Heckel Discus (Symphysodon Discus)

Heckel discus

Last updated on August 21st, 2022 at 11:57 pm

A Heckel discus (Symphysodon discus) can make an excellent pet, but it’s important to provide it with the right habitat and care to keep it healthy and happy. While the Heckel discus is one of the most popular freshwater fish in the hobby, there’s still a lot of confusion about how to care for these beautiful and unique fish.

From the German word Heck meaning back and Discus which refers to the discus-like shape of the cichlid, Heckel Discus are native to South America in the Amazon River basin of Peru, Brazil, and Colombia. Also known as Symphysodon discus, Heckel Discus was first discovered by German naturalist Wilhelm August Graf von Schwerin in 1859.

This Heckel discus care guide will help you understand how to keep your Heckel discus healthy and happy so that you can start enjoying its beautiful colors as soon as possible!

What is heckel discus?

The Heckel discus, also known as Symphysodon discus, is a species of freshwater fish from South America that can be purchased at pet stores. It gets its name from its creator, Johann Natterer, who created it by crossing a red discus with a silver dollar. This hybridization occurred in 1892, almost one hundred years after fish enthusiasts began keeping and breeding tropical fish in captivity.

Heckel discus are also known as Symphysodon discus. They are a member of one of nine different species in its genus. The species is found in South America, with a primary habitat located along major rivers such as Rio Tocantins, Rio Negro, Amazon River, and its tributaries.

This particular specimen was discovered by German ornithologist Johann Matthias von der Schulenburg in 1822 at an Amazonian river. Von der Schulenburg, however, named it Physophrys discus instead of naming it after himself. It was later renamed by Günther Beck von Mannagetta und Lerchenau because von der Schulenburg wasn’t very descriptive on which kind of bird it was named after.

Origin and description

Heckel discus

Named after Eduard Heckel, a German scientist, who described it in 1860. Sometimes referred to as panda discus due to its black and white markings. The heckel discus fish is originally from South America. If you look at a picture of them, you can see why they are sometimes called panda discus – their body is totally white with black dots all over them.

The coloring only appears when they reach full maturity, but once those colors start showing, you will have no trouble identifying them. They are not naturally that big compared to other species of discus fish. However, when kept in good conditions they do grow quite well; males reach up to 8 inches while females grow slightly bigger at around 9 inches tall. They also have an average lifespan of about 10 years in captivity if kept well fed and healthy.

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Species profile

Symphysodon discus also known as heckel discus, is a small freshwater cichlid endemic to tropical South America. It’s valued for its bright coloration and is commonly kept in both public aquariums and private tanks alike. In spite of their popularity, they do not fare well in most home aquarium environments and will quickly succumb to poor water quality or if housed with larger more aggressive fish species.

Formerly, it was called Metynnis discus, but in 2010 its taxonomy was revised by Dr. Gerald R. Allen of The Natural History Museum, London: he split Metynnis into four genera based on phylogenetic evidence. Additionally, Allen reported that there are six recognized species of Symphysodon. This is why they have been given different scientific names recently—even though they were previously all considered just one species: Metynnis discus.

This is one of those fish that you want to make sure you have experience caring for before bringing one into your home tank. There are some cases where beginners have been able to successfully keep them; however, there are others where they didn’t last long after being purchased.

They can sometimes be kept in smaller tanks with other peaceful species but will do best if housed individually or with very peaceful community species like tetras or rasboras. One thing you don’t want to do is house multiple individuals together unless their aquarium is large enough to support them all.

Scientific name

The scientific name of the heckle discus is Symphysodon discus.


The Heckel discus is found in South America, particularly in Brazil. When kept as a pet, they should be housed in an aquarium of at least 60 gallons with good filtration. The Heckel discus is a hardy fish that can adapt to life underwater without any problems. In fact, it thrives best when exposed to varying temperatures and different kinds of light during specific parts of each day.

Discus size

These fish species can grow up to 8 inches (20.3 cm) in size

Discus fish tank size

The minimum recommended tank size for these species is 50 gallons. Bigger sizes, such as 75 gallons are better.

Discus fish tank set up

The first thing to consider when setting up a discus tank is, of course, size. Ideally, discus will have at least 75 gallons of water in their tank, though they can easily be kept in tanks as small as 55 gallons though. Be sure to check with your local pet store on how much water space you need for your specific species. They are highly active swimmers; keep them in an aquarium with good filtration and a strong current. A powerful filter should create an upward flow rather than a stream. This keeps food suspended near the surface, where it’s easy for discus to grab hold of it without having to work too hard or swim too quickly.

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The Heckel discus is a schooling fish and should be kept in a group of at least three, with five or more being ideal. They prefer brackish water conditions and should be kept in a tank with a salinity of around 1.005, although it is unlikely that you will ever need to measure it if you are using Seachem’s equilibrium formula for your salt mix. A temperature between 24-27°C (75-81°F) is recommended and plenty of surface area via rocks and bogwood roots; plants such as Anubias are also appreciated by Heckels.

Pay close attention to temperature; like most cichlids, discus prefers warmer temperatures between 76–82 degrees Fahrenheit. They also require fairly low levels of nitrates and high oxygen levels, so test your water regularly—ideally, once per week. You may want to set up several heaters if you live in colder climates; some hobbyists use two or three heaters running concurrently during the winter months. Finally, decorating isn’t critical but provides excellent cover for hiding spots and security from predators.

Discus tank mates

Because of their aggressive nature and territorial behavior, Heckel discus should not be kept with other fish. Because they require a spacious environment that allows them to swim, Heckel discus does not thrive in densely populated tanks. Like most cichlids, they are best housed in a species-only tank; if you must house them with other fish, keep only smaller or non-aggressive species alongside them.

Some of the best tank mates are other large cichlids, such as angelfish and Oscars. These fish have similar care requirements and tend to keep their aggression in check.

Discus fish breeding

Heckel discus

Juveniles are very sensitive to fluctuations in water chemistry and salinity, therefore you should try to maintain their relative stability. They will adapt after a few months but at first, it is better to be safe than sorry.

Temperature: Temperatures for breeding discus are between 78–82°F (25-28°C).

pH: The ideal pH range for discus is 6.8–7.6. You will want to keep them as close to 7 as possible without getting under or over.

Decorations: Rocks or driftwood that have been collected from nature are often used because they look great in fish tanks while still providing a lot of useable hiding places and small crevices where eggs can be deposited if necessary.

Egg-laying requires lots of oxygen, so creating space near your filter intake where plenty of water flow exists is optimal. Also, don’t overcrowd your tank; 1 inch per discus is sufficient room.

Food: The diet needs to be a good balance of vitamins and nutrients. Provide quality spirulina flakes every day along with brine shrimp or bloodworms 2-3 times per week. Breeding Heckel’s only require slightly different conditions than their non-breeding counterparts.

Heckel discus breed readily in aquariums and will readily spawn at temperatures of around 76°F. Provide them with a flat rock or piece of slate to deposit their eggs onto and raise their young upon. The fry can be raised without difficulty on commercial fry food, but they should ideally be fed baby brine shrimp as soon as they are large enough to consume it.

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The parent fish may eat some of their fries if kept together, however, so if you’re not planning on breeding your discus then remove any male specimens that have been introduced into an all-female tank prior to spawning taking place.

Young discus reaches sexual maturity at around 12 months of age and tends to become more territorial than other varieties once mature, which means plenty of hiding places need to be provided for female fish; otherwise, they may end up being pecked by these very territorial males.

When happy in captivity, these species reach a maximum length of between 7 and 8 inches (18 – 20 cm). They also possess prominent canine teeth which means care needs to be taken when handling them.

Are heckel discus aggressive or peaceful?

The Heckel discus are a relatively peaceful species of fish. If kept in groups of four or more, they will bond with each other, but you must carefully watch new additions to your aquarium. They may be aggressive towards new tank mates if there is not enough space in your aquarium for all of them. Even so, it is best to keep only one per tank to avoid aggression. When housed together, these fish will develop their own hierarchy and fight amongst themselves for dominance.

Discus fish care

Heckel discus

The Heckel discus is one of many species of discus fish. They are native to South America. They will do best with a specific gravity of 1.010 – 1.014, temperature between 79-82 degrees, and a pH between 6.5-7.0. In addition, you should use aquarium salt at a rate of 1 teaspoon per 5 gallons every week.

Note that these levels are generalizations; your ideal parameters may vary based on numerous factors (stocking density, filtration systems in place, volume of water available in your tank etc.). It’s also important to note that discus can handle drastic changes in water parameters more readily than most other freshwater tropical fish; however, they should be monitored closely as they adjust.

Discus food

The Heckel discus is a very carnivorous and voracious eater. They will accept meaty foods like krill, bloodworms, brine shrimp, and tubifex worms. However, they are primarily benthic feeders and require a generous supply of sinking pellet food to keep them healthy. Most hobbyists find it easiest to feed live or frozen foods such as daphnia, white mosquito larvae, and grindal worms. A good quality spirulina flake can also be used for variety in their diet (and color enhancement).

Water conditions

Heckel discus

Heckel discus are native to South America, so it is important to mimic these conditions for proper care. Ideally, you will have a soft water aquarium of around 80 degrees F with a pH from 6.5 to 7.2. I mentioned “ideal” because these temperatures aren’t feasible for everyone, and some aquarists prefer higher or lower temperatures and different pH levels. If you are setting up your tank in an area with hard water, there are several things that can be done. First off, place activated carbon in your filter.

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Heckel discus lifespan

The lifespan of a Heckel discus is approximately 10-15 years in captivity with good health.

Parasites and diseases

There are few diseases and parasites that can impact your fish but it is important to note that these are normally only an issue if your aquarium has poor water quality or you purchase a fish already infected. The three most common afflictions of Heckel discus are: ich, velvet, and cryptocaryon (marine white spot).

Ich is contracted from general poor aquarium maintenance where other fish harbor them without showing symptoms. Velvet is probably one of the more easily detected infections as Heckel discus will usually show some kind of patches on their bodies as well as bulging eyes and possibly some twitching. They may also be lethargic. If you notice these signs, immediately move affected fish into a quarantine tank so they do not spread their disease further or cause stress to other fish.


All Heckel discus are susceptible to predation by larger fish. These fish are medium-level community dwellers that can be kept in schools of six or more. They should not be kept with larger, more aggressive cichlids or they may be eaten. They also should not be housed with boisterous, very active cichlids. The rest of their tank mates will depend on the size and temperament of your particular discus.

Some common predators are plecostomus, other large plecos, catfish and loaches. Any fish that can swallow a discus whole is not suitable for a community tank with it. So make sure your tank mates will not try to eat them if you decide to keep these fish in a community tank.

Do heckel discus make good pets?

Yes. The Heckel discus is one of the most popular aquarium fish, with its clownish face and easygoing nature. It’s been bred in captivity for decades. Hope you’ve been able to learn how to care for your own Heckel discus with these tips.