Breeding Discus and raising their fry can be a challenge, but it is wildly rewarding. It can be a lucrative hobby, as well. The most significant assets you will need when starting on this endeavor are hard work, patience, and perseverance. Some things can (and probably will for beginners) go wrong at every step of the road, so a zen-like mindset from the beginning is highly recommended. Remember, this is a learning process, and you will only get better through learning!
The Coveted Breeding Pair
Finding a pair of Discus that are likely to mate is either time consuming and/or expensive. There’s no getting around that fact. Buying a breeding pair is the easiest route, but it will cost you. You might get lucky and find some of the most common types of Discus available as a proven mating pair for around $300. The more exotic varieties run $800 and up. And even this route is not a guarantee. As said before, there are things than can go wrong in every step of the breeding process. If you don’t want to take the time to obtain a mating pair yourself, we recommend you go with the least costly variety you can find, practice, then move on to the more expensive pairs when you’ve successfully raised a few batches of fry.
If you’d like to raise your own breeding pair, you’ll first need to purchase several Discus from your preferred retailer. It is challenging to tell the difference between males and females, even for experienced Discus keepers. Therefore, buying several specimens will provide you with a better chance of getting a good ratio. You should get at least five, but ten or more will give you a better opportunity for success. You should set up their tank to make them feel at home and care for them all as you would if you were keeping them merely as pets.
Female Discus reach sexual maturity when they aren’t quite full-grown at about 9-12 months of age. Males take a month or two longer. If there are any likely pairs in the group you selected, they will start to separate from the others. They will spend all of their time together and begin to clean possible egg-laying spots by pecking at flat surfaces. They may display an amusing courtship ritual that is almost like a square dance. Both fish will seem to bow to each other, swim upwards at an angle, then trade places. Once they are ready to breed, they will start defending a chosen spot against their tankmates. You might also observe them move in a shivering or trembling-like motion. When you see these types of behaviors, it’s time to move them to a breeding tank.
The Breeding Tank
The breeding tank for Discus is considerably smaller than the tank you would keep them in for a species or community tank. This tank should be about twenty or thirty gallons. Choosing a larger tank will be too difficult to maintain. As you will notice in the coming paragraphs, there will be a TON of partial water changes in your future. Make things easier for your future self by selecting an appropriately sized tank. However, picking a tank smaller than 20 gallons will make your Discus feel too cramped and prevent them from being comfortable enough to breed.
The water should remain at a steady 82°F and kept very soft – 6.5 is a good pH for which to aim. If you’re not sure how to lower your water’s pH, check out our guide. Because you should be feeding your pair a hearty, high protein diet, they will be producing a lot of waste. Because of this, the water conditions will quickly become unsuitable. Closely monitor your tank parameters and perform 30-50% water changes regularly. You should also have a filtration method in place. Sponge filters are recommended at this stage.
This tank should be mostly bare and situated in a quiet spot of your home. Too much activity around the tank will distract your pair and make them feel that it is not safe to lay their eggs. Do not use substrate in breeding tanks. Substrate will trap waste and be too difficult to clean.
A room with a moderate amount of natural light is sufficient – no aquarium light needed. In a breeding setting, too much lighting makes them uncomfortable. If you have an aquarium light on this tank, make sure to block out a portion, so it doesn’t become too bright.
The only decoration you should use in the breeding tank is 1-3 objects with flat surfaces for which the female to lay her eggs. You can use a ceramic pot, large-leafed aquarium plants, or tank decorations with flat surfaces that stand up off the floor. Discus Cones are also excellent options. These are premade spots specifically made to be appealing places for female Discus to lay their eggs. They also usually come with handy, removable wire guards to prevent egg eating.
Once the fish feel comfortable and ready to mate, the female will lay her eggs. This usually happens when the female makes a few dry runs over her chosen surface in the days before and then subsequent passes where she deposits her eggs. While she is doing this, the male will follow behind and release his milt.
After the eggs are fertilized, both parents will fan the eggs for 2-3 days to ensure proper water circulation. When the eggs hatch, they will appear to be little more than tiny, squiggly tails attached to the cone. The fry should stay this way for about 48 hours. During this time, some may detach prematurely, and the parents will scoop them up in their mouths and spit them back toward the cone. Once the two days are up, there will be too many detachments for the parents to keep up with, and the fry will become free-swimming.
It is vital to keep the parents in the tank at this stage. While many Cichlids will eat fry, the opposite happens with Discus. The fry will nibble away at the parent’s mucus layer, which quickly regenerates. This is a vital source of nutrients, and there is scarce success for aquarists who remove the parents. If the parents do end up eating the fry, you will just have to try again. Don’t worry, though. It will only be a few days before the pair to be ready for another try.
Caring for Fry
Once the fry are hatched, it is vital to continue monitoring the breeding tank water conditions and make water changes as necessary. However, you can start to transition the tank to the harder water conditions that Discus prefer. Be extremely cautious when performing water changes after the fry have hatched. They can easily be harmed or sucked up into outflowing water. Using white cheesecloth over your choice of intake mechanism will help to slow the water flow and allow you to see if any tiny fry have been trapped during changes. It’s best to avoid water changes during this period if you can. Stop feeding the parents around 24 hours before expecting hatching to reduce the bioload of the breeding tank.
Once the fry become free swimming, they will ‘attach’ to the parents. While they are never actually attached to the parent, it appears they are due to how close they stay. They will remain within millimeters of the parents, constantly biting off pieces of their protective mucus layers.
It’s best to take a step back at this point and let nature take its course. Too much activity around the tank can stress the parents and cause them to eat the fry. If the fry do not attach, they will starve and die within 24 hours.
If you notice the fry are not attaching, you should reduce distractions in the tank. Fry are attracted to dark colors, so black filter sponges make for a tempting distraction. Take out the sponge filter and replace it with an air filter and stone on the lowest setting. If you don’t have these on hand, wrap the filter sponge in a permeable white cloth, such as cheesecloth, to make it less attractive.
If they still are not attaching, lessen the light and water levels. The parents will be very dark at this point, and they tend to stay near their spawning spot. So, to get the dark-loving fry to remain near their dark parents, make the place the parents hang out the darkest part of the tank. It also helps to lower the water level by about half, giving the fry fewer options for choosing to occupy.
After a few days, you should start to transition your new Discus babies onto a diet of baby Brine Shrimp (BBS). You can easily hatch your own BBS. The yolk sacks of freshly hatched Brine Shrimp are packed with nutrients that provide a valuable food source for your fish. It is difficult to tell at first if your Discus are eating the BBS since both are so small. But, within a few days, it should be apparent due to their rapid growth.
Water changes at this point become more critical than ever. With so many Discus fry growing rapidly and the influx of thousands of BBS, the water can get fouled with astonishing speed. You must perform 50% water changes at least once per day, although 50-80% twice a day may be needed.
Keep an eye on the parent pair at this stage. With so many mouths to feed, they can become stressed with all the pecking and biting, become irritated, and start eating their babies. If their current brood is small, they may begin to display courting behavior and be ready to breed again, which will also cause them to eat the babies. If either of these things happens, they must be moved to a more suitable home. Once the fry are thriving on their BBS diet, it is safe to remove the parents. However, if all is going well, some aquarists prefer to keep the parents in the tank until the baby Discus are more interested in adult food than BBS.
What To Do With All Those Fish?
Once your young Discus reach around two to three inches in length, they will start to display their colors and can be sold. A breeding pair can lay over four hundred eggs, so unless you have an enormous amount of tank space, you’ll need to find most of them a new home. There are several options for freeing up your tank space.
The most lucrative way to make money off your new Discus fish is to sell them over the internet. This way gives you the most bang for your buck but comes with added difficulties. Shipping nationally or internationally puts stress on any fish, and Discus can be particularly sensitive on this front. Also, you will likely need to develop a reputation online before your sales pick up, so time and attention will need to be put into your marketing strategy.
The easiest option is to sell them to your local fish store. They will generally buy more individuals, and you won’t have to worry about keeping them healthy through the stressful shipping process. The only problem with going this route is the local fish stores generally only pay ⅓ or less of their final purchase price to sellers. With this option, you’ll typically end up with only a few dollars per fish, depending on the variety. While it’s not fun to lose out on profits, if you end up having more fish than you can sell on your own, local fish stores are great options.
The middle road in selling your fish is to sell them to local hobbyists to keep in their home aquariums. This way, you’ll be able to sell them at higher prices and pocket more cash, but won’t have to deal with time-consuming marketing strategies and fish-stressing shipping. Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace are accessible and easy to use sites for selling Discus fish.
Once you have had five or six success sessions with your breeding pair, you should sell them as well. Oversaturating the local market with just one species of Discus will see a drop in sales, as all interested parties already have the type of Discus you are breeding. It is also detrimental for future breeding stock as interbreeding can occur. You can fetch a handsome price for a breeding pair and then invest that money into purchasing more exotic species and starting the process again!
Breeding Discus is a vastly rewarding hobby that can also help put extra money in your pocket. While you probably won’t get rich off breeding Discus, it can be helpful to make a little extra to fund your fishkeeping hobby.It takes a lot of dedication and hard work to breeds and raise Discus fish successfully, but it is extremely fun.
‘Don’t get discouraged if your first attempt (or first few attempts) doesn’t go as you had hoped. Perseverance is key so, try, try again!