The first discus species to be discovered was done so by Austrian zoologist and ichthyologist Dr. Johanne Jacob Heckel around 1840. Named the Heckel Discus (Symphyosodon discus Heckel), this particular species is one of the most visually appealing and roundest of all of the many different strains of the discus fish, giving the Heckel discus the nickname of the “Pompadour Fish”.
The Heckel discus is easily distinguishable from the other species of discus fish by the pattern of nine vertical bars that vertically across the its body. More specifically, the first, fifth, and ninth bars are noticeably darker/bolder than the rest of the vertical bars. Additionally, the first bar runs right through the eye of the Heckel discus, and the ninth bar runs straight through the tail, or caudal fin, of the fish. The fifth bar, which is much more prominent and darker than all of the other bars in adult Heckel, runs directly through the center of the body.
Another notable feature of the Heckel discus is its bright coloration, even in wild specimens. When found in pristine condition, the coloration of the Heckel discus can range from red to blue, red to brown, and even red to turquoise. With a life span that varies from around four years to up to ten years, the Heckel can reach a body size upwards of approximately seven inches in diameter. In the wild, this species is endemic to the South America regions of Brazil and the Amazon, specifically in the Xingu, Madeira, and Negro rivers that wind through the Amazon watershed.
Currently, two different variations of the Heckel can be found in the wild. The Red Discus Heckel, which displays colorations most similar to the red/turquoise combination mentioned above, has red colorations on the ends of its fins. The Pineapple Heckel, though not as vibrantly colored as the Red Heckel, displays a much more faded coloration with a dark band that runs through the center of its body.
Though both variations of the Heckel discus are more or less shy and peaceful species, they do, however, prefer to be kept in pairs or groups in aquariums. They are most at home in aquariums with dampened lighting, light vegetation, and a soft substrate, which mimics their natural environment in the Amazon with its slow moving and calm waters.
With such great beauty comes great responsibility, however, as these fish are known to be notoriously difficult to keep in aquariums for even the experienced discus keeper. The Amazon River, which is the largest river in the world with respect to length, drainage area, and average discharge, dispels 209,000 cubic meters of water per second. In the wild, the water that the discus inhabit is constantly being swapped out and replaced. This means that for the Heckel discus, and most other discus species for that matter, water changes are especially important in preventing disease and reducing stress levels. The Heckel in particular has been known to be a much more fragile species than other discuss fish, so perfect tank conditions are critical in successfully keeping the Heckel discus in your aquarium.