This will conclude our series on breeding discus.
Growing out fry requires very little work on your part. The parents do all of the work for you. Discus fry eat the slime off the parent’s side for the first 10 days to two weeks. This slime is very high in protein and contains antibodies that help the babies fight off disease.
Once the fry become free swimming, they will instinctively go to the sides of the parents to feed. They will go back and forth, usually in groups between the male and female parents. They do not show a preference for the father or mother. There is nothing more beautiful in the fish world than a pair of discus, in full spawning coloration, swimming with a school of small babies at their side.
Things you should remember. First, these babies will be very small and weak, so you will need to turn off all filtration, except for a sponge filter. The biggest mistake that you can make is to do a water change in this aquarium with water that is not EXACTLY the same temperature. Discus fry are extremely sensitive to temperature shock and will die if you do a water change with water that is more than a few degrees different in temperature. With that said, discus fry are also very sensitive to ammonia burn, so you will need to do daily partial water changes. We like to keep our grow out discus tanks, until they reach about 1.5 inches, at a temperature of 88 degrees, as the high temperature increases their metabolism and speeds up growth.
After 10 days, start adding a small amount of live baby brine shrimp to the tank. By the end of one month, they will be about ½ inch and will be eating baby brine shrimp exclusively. At this point they are much more hardy and you are pretty much out of the woods. Your Discus fry should reach 1 inch in approximately 2 months and will reach 2 inches in about 4 months. At about 1.5 inches, you can start adding in a flake food and freeze-dried food. We recommend Flake Beef Heart and Freeze Dried Blood Worms, to their food and slowly convert them over to a diet of primarily flake food. This is good for them health wise and will save you a lot of money in the long run. It is also much more convenient.
Previously we went over how to artificially raise the fry. Now we will go over raising the fry naturally. Next we will go over growing out the baby discus.
Growing out fry requires very little work on your part. The parents do all of the work for you. Unfortunately, it is very common for the parents to eat the babies, so most breeders artificially raise the fry. There are advantages to naturally raising the fry over and above that it is much easier. Discus fry eat the slime off the parent’s side for the first 10 days to two weeks. This slime is very high in protein and contains antibodies that help the babies fight off disease. Naturally raised fry will grow much faster at first and will have more resistance to disease throughout their lives.
Once the fry become free swimming, they will instinctively go to the sides of the parents to feed. They will go back and forth, usually in groups between the male and female parents. They do not show a preference for father or mother. There is nothing more beautiful in the fish world than a pair of discus, in full spawning coloration, swimming with a school of small babies at their side.
Things you should remember. First, these babies will be very small and weak, so you will need to turn off all filtration, except for a sponge filter. The biggest mistake that you can make is to do a water change in this aquarium with water that is not EXACTLY the same temperature. Discus fry are extremely sensitive to temperature shock and will die if you do a water change with water that is more than a few degrees different in temperature. With that said, discus fry are also very sensitive to ammonia burn, so you will need to do daily partial water changes.
After 10 days, start adding a small amount of live baby brine shrimp to the tank. By the end of one month, they will be about ½ inch and will be eating baby brine shrimp exclusively. At this point they are much more hardy and you are pretty much out of the woods.
Previously we went over your options with raising the fry once they become free swimming. Now we will go over how to artificially raise the fry. Next we will go over raising the fry naturally.
The secrets to artificially raising the fry are what you have all been waiting for. This is where the few who have gotten to this point successfully will usually fail.
There are two keys to raising the fry artificially: Cleanliness is one, changing the water with water that is the same temperature is the other.
Step 1: Using a 1 gallon glass jar, fill it with the tank water the parents (& eggs) are in. Put the eggs, and what they were laid on, in the jar (quickly and calmly).
Step 2: Place the jar in a small 5 gallon tank filled with water at 84f (50w heater is required). Also put a hydrosponge in the 5 gallon tank and turn it on. This will keep the jar warm and allow the tank to cycle. I always have filters in my 5 gals so they are cycled.
Step 3: Add an airstone to the jar. Turn it on medium so that there is a good current in the jar (don’t blast the eggs though).
Step 4: Add three drops of methylene blue. Three drops works well and allows you to observe the eggs.
Step 5: Wait. They will begin hatching in two days.
Step 6: Wait. They will start free swimming in three days.
Step 7: As soon as they become free swimming, give them their first feeding. Use artificial plankton and rotifers (a.p.r.) used for feeding marine filter feeders. Add only a very small amount.
Step 8: 4 hrs later remove the jar from the 5g tank and float a small Rubbermaid tub in the 5g tank. Place the airstone in the tub (turn it off first). Use a baster to move the fry to the little tub. Fill the tub with the jar water 75% and 5g tank 25% until the tub is almost full. Turn the airstone on to a small trickle, enough to keep the surface of the water in the tub broken. Keep the tank with the tub covered to avoid cooling/evaporation/drafting on the tub.
Step 9: Add the same small amount of food.
Step 10: 4 hrs. later do a fifty percent water change of tub water using the baster. I go from the baster to another small tub before I dump the water in case I suck up some fry (so I don’t dump them out). Replace the tub water with the tank water (Hey, notice the tank water is the same temp as the tub water!). Feed same small amount.
Step 11: 4-6 hrs later do a 90% change using the above method. (NOTE: eventually the 5g starts to get low. NEVER (REPEAT VERY LOUDLY, NEVER EVER) fill the 5g until the tub water has been changed and refilled. If you do fill the 5g tank prior to filling the tub, the temp may not be exactly the same and when you fill the tub afterwards you might watch the babies go into shock…they WILL NOT recover! (This cost me A LOT of fry to figure this out!).
Step 12: Repeat 90% water change and feeding every 4-6 hrs. (8 at the most so you can sleep, I’ve gone 10 before, but don’t recommend it unless there is nothing you can do about it).
Step 13: On the second day of free swimming, add a tiny amount (VERY TINY) amount of NEWLY HATCHED baby brine shrimp (b.b.s.) with every feeding. Don’t stop using the a.p.r. at this point. A.p.r. shows up gray in the fry bellies, b.b.s. shows up pink in the fry bellies.
Step 14: Continue feeding a.p.r. and b.b.s. for one week. All fry bellies should show pink by end of week.
Step 15: Once all fry bellies show pink, discontinue the a.p.r. and continue the b.b.s. Keep performing step 12.
Step 16: One week later you should have lots of fry the size of baby angelfish. Let them go into the 5g tank and feed them there from now on. Keep the tank clean and watch the water and temperature. Once a day water changes are good. The rest is standard baby fish stuff!
Previously we went over fry prior to them becoming free swimming. Now we will go over what to do after they become free swimming. Next we will go over fry after they become free swimming.
Now the hardest part of discus breeding starts. This is where the few have gotten to this point successfully will usually fail. You now have to make a critical decision. Do you let the discus raise their own fry naturally or do you artificially raise them. Both ways have their advantages and disadvantages. We will briefly discuss the advantages and disadvantages of both methods.
The main advantage to letting the Discus raise their own fry is that it is MUCH less work. Other than keeping the water ultra clean via water changes, as you will not be able to run any filters except a sponge filter, there is not much to be done different to what you normally do. The huge disadvantage is that the parents will eat the fry a majority of the time. They will do it very quickly, you will not know they are eating them and there is really nothing you can do to prevent it. There is one other advantage to naturally raising the fry that most people tend to forget. Fry that feed off the natural slime of their parents receive antibodies from their parents, thereby making them much more resistant to disease later in their life.
Conversely, the advantages and disadvantages to artificially raising the fry is just the opposite. There will be two to three weeks of caring for your fry every few hours, 24 hours a day. The positive side, your chances of getting the fry past this stage is greatly increased.
Previously we went over Discus fertility. We will now go over the fry prior to them becoming free swimming. Next we will go over fry after they become free swimming.
This is the easiest part of spawning and is also one of the most fascinating.
After 48 to 72 hours, depending mainly on water temperature, the eggs will begin to hatch. Only the dark ones will hatch. They are dark because after about 36 hours, the eye starts to develop and will show through the egg sack. Most of the fry will stay attached to the surface where the eggs were laid via a small membrane on their head. A few will become detached and will fall to the bottom. At this point the fry will look like a small comma to the naked eye. Under magnification, they are quite ugly and will look like something straight out of a monster movie.
They will remain attached to the substrate for another 48 to 72 hours. There is not much to do at this point. They will have an egg sack and will live off of it during this entire time. There are only two real concerns. The first is the parents eating them. If you are going to artificially raise the fry, you will want to take the parents out. If you are not going to artificially raise the fry, you should cover them with a screen. The second concern is fungus. Adding Methylene Blue to the water will mostly solve this. If you are going to artificially raise them, and have taken the parents out of the tank, you should add aeration about one inch from the fry to keep the water moving around them. They will start to become free swimming about 2 to 3 days after hatching.
We have previously gone over the problem of Discus eating their eggs while spawning, or shortly thereafter. We will now go over fertility. Next we will go over what happens once the eggs hatch, but before the fry are free swimming.
Fertility is an issue with Discus and will vary drastically between different pairs. Some pairs will be totally infertile; other pairs will be infertile at first and then will become fertile. On pairs that are fertile, the percentage of fertile eggs will range from just a few to, best case scenario, about 80% fertility.
There are three main causes of infertility in Discus. The first one is mechanical and is caused by the male not doing his job and fertilizing the eggs. The second and third are biological and are due to either the eggs or sperm being genetically or chemically infertile.
When Discus lay eggs, the male should follow the female on a fertilizing run as soon as she does an egg laying run. Some males only make the run after every two or three egg laying runs. It is my experience that these males tend to have a lower fertility rate. Some males will not fertilize at all. These tend to be the males that also are most aggressive on eating the eggs. There is very little you can do to change these males.
Some Discus are infertile due to water chemistry. To optimize fertility, water temps should be kept constant between 84 and 88 degrees. Ph should be kept constant at 6.5. Heavy filtration, if possible, is a big plus. I try and avoid doing water changes at this time.
Discus that are genetically infertile will never be fertile. Please note that keeping water temperatures above 96 degrees for over a week will usually result in the permanent infertility of Discus. Some Breeders have been known to purposefully sterilize the discus they sell to keep others from being able to breed the strains they have developed. We would never do this.
We will now go over what to expect after the eggs have been laid. This is where the frustration starts. The first two issues that you will be confronted with are eating of the eggs, especially by the male, and infertility. We will go over the eating of the eggs first. We will go over fertility in the next part of the series.
The number one problem, and the one you must get past, with breeding discus is the eating of the eggs by the parents. While both parents will eat the eggs, the male does it more often. This is often done as they spawn and there is very little you can do if this occurs while spawning. The female will make her egg-laying run and then the male, instead of following her with a fertilizing run, will follow her and eat the row of eggs. This behavior is most common in new pairs. A majority of new discus pairs will eat their eggs. Fortunately, they will often stop this behavior as they become a more mature spawning pair. If you get lucky and they do not eat their eggs when spawning, there is a good chance that they will eat them before they hatch. Fortunately, if you get this far, there is something you can do. You can, at this point, take the eggs out and artificially raise them or you can take a mesh screen (house soffit screen works very well) and fit it directly over the eggs. This will allow the discus to still blow on the eggs and bond with them, but will keep them from eating the eggs. Obviously, you will need to have planned for the spawning and will need to have created the screen prior to the actual spawn. If the eggs do not get eaten and are fertile, they should hatch out in three days and become free swimming in about six days.
The spawning process is the pinnacle of Discus keeping. This has always been my favorite part of Discus keeping and I still, 30 years after my first spawn, find it fascinating.
The first sign that your discus are getting ready to spawn will be their obsession with cleaning a rock, or filter tube or side of the aquarium. Once you see both of them doing this, spawning will usually follow within a day or two. You will also see them start doing the mating dance. They will swim towards each other at a slightly upward angle. Once they get next to each other, they will shimmer and then swim away from each other at a slightly lowered angle. The most spectacular aspect of the spawning will be the colors of your Discus. Whatever their color, it will become MUCH more intense and vibrant during spawning. This will be the prettiest you will ever see your Discus. They will also become aggressive toward other fish, including Discus, at this time. They will aggressively defend the breeding site from all intruders, including you.
At some point after your Discus start doing all of the above, they will actually lay the eggs. It will start with the female rubbing her belly, and her breeding tube, against the surface that they have cleaned. She will always lay in an upwards motion. The total length of the spawning run will be between ½ and three inches. She will lay between 1 and 12 eggs per spawning run. The male Discus will usually then follow directly behind her in the same basic motion spraying the eggs. You usually cannot see the actual cloud. The entire process can take between one and five hours.
This is when the fun is over and the frustration can start. The first two issues that you will be confronted with are eating of the eggs, especially by the male, and infertility.
The first thing you need to understand is that you are not in total control. If Discus do not want to pair off, there is nothing you can do about it. The only thing you can do is provide the right conditions so that it is more likely that they will pair off.
If you have a sexed pair and they are the only discus in the tank, it is likely, about a 70% chance, that they will eventually pair off if left together for a long period of time.
To hurry our potential young lovers along, we provide conditions that are conducive for fishy love. We put seven mature Discus in a 125 gallon tank and let them acclimate to it for two weeks. We then start doing some sudden changes in the tank conditions to stimulate courtship. Some of the changes we make are
- Change the water temperature to 78 degrees for a few days and then bring it up to 88 degrees over about 12 hours and then leave it at 88 degrees for the remainder of a week.
- Let the tank get somewhat dirty, not doing the daily water changes for a few days and then doing a 80% water change.
- Feed them heavily for a few days and then stop feeding them for two days, followed by feeding them live food for three days.
- Do two 60% water changes four hours apart where the Ph goes from 6.5 to 7.0 at the first change and then from 7.0 to 7.5 at the second change.
- Leave the tank dark for two full days and then turn the lights on for two full days.
If we have tried all of the above and after two months they still have not paired off, we switch out four of those discus and start the process over again with four new discus along with three remaining.