My Experience with Breeding Albino Discus
By Chad Adams
I must admit ever since I was a little kid, I think I still am by the way, I have always loved albinos. Albino anything! Actually before discus even came along my favorite fish were Albino Kribensis, which I could never get to breed without eating the eggs. Darn cichlids. I used to love our yearly trips to the zoo where you could find just about albino anything; snakes, turtles, deer even alligators. We even lived in an apartment complex when I was 5 that had an actual albino homo sapien, that’s a person for us southerners, living there. He was weird. All this led to my fascination with the albino discus.
I was very disappointed upon reading Jack Wattley’s Handbook of Discus in the mid-90’s where he showed one picture of an albino discus just to say “it never caught on”. I thought I may never even see one in my lifetime. Fast forward to 2010 when I purchased my first group of adult albinos from Kenny’s Discus of California. I didn’t even tell my close friends I was getting them. I wanted it to be a surprise. At the time I received them there was no one on SimplyDiscus or my current influences that was having any success with breeding albinos on a regular basis. The hardest part seemed to be getting the albino babies to attach to the albino parents. Challenge taken!
I began to take in all the information I could; internet, books, chat rooms, anywhere I could get a morsel of fact. The problem was there seemed to be very little of that, or anyone that was willing to share it. All threads on SimplyDiscus seemed to be dead ends, books had no information and the chat rooms were useless. So let the experimenting begin! This is the collection of my experience with breeding albinos.
The first thing I can tell you is breeding albinos is unique; it’s a whole different ballgame. I can also say nothing works exactly the same every time. Breeding albinos is a case of increasing your odds at every chance. It requires consistent attention and a little bit of luck. Let me just say this; If your ultimate goal is only to have albino babies the best method is foster parenting which I have always had great experience with.
It is my opinion based on my experience and knowledge that albinos, and in particular albino babies have very poor eyesight and are hampered by bright light. One of the first people to bring this to my attention was Leo Ross, a friend and fellow discus enthusiast from Georgia when he mentioned in a discussion that when he tilted his light the albino fry reacted differently. I filed this information in the back of my head.
Then one night when heading to bed after water changes I stumbled on one of the most important facets of albino breeding; lighting.
I had tried and failed on several occasions with my first albino pair, a Leopard Snakeskin and ARSG. This was their 5th or 6th spawn that I would watch slowly die after the 3rd day without attachment. It was frustrating but I never felt like I wanted to give up. On this night I was watching the 3 day old fry wither away to nothing at the bottom of the tank. Having enough of this morbid frustration I shut the light off & stood up out of the wooden chair I was sitting in to head to bed. A funny thing happened; the fry began to come alive. They swam up off the bottom and around like they had been given new life. I turned the light back on and back down to the bottom they went. Unfortunately it was too late for this batch as the next morning they were all dead.
I had a pair of ARSGs that were now starting to lay eggs on a regular basis. I decided to use this pair with my new lighting experiment. First thing is to paint the tank all white. Remove the black plastic frame with a razor blade or really thin knife, thanks to Larry Bugg(Bugman, past NADA President). Paint at least the 3 non-viewing sides all white. The viewing side can be covered by white Styrofoam or something that would serve the same purpose that can be removed at a later date. I also switched to using white or sandstone airstones. The heaters were all stainless steel. Nothing else was left in the tank. Again, it’s a matter of increasing the odds.
In sure typical Atlanta H2O fashion I had eggs within no time. Two days later little tiny wrigglers were all over the cone. The ARSGs were awesome parents staying & defending the eggs and wrigglers 24/7. I kept the light overhead until the free-swimming stage. Prior to free swimming it’s very important to keep the tank as pristine as possible. The day of free-swimming I removed the light and secured the white Styrofoam across the front of the tank. I also lowered the water level as far as I felt comfortable, usually to the top of the fins.
The pair was very good about attending to the fry and trying to keep them in one place. This effort as always eventually becomes futile as the albinos still were not seeing the parents on a consistent basis with ambient light. I began to experience with a 1 bulb LED flashlight made by Coleman. With the light set on top of the glass above the parents it would cast a shadow down through the parents creating a darkening effect. It worked. The fry were attracted to the parents and stayed with them. The hard part was… the parents wouldn’t stay still & I consistently had to move the flashlight to where the parents were, eventually attracting the fry to the same place. This worked real well and most of the fry attached in this particular batch. In ensuing batches I experienced with more ambient light from different angles and angling the flashlight itself. Experiment, experiment, experiment is the answer.
At this point when breeding albinos my methods have changed slightly. Everything is the same until the free-swimming stage. After lowering the water I now add a divider such as egg crate into the tank and trap the parents into the smallest space I feel comfortable with. Which is usually barely enough room to even turn around in. They are usually trapped in about 20% of a 20-gallon tank. A few ways I have found to attract the fry to this small space is to attach a black suction cup to the far side of the tank that the pair is trapped in, place a black button in with the pair(Thank You Dick Au), or to cut a circle from black construction paper and slip it into the bottom of the frame on the outside of the section where the pair is. The latter works best with strong outside ambient light, perhaps from another tank. These methods have yielded the most consistent success.
I am always available for questions, comments or suggestions at the North American Discus Association website under the user name Chad_Adams. I would also like to hear of successes or struggles in the arena of Albino Discus Breeding.