The Discus fish has gained a reputation of being fuzzy, disease ridden and hard to breed, but it is actually quite an easy fish to keep and breed once you have figured out how to keep the water quality at imperative levels in the aquarium. If you fail at this, you will most probably end up with anorectic, unhealthy Discus fish that refuses to breed altogether. The same goes for the fry aquarium - Discus fry that are kept in unhealthy conditions will often end up stunted since they will not eat enough. Before you make any attempts at breeding Discus you should therefore make sure that you are knowledgeable and devoted enough to keep the water quality up at all time – not only once in a while when you have some extra time to spend on your hobby. Discus fish will actually do a lot of the fry raising work for you since they both guard and feed their fry, so repaying them by devoting some energy to frequent water changes is certainly not too much to ask.
Obtaining a Discus pair
If you want to you can buy an established Discus pair that has already spawned together in the past. Such a couple will however be expensive, and most aspiring Discus breeders therefore purchase a group of juvenile Discus fish instead and let them grow up together. Hopefully, at least one pair will form in a group of Discus as they reach maturity. If you are lucky you will get several pairs. Getting a least six specimens is recommended. Try to mix Discus fish from several different sources since this will decrease the risk of getting a too limited genetic pool.
Discus breeding aquarium
Once a Discus pair is formed they will claim a territory and defend it against all the other Discus fishes. When you notice this, it is time to either remove all the other fish or set up a special breeding aquarium for the pair. A 20-30 gallon aquarium is big enough to serve as breeding aquarium and the only mandatory décor is a vertical spawning site. It is however a good idea to include hiding spots as well, since Discus pairs can fight each other quite violently.
As mentioned in the beginning of this article, water management is extremely important when keeping and breeding Discus. The levels of nitrogenous waste must be kept as close to zero as possible. Carry out a small water change every day in the breeding aquarium and use your test kit to keep an eye on the levels of ammonia, nitrite and nitrate. Wild Discus live in soft and acidic waters, but if you have captive bred specimens they might be accustomed to harder and less acidic conditions. The recommended water temperature is 86 degrees F.
Feeding your Discus a varied and nutritious diet – and making sure that the fish actually eat it – is imperative if you want to breed Discus. Poor water quality can cause poor appetite in Discus and must therefore be avoided at all costs. Live food such as white worms and bloodworms is certainly recommended, but be careful with live food that you do not cultivate yourself since it might introduce disease. You can supplement live food with high quality prepared foods to make sure that your fish receives all necessary vitamins.
Spawning and fry raising
Once the couple has started to spawn, you can expect a new batch of eggs to be laid every week or every second week for up to 15 times in a row. A healthy, well functioning pair can go through two such spawning cycles per year. The eggs will normally hatch within 48 hours and the fry is free-swimming after another 72 hours. The free swimming fry will swim up to their parents and start feeding on a special type of nutritious mucus produced by the skin of the parents. They can continue to feed off their parents for several weeks, but you should start giving them newly hatched brine shrimp as well when they have been free swimming for 5-6 days.
The longer you leave the fry with their parents, the higher the risk of parasites being transmitted from the adults to the fry. The fry can also start eating not only mucus but pieces of skin and flesh from their parents, and this will naturally weaken the parents considerably. Most breeders therefore remove the fry to their own fry aquarium after 2-3 weeks. Fry without their parents should be fed at least six times a day and can for instance be given microworms, newly hatched brine shrimp and chopped up bloodworms. Keeping the water quality up is naturally extremely important. Feed only small servings and carry out at least one water change per day.
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