The Natural Habitat of the Discus
Ardan Huck July 6, 2002

Where in the World do Discus Come From?

Discus are found in many of the rivers and lakes usually within a couple hundred miles of the mighty Amazon River in South America. The river system extends into four countries within South America, including Venezuela, Columbia, Brazil, and Peru. This is the world's "largest drainage basin" (World Book, 1990). During the rainy season, which starts in December, 80 inches of rain or more can fall on this region. The rivers rise to very high levels in the spring, overflowing the banks and flooding the land. This is one way that discus are "mixed" among each other, allowing for cross-breeding in the wild. In the dry season, ending in October/November, the rivers recede to such an extent that small lakes are formed. This is the best time of year to collect wild discus. Average temperatures in this region are from 65 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit year-round.

The discus "was first described in 1840 by Dr. Johann Jacob Heckel, of Vienna, Austria" (Wattley, 1985). The discus was introduced to Europe and the U.S. in the 1930s in small quantities. Larger shipments occurred after WWII, when advances in shipping were made. However, air travel to South America was not very possible until around 1960. This is when discus shipments started to dramatically increase. Discus are usually collected in water that is only two feet deep. Most collectors fear the sting of the freshwater stingray, but show no fear of the Piranha in these waters.

There are four or five native species/subspecies of discus. There is confusion over the classifications of discus (This list is from Jack Wattley's "Handbook of Discus", 1985).

A. Symphysodon Heckel, 1840.
B. Symphysodon aequifasciata, Pellegrin, 1903 (this species is made up of 3 subspecies)
  1. Symphysodon aequifasciata axelrodi, Schultz, 1960 (brown discus)
  2. Symphysodon aequifasciata aequifasciata, Pellegrin, 1903 (green discus)
  3. Symphysodon aequifasciata haraldi, Schultz, 1960 (blue discus)

  • World Book Encyclopedia, by World Book Inc. 1990
  • "All About Discus" by Dr. Herbert R. Axelrod, 1972
  • "Handbook of Discus" by Jack Wattley, 1985

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