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Natural Environment Conditions and River Locations of Wild Discus

Wild Brazilian Heckel Discus

Natural Discus Habitat in South America and Southeast Asia

If you want to keep your discus as healthy as possible, you will benefit greatly by learning about their natural environment conditions. Discus are found in Southeast Asia and South America around the Amazon. Discus can't survive in most of the Amazon, where the water often flows too quickly or is not clean enough. However, they are found swimming in very clean water and in small, blackwater rivers and lakes, deep pools, shallow streams, creeks, and small lakes off the Amazon River. In the Amazon, discus are found around areas that have immense tropical forests and long periods of rain. Discus thrive when they receive continuous flows of freshwater.

Extremely Rare Monster Manacapuru Red and Blue Discus from the Wild that We Now Have in our Hatchery

They live in small groups among submerged tree roots, decayed wood, vegetation, and aquatic grasses, which they often hide behind. The wild discus' stripes help camouflage them for safety from predators. The natural substrate typically includes sand-like gravel and decomposed tree leaves. Plants, including the Amazon Sword that is shown below, not only provide a protective hiding place, but also serve as natural breeding grounds. 

Discus beside an Amazon Sword

Preferring subdued lighting, discus tend to stay in shaded areas during the day, and the low lighting conditions help keep the discus safe from predators. Keep this detail in mind, since putting a discus in a tank with bright overhead lights and crystal clear water may cause it to feel vulnerable and frightened.   

Natural Discus Water

Discus appreciate blackwater areas, which result from tannins and organics that are found in the water, primarily from falling leaves. While you can find tonics on the market that will help create a blackwater environment, unless you are setting up a biotope with wild discus caught in blackwater areas (not recommended for a hobbyist), you do not need this additive for proper discus fish care.

The Amazon hosts three main water types. In upper Amazon, you'll find the "loam-yellow" or "white" water region. In the central region near Rio Negro, the "blackwater" is found. In the lower region, you'll see "green-yellow" or "clear water." Different water types feature different colors of wild discus.  

To catch wild discus, people use a bright light at night to attract the fish. Then they slowly draw a net around them.

The Heckel Discus, Which is Found in the Amazon

The Amazon's immense rain forests and copious amounts of rain cause the water to be soft (0-3 dH). Soft water means that very few dissolved solids are found in it. The water's softness is measured with the total dissolved solids (TDS), the minerals found in the water in parts per million. The lower the TDS, the lower the conductivity of the water. Although discus will breed in several different water conditions, softer water helps with fertilizing the discus eggs and increasing fry sizes. Discus breeders often replicate the low TDS water by using reverse osmosis (RO) systems or buying RO-filtered water from water stores.

In the Amazon, discus water has a pH of around 6.0 to 6.5. In some places, its pH is as low as 4! Its temperature is within the range of 77 - 84º F (25 - 29 º C). In Southeast Asia, discus are found in soft to medium-hard, alkaline water (3-8 dH, pH 7.0 - 8.0) that has temperatures around 81 - 91º F (27 - 33º C). 

Specific River Locations

Certain species of discus are endangered in certain areas. Today, most green discus fish are caught in Lago Tee, Rio Tefè, and the Japurariver. Blue discus are found in Rio Purus and Manacapuru. Brown discus are caught in and around Santarem and Alenquer, the Rio Tocantins, the Rio Xingu, the Rio Madeira, and the Rio Tapajos. Since discus are rare and found only in certain areas, they are valuable. 


  • How does understanding the discus' native habitat help you to take better care of them?
  • In the wild, what types of water conditions do discus naturally swim in?
  • How can you make your tank water similar to the water that discus naturally swim in?
  • With your understanding of the discus' native habitat, how can you best set up your discus aquarium?