Assassin Methode Breeding
By Chaiyuth Damrongrashasakdi
Translated by Kenneth Damrongrashasakdi
Although usually called "foster parenting" in many circles,
it has taken on the name of "assassin" method here in the
Kingdom of Thailand.
The technique is not nearly as menacing as the name suggests, although
the translation of the word used for "assassin," from Thai is
"hand gun." Either way, the word used by the majority of Thai
discus breeders, from the naturally skilled illiterate aqua-farmers to
those discus-breeding doctoral students of science, has stuck and is most
likely here to stay. To understand the nature of one's hired gun, we must
first define what his/her job is. The assassin, of any type, does the
"dirty work" for an employer. An employer in this sense is of
course the discus breeder but also the pair of discus who were the actual
parents of a discus brood.
The dirty work is defined to be the tedious and crucial feeding and/or
care of discus from the time that they are fertilized embryos attached to
a submersed mutant potted plant, known as the discus cone, to the time
that they can consume artemia. That is not to say foster parenting must
begin at the egg stage or at any specific point, as it is typically in the
best interest of the breeder to adjust the method to each and every
particular brood and situation.
For myself and many others, I feel the critical time period of three to
four days, when discus are first free swimming, and the methods employed
by the breeder, is often what defines a successful discus breeding
program. The Thais have employed assassins, like in any Chinese based
culture, for several hundreds of years, but have only employed discus
assassins for the past thirty years or so.
The original brown assassins were usually of the same breed as their
cichlid employers. Specifically, they would take care of eggs from other
browns. The breeder would typically identify which browns were the more
diligent egg layers and which were the most proficient parents. Eggs, as
soon as they were laid and fertilized would be transferred to the
assassins. Ideally, they would be transferred to an assassin tank that had
just laid eggs; but not so many, being inefficient egg producers.
This allowed for a kind of mass production that filled the coffers of
many early discus breeders in Thailand. There were those that said,
"when the eggs are laid, the money can be counted." Thus at this
time, the kind of foster parenting that most often took place, was one of
egg care. From this, it evolved into fry care.
This was in part to deal with the "egg buffet" that is so
common and well known to all those who attempt to breed discus. To combat
the "fry buffet," which would sometimes take place by one set of
parents, assassins soon found themselves foster parenting discus
hatchlings as opposed to mostly eggs in the initial method.
Young, swim-sticky discus were gently siphoned from their hatching
tank, some perhaps still barely stuck to their cone, into the now famous
"all-purpose white basin." From there, they would again be
siphoned to another tank, the assassin tank, where the assassins would
ideally be in a similar stage of raising their own, or perhaps another
"employer's" discus fry. Sometimes the lights were dimmed so
that the assassin wouldn't sense anything psychologically disturbing, such
as discus fry "suddenly materializing" in the tank or
"dropping down from the sky."
From these methods and others, such as employing mesh screen egg
shields, high volume "lay down" water changes (the water was
drained to the point that the discus appeared to lie down in the tank, as
appearing to take a nap before being filled again), and even employing
divers to trawl the bottom of Bangkok's many klongs (canals) for the
meatiest tubeflex blood worms, the Thais came to discover not just the
joys of discus as a hobby, but mass production and economies of scale that
would have impressed Henry Ford himself. Thailand and much of Southeast
Asia, duly represented by Penang, Singapore, Hong Kong, and later on
Jakarta and many parts of the Philippines came into the aquarium fish
breeding business for economic profit. Things became quite cut throat, and
have scarcely become friendlier, since those times.
Fortunately, through times of fierce competition, and more than a few
fool hardy ventures by those unfamiliar with the rigors of discus
breeding, assassins were readily available to ply their trade. These huge
volumes of discus continually inbred and soon to be cross-bred with more
wild strains, naturally, or rather unnaturally, began to produce more than
a few different kinds of beautiful, odd, and ugly discus hybrids.
The market demanded more and more of these specimens and demand quickly
shifted away from the once loved brown. To this day, some might view the
true brown as the hard to find piece on the market. As the new hybrids
became lighter and more colorful, their brood sizes were at the same time
shrinking. Nature had naturally worked against the propagation of mutated
breeds, while human kind (at least the discus loving segment), worked in
the opposite direction. For better or worse (for better, surely?), the
discus lovers won, and turquoise discus both of the darker blues and reds,
became the assassins of choice in the Kingdom of Thailand.
In the most unscientific proclamation, many breeders declared young
discus fry to be color blind, in that they could not find and attach
themselves to their light skinned parents. Others made the hypothesis that
perhaps these new mutated breeds were lacking in mucous nourishment for
the young fry. Either way, assassins found themselves raising the
offspring of some of the rare and more valuable breeds entering the
Avid discus hobbyists anxiously awaiting a climax to this article,
hoping that the secret of the assassin will be revealed herein may be
somewhat disappointed. In truth, the foster parent discus, like the
breeder who raised it, is merely a naturally skilled guardian. It is a
rare thing to find an honest breeder, exporter, or aquarium fish merchant
who will part with a mated pair of discus. Those who know discus probably
understand this. Mated pairs are hard to come by, and if raised from the
cone, who could possibly part with them after such a long relationship
The assassin discus can only be even more rare. The foster parent
discus, left to nature, will probably produce few full broods of
offspring. However, given the opportunity, they will raise 2-3 consecutive
broods of other's offspring, before being in need of "maternity"
leave. By the way, this is important too, or you will find that your
assassins will expire. Be sure to give them time to recuperate so that
they may regenerate their mucous coats.
They are typically larger discus, in the 5.5" plus inch range. The
most common foster parents work in pairs, although occasionally, one will
chance upon a solitary male assassin, who because of his size and
predisposition is willing and able to take care of large broods of fry
But finally, I must stress again, that there is no set formula or
interview process that will find you a good foster parent. And you
shouldn't buy one from anyone who says that they have some, as only a fool
would give them up. Like everything else in this hobby of discus raising
or breeding, there is an element of luck, coupled with patience, skill and
passion for the pastime.