Understanding Different Discus Fish Types – What Are They?
Pets / Aquarium Fish
Buying discus for the first time can be confusing, because there are now hundreds of phenotypic strains being sold around the world. Discus fish are bred not only in the United States, but also in places such as Hong Kong and Malaysia. Image Credit/Image License: Various discus fish in freshwater aquarium. CC0 Public Domain.
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You do not have to memorize all of the strains, but a working knowledge of how these strains came about in the first place will be helpful in determining what you need at the moment. Many people ask me about the “original” discus fish. If you are looking for “the mother of all discus fish”, then you are talking about the wild Heckel discus strain.
The Heckel discus, or Symphysodon discus, is named after J. Heckel, a Viennese ichthyologist who was able to identify, describe, and formally catalogue the discus fish. The true wild Heckel discus strain found in the Amazon Basin has light yellow-brown body with two thick and prominent stripes: one that crosses the center of the body, and another one that crosses the center of the fish’s “face”.
The black stripe that crosses the face is often referred to as the fifth stripe, and is characteristic of a genuine Symphysodon discus. The Heckel discus is touted as the most challenging strain to keep and breed, because it is very particular with water pH levels and tank temperature.
However, don’t let this scare you – I invite beginners to try their hand in raising a wild strain, because this will help you understand discus fish as a whole. If you succeed in keeping and perhaps even breeding wild discus fish, you are in a prime position to raise any phenotypic strain from any part of the world!
Now, unless stated otherwise, most, if not all of the colorful phenotypic subspecies you will be seeing pet stores is a derivative of Symphysodon Aequifasciatus Axelrodi, or the brown discus. According to many private breeders, Symphysodon Aequifasciatus Axelrodi and its hybrids are far easier to keep than Symphysodon discus. However, this is not to say that you can just plop this strain of discus in just any tank. You still have to be knowledgeable about water quality requirements, or else your discus fish will succumb and die.
Now that we are done with the preliminaries of identifying discus fish, let’s look at some common phenotypic subspecies so you can decide what type of discus fish you’d like for your tank at home:
Types of Discus Fish
1. Green discus – One of the original subspecies of Symphysodon Aequifasciatus, the green discus also has a fifth stripe across its face. The body has a characteristic light green coloration, and brownish horizontal streaks from head to tail.
2. Blue discus – The blue discus has a predominant blue hue against a rusty orange backdrop. The fifth stripe is present, but less prominent compared to the Heckel discus and green discus. The head-to-tail streaks or striations are white mixed with blue.
3. Red discus – Red discus are generally deep orange in color, with very little striation and almost invisible stripes. The fins are white tipped, with very deep orange or red.
4. White leopard discus – White leopard discus do not have the stripes of the wild strain. It is deep orange in color, with characteristic white leopard-like spots from head to tail.
5. Blue diamond discus – The blue diamond discus is blue all over! It doesn’t have stripes, streaks, or striations, save for the brownish tail.
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