Discus fish, the king of the aquarium, are known for their distinctive disk-shaped bodies and regal colors. But they’re also notoriously difficult to care for and are usually relished by experienced fish keepers.
If you recently bought Apistogramma dwarf cichlids for your South American display tank, you may be wondering if the Discus would get along with them.
Can Apistogramma Be Kept with Discus?
This is a complex issue, and there is no set answer that fits all situations. You can mix Apistogramma and the Discus together if the tank is large enough and well-structured, with many hiding spots for the Apistos.
The Risk and Challenge of Keeping Apistogramma and Discus Together
However, as an Apistogramma owner, here’s what you should know about the risk and challenges of Apistogramma and the Discus coexistence.
Warmer Water Shortens the Lifespan of Apistos
Aquarists choose to keep Apistogramma and Discus fish in separate tanks mainly because the Discus requires higher temperatures to thrive compared to Apistogramma. The high temperatures that benefit Discus can speed up the metabolism of Apistogramma, which can eventually reduce their lifespan.
Unlike Apistogramma, the Discus cichlid (Symphysodon spp) is only distributed along the main waterway of the Amazon basin. The average daily temperature in these regions is 86 °F (30 °C), with very little seasonal variation throughout the year.
As you probably know, the Heckel’s discus is native to the Rio Abacaxis, a blackwater tributary of the lower Rio Madeira, where water temperatures can reach as high as 93°F (34°C).
Author note: Rio Abacaxis is also the natural habitat of Apistogramma sp. 'wilhelmi,' and they may be sympatric species.
Today, most Discus available to the hobby are captive bred and are typically kept in water temperatures that range from 85° to 86°F (29° to 30°C ). Whether caught in the wild or bred in captivity, failure to maintain a suitable temperature could be detrimental to their health.
Most Apistos, on the other hand, are able to endure high temperatures but ideally prefer to live in cooler water below 79 ºF (26 ºC). At higher temperatures, the metabolic rate of Apistogramma accelerates, and their lifespan is reduced.
A Sex Ratio of 1:1 Will Never Happen
While it is known that a community tank is not ideal as a breeding tank, there may be instances where your Apistogramma will spawn in such an environment.
Under optimal conditions, the perfect ratio of male to female should be 1:1. However, not only does water temperature affect the metabolism in Apistogramma, but it also significantly influences the sex of the offspring.
In general, the higher the water temperature, the more males you will get. Therefore, if you are trying to breed Apistogramma in water above 86°F (30°C), you will likely end up with an overwhelming 90% male population and very few females.
Pay Special Attention to Water Conditions
Apistogramma and the Discus require a high level of water quality in terms of water conditions. However, Discus fish are more demanding, particularly when it comes to breeding and raising.
Spawning the Discus is relatively easy, but ensuring that the eggs hatch and the females care for the brood can be challenging when other fish are present. The eggs won’t hatch unless the water quality is perfect.
Unlike other tank mates of Apistos, the Discus fish is not an easy species to keep. Getting them from 2″ to adult size requires more space and effort compared to Apistogrammas. If you’re willing to commit to regular water changes, then it’s worth considering. Otherwise, it’s probably better to stick with Apistogrammas.
Ways to Help Apistogramma and Discus Coexist
Although higher temperatures shorten the lifespan of Apistogramma, it’s not a major concern if you have bred them and have spare fish.
First and foremost, both fishes need a specially prepared tank for the breeding process if you choose to take that route.
In a community tank, there are some things you can do to increase the chances of coexistence between Apistogramma and Discus.
Keep Them in a Large Tank
Discus are schooling fish species that do best when kept in groups of at least six individuals of their own kind. Keeping a single Discus with a pair of Apistos in a 29-gallon community tank is doable for learning about their different needs.
Monitor the Discus’s behavior and watch out for signs of aggression, as it may start to bully the Apistogramma when kept alone. Remember that these fish can grow up to 7 inches (17.8 cm) in diameter in captivity.
We recommend at least a 75-gallon tank for housing 3-5 Discus and a group of Apistos together. You could do a 55-gallon tank, but a wider tank that provides a larger water bottom area is preferable for these Apistogramma dwarf cichlids.
Keep Only One Species of Apistogramma
Mixing different species of Apistogramma in the same tank can pose several problems.
Firstly, there is a possibility of cross-breeding. Secondly, some Apistogramma species may have specialized water quality requirements that are difficult to maintain, making them more challenging to care for than Discus. Thirdly, having different species of Apistogramma can greatly decrease the survival rate of the fry and eggs.
If you insist on keeping more than one species of Apistogramma, avoid mixing similar-shaped species and members of the same or closely related species-groups.
For more information on the compatibility of two different Apistogramma species, check out this guide: “Can You Keep Different Apistogramma Together?“
Apistogramma Species Considerations
In addition to sticking to only one species of Apistogramma, it is especially necessary to take into account the temperament and spawning behavior of the chosen species to ensure a good chance of successful breeding, as well as to prevent them from accidentally disturbing your Discus.
Some species of the Apistogramma that employ either a strictly polygamous or strictly monogamous mating strategy should be set up in harems, as the males become extremely aggressive and selective of their mates.
On the other hand, other species tend to exhibit opportunistic polygamous or monogamous mating behavior. These fish can be kept in pairs, like most members of the Regani group and Steindachneri group.
Depending on your tank setup, you need to make a decision about which Apistogramma may be more suitable.
Decor & Layout
No matter the breed, Apistogramma are bottom dwellers that prefer to stick close to the bottom, and they should be provided with plenty of hiding spots. Driftwoods, overturned flowerpots, or PVC pipes are good options.
Discus are middle-dwelling fish and sometimes may forage for food near the bottom, so make sure to leave an open swimming space in the middle of the tank.
A planted aquarium with both floating and rooted plants is ideal for this combination. Choose plants that can adapt to the mandatory high water temperatures, such as Bucephalandra, Anubias, or Java Ferns.
These lush, hardy plants can offer cover and refuge to the Apistogramma, as well as provide a natural shelter for the Discus when threatened or feeling stressed.
To mimic their natural habitats, use more Catappa leaves and Malaysian driftwood to give the water a more acidic pH and make it look like blackwater. Indian almond leaves also release very slight antibacterial and antifungal properties into the water that can help keep your tank clean.
At the end of the day, with a suitable aquarium setup, you can successfully combine Apistogramma and Discus in your home aquascape.
Just remember that keeping these two cichlid species together requires an understanding of their different needs so they can live harmoniously under one roof.
- Ospina-Alvarez N, Piferrer F. Temperature-dependent sex determination in fish revisited: prevalence, a single sex ratio response pattern, and possible effects of climate change.
- Species monographed by Kullander (1982a).