A Brief Timeline of the Discus Fish

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A Brief Timeline of the Discus Fish


Johannes Baptist Natterer and Johann Jacob Heckel’s efforts during the Nineteenth Century led to the discovery of the discus. Then during the Twentieth Century, countless varieties of discus were discovered and mutated. In this article, we will first look at the expeditions that led to the discovery of the discus. Afterward, we will explore how we came from knowing about only one type of discus in the Nineteenth Century, to knowing about countless, diverse varieties of discus today.
The discovery of the discus began with the wedding of the Princess of Austria, Leopoldine, to the heir of the throne of Portugal, Brazil, and the Algarve. Many academics, researchers, scientists, and painters celebrated the wedding by journeying to an unknown land: Brazil. Johannes Baptists von Spix, Philipp F. von Martius, and Johannes Baptist Natterer were some of the scientists who came to explore Brazil and find new species of plants and animals.
During the expedition, Spix, Martius, and Natterer discovered many new species and named them after themselves. Eventually, most of the party returned home to Austria, but Natterer remained in Brazil longer and continued exploring it. During his arduous expeditions, his companion, Sochor, died, and Natterer himself nearly died. He lost many important specimens. In spite of these sufferings and difficulties, he eventually reached Barcelos in the Amazon. It was in this region that, sometime between 1831 and 1835, Natterer caught a discus fish in his nets. In 1835 (eighteen years after Natterer began exploring Brazil), he went home with 1,671 fish species, 1,146 mammals, 1,024 mussels, and many other species. Many of these were entirely new to human eyes.
When working on Natterer’s collection, Johann Jacob Heckel analyzed an unusally shaped cichlid and named it the Symphysodon discus. Today, we call it the Heckel discus. You can see it below.
The Heckel Discus


Subsequently, different varieties of discus were discovered and mutated. In 1903, J. Pellegrin documented the green discus. In 1955, Harald Schultz discovered the brown discus and the blue discus, which he documented in 1960.
The first European import of a discus fish was in 1921, but it did not survive long. Again, in 1928, another attempt was made to import a discus fish to Europe, but the fish did not survive. Finally, in 1932, a discus survived after being imported to Europe.
It has been reported that H. Hartel bred the discus in Europe in 1936, but no detailed scientific literature records him breeding the discus. In 1960, Dr. E. Schmidt-Focke and Professor Dr. E. Van Slogteren wrote the first published scientific report of discus breeding and hatching.  
In 1969, a turquoise discus was discovered in the wild. Its turquoise color was one of the first naturally occurring color variations found on a wild discus.  
Until the 1970s, the known discus shades were only the blue, green, brown, and heckel.
Around this time, American breeders also started attempting to create more varieties of discus fish. They bred for thicker blue stripes that almost entirely covered the fish’s body. They also created the almost solid blue cobalt discus. See it below.

Cobalt Discus

In a similar manner, European breeders also endeavored to create new variations. They made red turquoise discus, a discus with solid red stripes. You can see a red turquoise below.

Red Turquoise Discus
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the ghost, blue diamond, snake skin, and pigeon blood varieties were made in Asia.
The ghost discus are a mutation from the blue discus. They do not have vertical stress bars and body striations. Most are grayish-white and have white eyes. Ghosts also have a partial bar above their eyes and on their tail. Due to their light color, they can be used to remove black bars and body striations, especially in the cheek area.  
The blue diamond discus are solid blue. Blue diamonds have no vertical stress bars and no pattern on their body or fins. They have red or yellow eyes. 
The snake skin discus have irregular fine lines on the forehead, face, gill plates and pelvic fins. Although many other discus have nine vertical stress bars, snake skins have twelve to eighteen. Their genes have been used to develop many new types of discus.
Leopard Snake Skin Discus
The pigeon blood discus were developed in Thailand. Their colors can range from white to yellow, bright orange, or nearly red. They can be solid in color or have striations or spots. Originally, pigeon bloods were covered in black spots that looked like pepper, but the black speckling has been reduced in those available today.
The snow white (also known as the snowflake) discus, developed in the late 1990s, has white eyes and no vertical striations.
Snowflake Discus
With all the discus discoveries and mutations that have occurred, countless varieties of discus are available today. Check out the rest of the Learning Center’s articles to learn more about the discus.


  • Out of the different discus species we described in this article, which are the most interesting to you?
  • Do you think it’s interesting that discus were discovered at a relatively recent time in history, in 1840?
  • Are you surprised that so many unknown species of plants and animals were found in South America in the Nineteenth Century?
  • Do you think it’s interesting that so many discus species were discovered during the Twentieth Century?
  • What else do you want to learn about discus in the Learning Center?

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