I am thinking of buying some discus for
my setup—what should I be looking for
when purchasing discus to make sure I am
getting well-grown, healthy specimens?
Jack Wattley is worldwide
the most recognized name in
discus breeding. Breeder, judge,
collector, scholar, Jack is the
foundation on which modern
discus keeping has been built.
He has been sharing his
experience and knowledge—
and the discus he breeds—with
aquarists throughout the world
for decades, and just one of
his many awards was his
recent Lifetime Achievement
award from the ACA. Long
past the age at which most
people retire, he still serves
as ambassador of discus and
goodwill across the planet.
I receive a number of requests for this sort
of information. When obtaining discus, there
are a number of things the buyer should look
for before making the purchase.
Discus 2 inches in size make a very nice
purchase. At that size they generally acclimate
much better than smaller discus and usually
better than adult-size discus. Discus that are
semi-adult in size also acclimate very well, but
at that size they will be much more expensive
than the 2-inch fish. Breeding pairs of discus
are available at times, although the buyer
must be certain the fish are true breeders and
still at an age to be able to produce healthy
fry. I’ve always found that the egg production
in fish over approximately 5 to 5½ years of
age falls off rapidly.
Regardless of the age of the discus, they
must have a full, well-rounded body that is
not deformed in any way. If the fish has a
longish-looking body at the small size, it will
have the same look as an adult. Once the fry
reach their round shape, they will carry that
same shape into adulthood.
At no stage in the life of a discus should it
show signs of clamped fins. To me, clamped
fins mean sick discus. The fins should not be
frayed or damaged, and they should be free
of red streaks, cloudy areas, or other signs of
possible infection. It goes without saying that
fish showing white spots, red lesions, cottony
growths, or any other signs of infection should
be avoided completely.
One of the most accurate ways to determine
that discus are not at all well—assuming
that the water they are in is quality discus
water—is to view their normal rate of
breathing. The fish should be breathing at a
normal rate of 60 to 70 breaths per minute.
Increased breathing rate can be caused by a
variety of factors. If, for example, the water
in their tank rises to a temperature of 90° to
95°F, the increased metabolic rate in the fish
and the lower dissolved oxygen concentration
in the water generally result in much heavier
breathing. It is also true that after a large
feeding most discus breathe at a more rapid
rate for a short period.
However, a rapid rate of gill movement can
also indicate a serious infestation of parasites
in the gills and gill covers (the latter of which
should completely cover the former in a well-formed fish, by the way). If there is a parasitic
infection of the gills, all the discus in the tank
will likely be infected, even if they are not yet
If at all possible, you should pick up your
fish in person. If you live within driving
distance of the breeder, then jump in your car
and visit the hatchery. Most discus breeders
will allow you to see their operation. At one
point in time, I allowed no person in my
hatchery while I was perfecting my method of
raising the discus fry away from the parents.
I was the most unfriendly discus breeder in
North America! However, my method has
now been published in my books and articles,
as well as other books and articles, so I’m
friendly once more.
If you do make it to the breeder’s hatchery,
you should also look to see if the fish are
behaving in a normal manner. The discus don’t
have to be moving from one end of the tank to
the other end, but whatever movements they
make should be made in a normal manner.
Actually, discus are not open-water, pelagic
swimmers, so don’t expect them to be moving
about unless they are motivated—as when
they become startled or are about to be fed.
But it’s not a good sign if the fish are seen to be
hiding in the back of the dealer’s tanks, with
all or most of them showing dark coloring.
Healthy discus are attentive and interested in
their environment, and they move deliberately,