them a lot easier without any distractions behind them the color of paint that I typically use will be a white or a very light blue like that used on the base of this tank I’ve since removed the paint since I was into breeding but you get the idea that using a light colored paint is it simply allows the parents to stand out more and the fry can more readily find them. That is very important especially if you’re going to raise the fry like I do and again we’ll get to that in a little while.
You’ll also notice that there’s no decoration in the tank, it’s absolutely bare. Let’s start with the reason why there’s no substrate and the reason for this is very simple; it maintains water quality a lot longer, it’s easier to care for and detritus and waste doesn’t collect in the tank. Some breeders like to provide a little bit of cover like some plants or maybe some flower pots or decorations to some extent but in my opinion that just takes away from the fry being able to find the parents. The only decoration that I had is a breeding cone. This is a do-it-yourself breeding come. The bottom is a porcelain tile has a PVC end cap and a piece of PVC on top of it. This just goes in the tank at any place. The height of the PVC pipe is lower than the overall tank but only about a half inch under the water surface. This is so that water can actually fill it and it doesn’t float yet it’s also not too short to allow fry to get trapped inside.The reason do with this way is to give the parents a preferred area to spawn on. Typically discus like to spawn on vertical clean surfaces. Having this allows me to clean it easily and I can move it within the tank wherever I want which comes in handy when you find the discus are not laying their eggs. It might be because of the position of the breeding cone for example. It might be in the flow rates of the return of your filter so you might want to move it away or maybe they want it closer to the front door, to the back, you’re just going to have to find where you want it.
At the end of the day the discus are going to lay their eggs wherever they want. I’ve seen them lay them on the front panel, side panel, back panel, bottom panel. I’ve seen land on heaters, filter intakes. Whatever they want to lay it on they will. However, if you have one of these in the tanks most of the time they will lay their eggs on this and again comes in really handy. After every time they lay their eggs and the fry have hatched I’ll remove it from the tank and clean it completely. When I’m ready to get them back into breeding I simply put it back in and they know exactly what this is. This only costs about three dollars to make anyway so something like this is exactly how I would have a breeding set up,just like that Although obviously the sides and the back need to be painted but you get the idea.
Let’s move on to filtration. Now this is typically done in a few ways and I prefer in two ways. One, I’ll use a sponge filter. If I only have one breeding pair I would just use a sponge filter because it’s really easy to do sponge filter and heater in the tank and that’s pretty much it. Keeping it really simple. However having a heater in the tank gives the discus something to spawn on which is sometimes cannot be good for the eggs. The sponge filter is typically black which would attract the fry away from their parents at times which again is not good so what I like to do, what I’ve done most of the time, is run the breeding tanks on sumps, meaning that the back of the tank is drilled and it leads down to a sump where the water is filtered mechanically as well as biologically, it’s also heated and then returns to the tank.
I do this for a number of reasons. It adds extra water volume to the tank- it makes water changes a lot easier. It keeps all equipment out of the tank the only thing that I really need to do is make sure that the intake is covered with a fine sponge. This is just so that the fry don’t actually get sucked into water circulation and the return. I focus on keeping the water almost still so I would have my drain over here and the return on one end just to make sure the water is well circulated however I always have my drains down, straight down and not blowing around. This make sure that the fry are not being blown all around and the parents are being blown around. I have found that even a slight amount of flow can disrupt the fry from their parents so I have had the most success simply pointing the return down. Now if you have a few breeding tanks what I did was put them on a rack and the top tanks would rain down to the bottom tank the bottom tank but then drain down to the sump the sub would return back to the two top tanks and that would complete the cycle. I would also have all of the growth tanks tied into that same filter.The way I had this setup is what in my opinion is why I had the most success with the fry. As I moved the fry through their grow tanks absolutely everything was identical. The temperature, the perameters, the quality, everything. All I had to do is scoop them up from one tank and put them in the other. There everything was identical because everything was connected at the same sub again I kept it simple but focused on consistency.
You might also be thinking about lighting and does the tank need lighting. I guess the short answer is yes it should have some sort of lighting. After all the discus need to see each other and the fry need to be able to see their parents. I don’t suggest you do this in complete darkness. A lot of the time though if your room is bright enough that will do. However what I do is have subdued lighting over the tank and at night time when these lights would go off I have ambient light somewhere in the room so that the tanks did not go pitch black I found that when the tanks would go pitch black the fry would lose their parents and I lose some by the morning time. You’ll find what you’ll have to do is try to find the right lighting balance for your situation, so ensure that you can turn lights out at night yet have some sort of an ambient light. What I did was actually have a plug-in nightlight really close to the tank on an extension cord that worked really well for a nightlight. So that’s it for the tank setup.
Now let’s move into water parameters, water quality, maintenance, diet, conditioning the pairs and triggering them and then raising the fry with the idea of what you need for breeding set up.
Now let’s talk about water parameters. What should you be aiming for? This might cause some controversy and quite frankly I don’t care because this is a method and a philosophy that I apply to my entire hobby and every fish that I keep the water in my aquariums matches the parameters of the water coming out of my tap, meaning that they are the same p. m. h and the same hardness which is typically two parameters that most people chase when it comes to discus. For example my pH ranges from seven point four to seven . six depending on the time of the year and I have really hard water but you see I provide my aquarium inhabitants with consistent water parameters. The fact of the matter is this I find that when it comes to discus keeping too many hobbyists are chasing ideal as opposed to consistency. I’ll explain further what that means. Ideal meaning they read a book that was written 20 years ago where they went on a forum and somebody said that they need a low pH and very soft water. The person asking the question has really hard tap water and are different, definitely a higher pH ,so they’re constantly adjusting it and changing it and struggling with it and chasing that ideal perameter, but you got to ask yourself what would be really better. Consistency or chasing that ideal perimeter that is constantly fluctuating. If I cannot successfully keep a fish in water that is similar to my tap water then I don’t want to keep it at all because in the long run I’m just going to stress out, make my hobby a lot of work and it’s not going to be any fun anymore. Now I’m not saying all your discus need to be kept at pH 7. 4 7. 6 and hard water I’m just saying that you have to become more comfortable with what you have. You see discus are extremely domesticated these days and the discus that are being raised and sold are being bred in large numbers and water that’s already very similar to yours. They’ve already adapted to common tank water parameters. Now of course this doesn’t apply to wild discus as they would definitely not be able to adjust as easily. Again though when I first got into discus I chased ideal parameters and had horrible, horrible results as soon as I became more comfortable with what I had and focused on providing consistent water quality and consistent parameters based on the parameters that are coming out of my tap I had huge success.
So I’ll ask you this: put pH and hardness out of your head for now. Unless you have the extremes extremely high or extremely low being below 6 or above eight, anything in that range in my opinion is most likely going to be acceptable. focus on keeping it consistent. The next thing you want to kind of look at is temperature. We will get to quality in a minute but this is the last parameter that I look at. In fact I’ll be honest and it’s the only perimeter that I care about again though this is just all my opinion and how I keep discus and how I had success. This is not how everybody does it. When it comes to temperature I keep that simple as well 28 degrees celsius or 82 degrees Fahrenheit anything around there is fine with me. 27 28 29 degrees Celsius, for example. I’m totally comfortable with discus do like warmer water. Now I’ve heard people having success with much warmer and much cooler water but again this is what I do and in fact I keep all of my tanks at that temperature. There is not an aquarium in my house that you couldn’t test the water for pH hardness, temperature, ammonia nitrite nitrate, and they will all match.
So let’s move on to water quality and maintenance. So there’s two ways that you can maintain your water quality for the most part which is your involvement and that is through water changes or a drip system. I have done both now when it comes to discus people like to change a lot of water a lot of the time and discus do well with lots of water changes but it could be argued that all fish will do really well with lots of water changes. Of course better the quality the better the fish will be. Drip systems allow you to maintain quality for a lot longer though so when it came to fry tanks i did like running drip systems and if you have not seen a drip system before I have two videos on how to set one up and I explained them thoroughly when it comes to water changes though I’ve seen people do ninety percent water changes once to twice a day personally the tanks that I did do water changes on I get away with thirty to fifty percent every three days .I didn’t do A daily mass of water changes I just focused on keeping the tank clean free of algae and detritus so on a daily basis I would inspect the tank and remove any uneaten food, perhaps give the tank a scrub on the inside if it needed it and that was pretty much it. It didn’t take that much work now based on my opinion on water parameters, water quality and maintenance. You’re probably surprised right now and you should be I’m glad that I can expose you to something different. Most of what you read would tell you the polar opposite and that’s okay to go with what suits your situation the best. There’s no real right or wrong way to do this.
OK so when it comes to food and feeding these breeding discus I stick to do with yourself food and I have a couple videos or three or four videos on Do It Yourself food at this point but my favorite one is the discus food which involves turning beef, hertilapia, shrimp, spirulina, paprika and a few other ingredients into a puree and then freezing it. I feed this food for a few reasons it has proven results for me it’s easy and cost effective to make I can I can adjust it and manipulate it to what I needed to do and it goes a long way like i said I had about a thousand discus on my hands at one point which requires a lot of food the biggest reason why i use do it yourself food is because the parents would eat it and when the fry were ready they would eat it as well so there was no transition and me trying to get them onto new foods or anything like that. I can continuously feed the same food to everybody and feeding this type of food is what helped me be really successful so if I were to tell you to do anything out of this entire video I would probably say to make your own food and this will make even more sense in a few minutes. The parents since they were adults and if they had fry or eggs i would still feed them once a day. How much I would feed the fry and how often will get to in a minute.
So you know how to get your pairs, you know how to set up the tank, you know what they need, you know the parameters that you know you’re going to know the maintenance and the water quality you need to provide. Now water changes are definitely going to vary based on your situation my advice here is just to keep your night rates as low as absolute possible. In fact I don’t even want to be able to read them on any test kit, so let your readings depict how many water changes you need to do. We’ve talked about pairs, we’ve talked about setting up the tank, we’ve talked about water parameters and water quality as well as maintenance and we’ve talked about food.
Now let’s talk about triggering and conditioning these pairs. You might have a pair now and you’re wondering why they’re not breeding You’re feeding them, keeping that great water quality but they’re still not laying eggs or there’s just no sign of breeding at all. Here’s what I found always worked for me. Discus like change when it comes to breeding. Now that change can come in a number of methods. I’ve changed tanks I’ve moved the tanks to different locations I change their diet slightly, feeding a little less or feeding a little more. I change the amount or frequency of water changes, I change the temperature of the water changes, even just skipping food for a couple days and then feeding them a good healthy amount. Sometimes in triggering breeding any change in general is going to be good, especially if you have had pairs for along time and they’re not doing anything. One food that I found that helped trigger them a lot was live black worms and that’s a common thing to feed to condition breeding pairs. In the long run though you just can’t force discus to breed. You can do everything in your power to accommodate them but really it’s going to be up to that all you can do is make sure that you can provide them with what they need and focus on maintaining water quality.
As you can see there is no magic trick that I can tell you. There’s no secret that I can tell you that you’re going to be able to apply and your Discus are going to magically breed. These things take time and they take a lot of work but once you get them started they typically are a bonded pair and will continuously always breed which brings up the fact that you’re going to need a lot of patience. when I mentioned I bought six to eight this is to raise them up into breeding pairs. The timeframe that that actually took was between 18 and 24 months. This is not going to happen overnight or in a few months. this takes a long time and a tremendous amount of commitment. I also bought a proven pair that was guaranteed and it took them almost two years to start breeding in my tanks. Sometimes no matter what you do or what type of pairs you have or what guarantee you have it just might not happen at all.
Now before we move on to the fry, the eggs and what happens during that time and what I did let’s first talk about people that have problem with their discus that are already laying eggs. I get this question a lot. My discus laid eggs but they’re not hatching. What’s the problem? It could be a number of things. First thing that comes to my mind is they’re just a young pair and they’re eating them. I’ve had pairs that take seven, eight, nine times just to get it right, until the eggs will actually hatch and then they’ll probably eat the fry which are called wigglers. At that stage and it’ll take them another two or three times to get them to free swimming then they will eat them. You just wake up one morning and they’re all gone. It just happens. You see discus just like anybody else they need practice and for some they get it right away for others it could take several attempts. The other thing is the male might not be fertile. Now this is actually quite rare to happen but it does happen. Finally you might have two females just laying eggs together. That is actually pretty common in fish like discus and angel fish and it is extremely frustrating. So I would say that everything up until the point where the eggs are laid is really the easy part. It’s mainly just a game of patience. Now the real work comes into play but the reward as well.
Breeding discus and going through the entire process that they have is an extremely rewarding process and I don’t mean monetary. I mean as a hobbyist breeding discus is probably one of the most rewarding experiences you can go through all of that hard work and patience finally gets to pay off and you can witness one of the most interesting life cycles in the aquarium hobby happen right in your own aquarium. Once the eggs are laid they can take two to three days to hatch depending on the tanks temperature. Just leave it be and let them hatch naturally. Don’t raise your temperature or lower it or anything like that let them be alone at this point though some people like to artificially raise the eggs. I don’t do that. I’ve never done that and I don’t suggest that you do that as a new breeder I suggest that you let the parents do it for you. After two to three days the eggs will hatch and the fry will not be free swimming. They will attach themselves to a surface, usually the surface in which the eggs were laid. However the parents sometimes will move them around locations depending on where they want them to be. Now the fry will stay attached to whatever surface they put them on for a couple of days and then one day they become free swimming and swarm around the parents. At this point you’re still feeding the parents once a day like you were previously. The fry will continue to swarm around the parents, feeding off of the mucous excreted through the parents skin. Now the biggest reason why you were feeding this do-it-yourself food is this it sinks to the bottom and the parents will eat it and they’re down there they’re actually bringing the fry with them eventually and the fry grow bigger and bigger. the fry will also find that food and it’s easy for fry to eat as well because it’s a puree usually this happens around the two to three-week mark after the eggs were laid. Depending on the size of the fry at this point I might move them to their own tank or I might just wait a few more days until I see all of them actively going after the food instead of staying around the parents.
As soon as that happens I move them to their own tank. As soon as you move the fry out of that tank and do some water changes and clean up the the breeding tank the parents usually within 24 to 48 hours will go right back to laying more eggs and the cycle continues. But let’s go back to the fry. Within about six weeks of the eggs be laid the fry will begin to take brine shrimp whether it’s live or frozen. Personally I prefer to stick to my homemade food but I always had a little bit of frozen brine shrimp in the freezer in case I ran out of my homemade food and didn’t want to make any that day.
The cleaner the water the faster they will grow you can’t just keep dumping food in the tank though they obviously have to eat it. I found myself feeding the discus fry anywhere between four and six times a day. Water changes were done at fifty percent every day as well unless I was running drip system. Depending on how disciplined I was to the water changes and feeding I could have two and three inch discus IN a couple months or it could take a few months and all came down to how well I cared for those fry. Once the fry got to the three to four inch range though they were ready to sell.