Discus Classification

Discus Classification


Some thoughts on Discus Classification :-
By Johnny Yip (Hong Kong), Author of Asian Discus 1 & 2

What is the proper way to classify discus? There are two schools of thought here. The old school classified discus based on their heritage. This is evidently shown in old discus literature and the emphasis being placed in the marketing of discus "strains" in the past. Asian hobbyists and breeders alike classify discus according to their physical characteristics; in particular body pattern and base colors. For those who tend to classify a discus according to its heritage, I suppose their reasoning behind this would be their embedded tradition in dealing with other live animals such as thoroughbreds, dogs, cats and so forth. And they applied that similar classification module to discus as well. That is why they tend to base their categorization of discus according to what the parental lineages are. However, problems may arise employing this method with discus fishes. For one thing, as in many cases, it may be impractical to know what the parent fishes are. And even if we tend to think we do know, can we be absolutely sure that it came from that certain line? Even in the case of wild discus we cannot be absolutely sure. In the past, many people are strongly influenced by this line of thinking. To those, hybrid carries a certain negative connotation. Only the best should breed with the best to maintain it's line. That is probably one of the reasons why discus has progressed so slowly in the past. However, Asian breeders like to experiment with crossing discus of different variants. By doing so, we came up with many interesting specimens and gave birth to newer varieties. Some of course are successful while many are horrific! And in the process of manipulating their genetic characters, the genetic composition of discus hence become rather complex, making classification by this nature nearly impossible and impractical. The situation will get even more complicated down the road.

Times have changed. Today, hobbyists become rather demanding. They desire more different varieties and this is evidently shown in the enormous popularity of the new creations being developed and offered by Asian breeders. What was desirable in the past becomes less fashionable. People want changes. They want to see new things. Genetically stable strains would be nice but not absolutely essential anymore. And at this day and age with the general breeding skills greatly improved, once a certain variety becomes genetically stable, the economic value quickly decreases. Unlike the old days, when a strain is fixed, the value goes up. Clearly the law of supply and demand comes into play. This is a different trend I observe today. People demand exceptional individual specimens. Whether that specimen is a "strain" or not becomes a lesser issue. And there is nothing wrong with that, especially if you are just a hobbyist and wanted the best looking discus or a rare specimen in your aquarium tank. Whenever "strain" is regarded, this should be the concern for the professional breeders who want to produce them in mass quantity or for serious hobbyists who are interested in discovering their genetic pattern or carrying out genetic experiments. Remember that as a hobby, we keep and display discus for their aesthetic value; not economic value. So, for us hobbyists, we better leave the genetic engineering part to other people and focus more on the appreciation of the fish instead on the "strain" aspect.

Take the case of the Pigeon Blood. It is indeed a beautiful fish whether one like it or not. It is one of the most successful varieties ever produced. And in fact it is still the best selling discus fish in the trade. But its beauty bears no direct relationship with price. In terms of genetic stability, I would say it is one of the most stable strains of all time. For those who have bred Pigeon Blood before would surely understand. Anything that touches the Pigeon Blood will bear its offspring. Not only that but also the percentage of the offspring are high. The Pigeon Blood is truly a breeding strain; which means that the basic characteristic of its features are passed on to later generations. No doubt about it. But being a true strain that possesses both attributes (beauty and genetic stability); its price definitely does not reflect that at all. Then again, beauty and desirability are two different things. But the most ridiculous thing is when Pigeon Blood was launched in Singapore a decade ago, the "experts" were so ignorant that they would not allow it to enter the competition claiming it a defective fish, hormoned fish and what not. It was not finally until this year that we rectify this fault and at last given the fish a class of its own in international competition after nearly a decade.

Discus classification whether it is for the purpose of judging in fish show and competition or simply for references only should be given to all varieties of discus. Whether that class is popular or not is another issue. As for discus shows, maybe we should evaluate only the most popular class (in terms of the number of entries). It is rather unfair to retain the traditional class just for the sake of its historic status while leaving all the newer creations to be thrown into an "open class".
Discus varieties came into existence by means of hybridization. I believe that if you examine them scientifically, they all belong to one taxonomic group with the Brown discus being their ancestor. All other types are merely genetical modification or simply a morphism of colors and pattern evolved out of environmental factors. Recently, genetic scientists made great progress in unveiling the evolutionary process of the human species and concluded that we, human race, all originated from Africa. It was not until some 500,000 years ago that we branched out and reside into different areas of the globe and transformed into races such as European, Asian and African. The case strongly demonstrate that all things originated from one source. Discus, I believe, also fit this pattern of evolution.

Discus are being bred for their color and pattern variants. Classifying them by their physical criteria is the only feasible method. All that is to classification of discus is merely superficial until maybe one day when genetic mapping becomes practical. Meanwhile, due to the limitation of other measurable parameters, we could only afford to classify it in this manner. After all, judging discus is only a game we designed and as long as we all agreed upon a standard the controversy will end.

Who would have thought that the Pigeon Blood originated from the Red Royal Blue. Likewise, the Snakeskin also came from the line of Red Royal Blue.
Like Pigeon Blood, it is a branch of the R.R.B.'s descendants.

First photo: The Red Royal Blue of Thailand is a true breeding strain with nearly

All photo's on this page are copyrighted by Johnny Yip

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