Guppies and Discus Fish: Can They Live Together?

I remember how proud I was when I first got my discus fish. The beauty they brought to the aquarium was beyond all doubt. However, I felt that the presence of smaller fish was missing. That was when I asked myself whether or not guppies and Discus can get along.

Yes, guppies and discus fish can live together. However, raising both could be a challenge because of their size differences. Also, discus fish require slightly warmer temperatures than guppies. Raising both species in the wrong conditions could encourage hostility and even violence. 

As we move forward in this article, I will elaborate on which cases discus fish could potentially eat your guppies. Also, I’ll explain what steps you should take to make both species coexist in the same tank. These should lower the chances of aggression significantly. 

Can Discus Fish Live With Guppies?

Guppies and Discus are both equally attractive creatures. However, that shouldn’t automatically compel you to place them in the same tank. Admittedly, it has been done on numerous occasions. But if you are dealing with one or both fish for the first time, you must take some factors into account:

1. Tank Requirements

It is much easier to introduce guppies to a discus tank than it is to add Discus to a guppy tank. This is because Discus fish are quite large and need a tank of at least 50 gallons.[1]

If you have Discus, your tank is most likely large enough to contain both your Discus and any new guppies you wish to introduce. On the other hand, because guppies are so small, they do not require that much space. They can get by with a tank of at least 5 gallons. 

In other words, the average guppy tank is far too small to house new Discus. Hence, if you choose to do so, your discus fish are very likely to eat your guppies. Though, nothing is stopping you from getting a much larger tank to host both creatures.

For your convenience, here is my full aquarium kit buyer’s guide. In there, I reviewed the precise tank that I use. However, I also suggest that you check the experts’ kit I mentioned there. It is a 55-gallons bundle that received countless of 5-stars reviews online.

Some people take comfort in the fact that guppies prefer to occupy the upper sections of a tank, whereas Discus spend most of their time in the middle. However, none of that will matter if the aquarium is too small.

Small tanks force unnecessary confrontations between fish. And if a fight occurs between your guppies and their discus neighbors, the guppies will lose. That primarily happens as a result of multiple encounters the two have to deal with in narrow spaces.

2. Size Differences

This is the first and most crucial factor to consider. If you have observed both fish side by side, you will notice that they are quite different in size. Some people call Discus the kings of the freshwater aquarium because they are quite large. They grow up to 10 inches and live for ten or more years.

Guppies, on the other hand, are not so fortunate in the size department. Some guppies are as large as 2.4 inches. Others are no bigger than 0.6 inches. And they only live for an average of two years.[2]

If you are new to aquariums, this is what you should understand – each fish in a tank is more than capable of eating other fish that can fit in its mouth. In this case, some guppies are small enough to fit in the mouths of discus fish.

Therefore, if your guppies ever encounter an aggressive discus, they are in no position to defend themselves. The difference in size is simply too significant. The Discus will either bully them into submission or eat them outright. That mainly depends on their temperament.

3. Similar Diet

The dieting requirements have far greater significance than people realize. Both Discus and guppies are omnivores (they feed both on plant and animal matter). In the wild, Discus eat a lot of arthropods such as copepods. But in a tank, they eat the exact same food items that would appeal to guppies.

What does this mean? Well, if you have an aggressive discus, it is more than capable of keeping all the food in the tank for itself, forcing the guppy to starve. Fortunately, as you will soon see, this situation is rare where Discus fish are concerned.

But fish are not all the same. Even though it doesn’t fit their nature, some discus fish are more than capable of displaying the sorts of aggressive tendencies that could deprive your guppies of food.

4. Different Temperaments

The question of whether or not guppies and Discus can live together is primarily complicated by two factors, namely: the temperature and the temperament. This is where most of the debates regarding the compatibility of these two species come from.

Discus fish are large, but, for the most part, they are impressively calm. In fact, many of them are quite shy.[3] Also, as was mentioned above, they spend a lot of time in the middle of the tank. The question is, do they ever fight?

Yes, they do, but mostly among themselves and only as a means of establishing a pecking order. But once a hierarchy has been defined, most Discus are more than happy to live peacefully with one another and with other fish.[4]

In an ideal environment, Discus is the perfect tank mate. So, what about guppies? Are they the aggressors, the primary source of conflict in a discus/guppy tank? Well, yes, they are the primary reason why conflict might occur in an aquarium. But no, they are not the aggressor.

Like Discus, guppies are relatively peaceful. They get along with non-aggressive tank mates. The fact that they are friendly creatures, content to live in a community makes them an even more attractive tank mate. This is because discus fish share this same trait. They prefer to live in schools with other fish.

So, where does the conflict come from? Discus are not just peaceful and shy. They are calm. And unfortunately, guppies are the very opposite. This is why you cannot pair them with slow-moving fish. Guppies are always chasing one another around.

While this can signify aggression, in most cases, it is mere playfulness. It is also a sign of mating. Male guppies are always chasing and badgering female guppies. This can become a source of concern, especially in situations where the badgering becomes so intense that it begins to elicit stress in the female guppies. 

Some male guppies can exhaust the female guppies in their tank to the point of making them sick. On the one hand, none of this really concerns the Discus. Guppies can get territorial and violent. If they don’t have enough females in the tank, they are more than capable of killing one another.

However, a guppy is less likely to chase or badger a discus. That being said, this continuous activity can become a source of stress for the shy, calm Discus. And that stress can lead to violent confrontations. 

5. Temperature Requirements

Of all the factors that make guppies and Discus a mismatch, this one is the most important. Discus fish thrive in temperatures ranging from 82 to 86 degrees F.[5] They prefer warmer conditions. Guppies, on the other hand, prefer temperatures ranging from 76 to 78 Degrees F.[6]

Both species are hardy enough to survive in waters that are either cooler or warmer than their ideal temperatures. But the consequences are rarely pleasant. If you raise the temperature to suit the Discus, you are going to reduce the lifespan of your guppies.

On the other hand, if you lower the temperature to accommodate the guppies, you will induce the sort of stress in your Discus that could make them sick. It is worth noting that a spike in temperatures will make guppies grow faster. They will also give birth to more babies. However, the impact on their lifespan is still an issue.

Will Discus Eat Guppies?

In an ideal situation, Discus are unlikely to eat guppies. Can it happen? Yes, Discus are large and robust enough to eat guppies. But none of the evidence suggests that they have any inclination to do so.

They might eat guppy fry, but the chances that they will eat full-grown guppies are meager. The newborns are more likely to get hurt by the female guppy herself. She is also fast enough to chase them, unlike the relatively slow Discus. 

Though, as was mentioned above, Discus fish are not all the same. Don’t be so surprised if you come across an aggressive discus that is willing to eat your guppies. That is more likely to happen when the water conditions aren’t ideal, and when the tank is too crowded. 

If you choose to introduce guppies to a discus tank, make sure that you add them gradually. Avoid pouring a batch of guppies all at once. Instead, put a pair of guppies and see what happens. After a week, if things remain calm, you may introduce another couple, and so on. 

How to Make Guppies and Discus Coexist

If you are determined to keep Discus and guppies in the same tank, you have a few options at your disposal:

1. Adjust the Temperature

This is your biggest challenge. Discus and guppies thrive in different temperatures. You can either raise or lower the heat to accommodate one of them, but the other will suffer. Hence, you should find a pretty delicate balance. 

Some people believe that you can create a tank that is compatible with both of them by keeping the temperature at 79 to 80 degrees F. On that matter, here is my review on the aquarium heater I personally use. That device performs exceptionally well, even in such a narrow temperature range. 

The belief is that this range creates stable conditions that can accommodate both fish. But there is no hard evidence to prove this. The best you can do is to experiment. Keep mixing and matching temperatures until you find a range that suits both fish. 

2. Minimize Aggression

If the fighting among your guppies is becoming a problem for the entire tank, identify the cause. If all your guppies are male, the most natural solution is to add some females to the equation. If you already have females in the tank, increase the numbers.

Guppies resort to violence whenever they are faced with a small number of females to mate with. You should have two or three females for every male guppy. This will maintain the peace. 

If some guppies are more aggressive than others and the measures you’ve taken have failed to control them, take them out of the tank. You could separate the problematic ones for a few weeks. Then, you may add them back in and watch if the behavior had changed. 

You could also divide the aquarium, placing a barrier in the middle. That will keep all the aggressive fish on one side. If that doesn’t work, consider the size of the tank. Overpopulation is a common cause of conflict in aquariums. 

  • On that matter, here is a useful Youtube video that I found on how to build your own aquarium divider. This solution could save you a lot of money down the line:

3. Add Some Foliage

If the Discus fish in your tank are the problem and some of them bully their smaller neighbors, add some decorations and plants. Give your smaller fish places to hide. This will allow the guppies to find relief from the aggression. 

If territorial tendencies are to blame for the conflict in the tank, try rearranging the landscape in the aquarium. Move a few things around. This will eliminate all pre-existing territories, causing the fighting to stop. 

Conclusions

It is possible to raise both guppies and Discus in the same tank. Since both species are prevalent, you will find that many fish owners indeed do so. However, there are cases when discus fish could attack and possibly eat guppies. 

To avoid that, you should make sure that your tank is roomy enough. Also, ensure that the temperature is ideal and that foliage is present in your tank. Providing the right conditions will lower the stress, and will encourage your fish to leave peacefully together. 

References

  1. https://www.fishkeepingworld.com/discus-fish/
  2. https://www.fishkeepingworld.com/guppies/
  3. https://www.buildyouraquarium.com/discus-tank-mates/
  4. https://petcentral.chewy.com/discus-fish-and-aggression/
  5. https://www.aqueon.com/information/care-sheets/discus
  6. https://www.aquariumcoop.com/blogs/aquarium/guppy-care-guide

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