A gentle giant, the intricately patterned discus has been bred into a variety of colours, stains and patterns. In recent years, its popularity has soared. However, these kings of the aquarium remain shadowed in mystery and myths which often discourage fishkeepers from keeping these world-renowned beauties.
Ever fewer fishkeepers have dreamed of breeding these often-delicate cichlids. Yet, with care and knowledge, this seemingly impossible task is relatively easy. Spawning discus are among the most stunning sites to see in captivity. The intricate pairing rituals of the parents, the delicate preparation of the site and the loving care which the doting parents shower upon their eggs and young are true spectacles of the natural world.
Once laid, the eggs will be fanned to ensure they have adequate oxygen. Fungus-infected or rotting eggs will be removed to stop them from contaminating the other eggs. Once the fry hatch and finish the yolk sacks, they will become free-swimming, swarming onto the parents and eating their mucus as their first meal.
Breeding often starts with the quality and condition of parents.
Most pairs are acquired by bringing in a small group of discus, usually between six and eight individuals. These young discus, often around two inches, should then be grown in a large tank with frequent feedings and regular water changes. Pristine water is an absolute must. Eventually, once they reach a larger size, couples will pair off and begin courting each other. Graceful shakes, shimmering and intricate dances are all indicters that two fish are forming a pair.
Once you are certain of a pair, you should move them to a smaller aquarium – often bare, painted a light colour and fitted with a heater sponge filter and an upright structure such as a breeding cone.
Removing them to a smaller aquarium provides them with isolation. Not only will this prevent their fry or eggs from being eaten, it will ensure that the parents get the bulk of the food you provide and that the fry can find the parents once they’ve hatched.
Feeding should be frequent, with many breeding regular feeding pairs eight times a day.
These diets can vary from breeder to breeder. Some recommend beef heart, tetra prima and blood worm on rotation, while others dislike the idea of land-borne meat and prefer dry-food-only diets. Regardless, all agree that a protein-rich diet, in excess, is a necessity to adequately condition the parents. While these feedings are going on, large water changes, often once or twice a day, are considered par for the course. Use warm water that is near the tank temperature (which should be between 26 °C and 28 °C). Warmer water helps trigger the parents to spawn at a later date.
This conditioning of protein-rich food and regular water changes should continue for around two weeks. By this point, both should be looking larger than usual, though the female is often obviously larger. At this point, it is time to perform large cold water changes to trigger the parents into laying and fertilising their eggs. Cease feeding and continue with the cold water changes until you notice eggs being laid. Then begins the arduous task of caring for fry – a difficult endeavour laden with the trails of parasites, feeding issues and cannibalism.