The striking and unique Flowerhorn Cichlid hybrid is a gorgeous way to make a statement and get that “Wow!” factor in your aquarium!
The Flowerhorn Cichlid is a great fish for those who are looking for a unique and large cichlid. This fish has a great personality and is very interested in its environment. Those who purchase them fall in love.
This hybrid is one of the most eye-catching results of cichlid interbreeding and has created quite a stir in the aquarium hobby. Cichlids tend to not be picky breeders and will breed with another fish of the opposite sex whether it is of the same species or just another cichlid. This promiscuity has resulted in the development of a large variety of cichlid hybrids, oftentimes with amazing results.
Unlike the beginnings of the now popular Blood Parrot hybrid, the development of the gorgeous Flowerhorn Cichlid was not accidental. However, like the Blood Parrot, the Flowerhorn Cichlid is a man-made creation and is not found in the wild. The development of the Flowerhorn came from the deliberate crossbreeding of many types of cichlids by Malaysian fishkeepers. The Flowerhorn has been carefully bred and bloodlines meticulously not crossed in order to produce a healthy fish. In part because of this careful and selective breeding regime, this particular hybrid lacks the physical ailments plaguing many of the other cichlid hybrids and is even fertile, an uncommon trait amongst hybrids.
One interesting feature of the Flowerhorn Cichlid is that its coloring and patterning are fluid and will change and evolve until it becomes a fully mature adult. Thus, if you are interested in a particular look or pattern for your fish, you should be wary of purchasing a juvenile or a less-than-fully mature specimen. Alternatively, if you choose to purchase a young fish, you can look forward to watching its color and patterning develop almost literally right before your eyes. It’s always an interesting surprise to see where their aesthetics end up! One other thing to note, however, is that in part because of this uncertainty, juveniles tend to be far less expensive than mature adults. So it may be advantageous to buy the cheaper and less certain fish, rather than the expensive and unchanging fish. Either way, these fish are always beautiful and a great pet to own!
These cichlids are easy to care for and tend to be very hardy fish. That being said, they typically grow to between 12 – 16 inches (31 – 41 cm) and will require a fairly large tank of at least 55 gallons, and much larger if you plan on keeping them with tankmates. They appreciate having some rocks to hide behind but will spend most of their time out in the open. They love to dig in the substrate and will eat any living plant in their aquarium, so plants won’t do well in their tank. Because they have such an affinity for digging and because due to their large size they are able to move significant amounts of substrate, it’s recommended that any rocks or decorations in the tank br placed firmly on the glass bottom of the aquarium and not be reliant on gravel or sand for their footing. Otherwise, you may wake up one morning to find your carefully arranged tank in complete disarray. Be sure to allow plenty of room for open swimming.
The Flowerhorn Cichlid is best kept singly as a showfish. They are very territorial and aggressive, so they should not be kept in a community tank (unless the tank is very large such as 200 gallons or more) and any tankmates should be monitored closely for signs of injury or stress. As a matter of fact, they are even known to hands and can cause lacerations and marks on human skin. Keeping other fish out of its ‘line of sight’ will help to lower aggression, so decorate in a way that provides natural borders for its territory.
For Information on keeping freshwater fish, see:
Freshwater Aquarium Guide: Aquarium Setup and Care
- Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner
- Size of fish – inches: 16.0 inches (40.64 cm)
- Minimum Tank Size: 55 gal (208 L)
- Temperament: Large Aggressive – Predatory
- Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy
- Temperature: 80.0 to 89.0° F (26.7 to 31.7° C)
- My Aquarium – Enter your aquarium to see if this fish is compatible!
Habitat: Distribution / Background
Since they are a hybrid, Flowerhorn Cichlids are exclusively domestic and only found in aquariums. There are no wild populations of this species. The first hybrid was created in the mid 1900’s in Malaysia by cross breeding different species of fish, primarily South American cichlids. The Malaysians are said to have admired fish with large protruding nuchal humps on their heads as a resemblence of “Karoi”, the “warships” found on the western side of the country.
It is up to speculation which species actually produced these fish. The combination and different lines is a well kept secret only known by the breeders who worked on the development these fish. It is widely accepted that the Flowerhorn Cichlid is a product of several South American cichlids such as the the Three Spot Cichlid Cichlasoma trimaculatum, Red Terror Cichlasoma Festae, Midas Cichlid Amphilophus citrinellus (previously Cichlasoma citrinellum), Red Devil Amphilophus labiatus (previously Cichlasoma labiatum), Redheaded Cichlid Paraneetroplus synspilus (previously Vieja synspila), and even the hybrid Jingang Blood Parrot.
The first generation of Flowerhorns that we know today are called the Hua Luo Han Cichlids. The Hua Luo Han hybrids were developed around 1998 by breeding the hybrid Jingang Blood Parrot to the original Blood Parrot. Initially there were only two kinds of flowerhorns available in the United States, the regular Flowerhorn variety and a Golden based variety, and each of these had two types themselves.Some Flowerhorns presented white “pearl scale” spots and others did not, while some Golden base fish faded in color while others did not. By 1999 they became developed into four distinct types: regular Fowerhorns, Pearl Scale Flowerhorns or Zhen Zhu, Golden Flowerhorns, and Flowerhorns that fade.
From these four distinct types, breeding proliferated even more in 2000 and 2001, to create the Kamfa strains. These were a combination of any of the four types of Flowerhorns further crossed with various Paraneetroplus (previously Vieja) species and various Blood Parrot cichlids. These couplings resulted in the developments of new traits such as short mouths, larger and larger protruding nuchal humps, wrapped tails, sunken eyes, and even more vibrant and eclectic coloring.
From these developments, the Flowerhorn Cichlid has been launched into a sort of celebrity status in the fishkeeping hobby. In Asia the Flowerhorn Cichlid is considered by many to bring good luck or good ‘Feng Shui’. Feng Shui is an ancient Chinese practice, a discipline with guidelines that practice placement and arrangement of space to achieve harmony with the environment, and thus effect health, wealth, and personal relationships.
Consequently a Flowerhorn Cichlid with patterning that resembled Chinese lettering or with pinkish heart shaped coloring could fetch thousands of dollars. Even the development of a large hump on the forehead would bring good fortune of the owner. It is thought that this hump makes the Flowerhorn Cichlid resemble the Chinese God of Longevity and as the hump grows large so does its owners luck, and so that too would increase its value.
Some of these fish can still command a good price today, but fortunately for the hobbyist most Flowerhorn Cichlids are not quite that pricey.
- Scientific Name:
- Social Grouping: Solitary
- IUCN Red List: NE – Not Evaluated or not listed – Captive bred hybrid. Not found in the wild.
The Flowerhorn Cichlid has a very thick oval body with a protruding nuchal hump on the head. It is a large cichlid reaching up to between 12 – 16 inches (31 – 41 cm) in length, depending on its parentage. Its scales can range from a bluish green metallic overall, to pinks and reds in the front half of the body. There is a black horizontal marking on most strains, though some lack this feature. The dorsal and anal fins are particularly long and pointed while the caudal fin features a rounded, spade-like appearance. They can live for 8-10 years.
There are some breeders who are trying to get brighter colors, bolder black markings, and a larger nuchal hump on their forehead. Obtaining a juvenile for a particular look is risky as they haven’t yet developed their adult coloration. If you are looking for a specific pattern make sure you buy an adult, or buy several juveniles and hope one looks like what you want as an adult.
When choosing an adult there are 7 points to look for, what have been called the “Flower Horn Fish Standards”. These include: body shape, coloration, pearl scales, black horizontal markings, a good nuchal hump, alert distinct eyes, and erect tail and fins.
All cichlids, along with some saltwater fish such as wrasses and parrotfish, share a common trait of a well-developed pharyngeal set of teeth located in the throat, along with their regular teeth. Cichlids have spiny rays in the back parts of the anal, dorsal, pectoral, and pelvic fins to help discourage predators. The front part of these fins are soft and perfect for precise positions and effortless movements in the water as opposed to fast swimming.
Cichlids have one nostril on each side while other fish have 2 sets. To sense “smells” in the water, they suck water in and expel the water right back out after being “sampled” for a short or longer time, depending on how much the cichlid needs to “smell” the water. This feature is shared by saltwater damselfish and cichlids are thought to be closely related.
- Size of fish – inches: 16.0 inches (40.64 cm)
- Lifespan: 10 years
Fish Keeping Difficulty
These fish are very easy to care for and can tolerate many environments which would be too harsh for many other fish. They are carnivore and will eat just about anything meaty and protein based food they are offered, including pellets, flake foods, live foods, frozen foods, etc.
That being said, although they seem like the perfect fish for beginners, it is not recommeded that beginners keep these fish, for a few reasons. First, this a very large cichlid, reaching up to 12 – 16″ (31 -41 cm) and require large and expensive housing. The upfront cost of jumping into keeping a fish like this is not something many beginners are willing to make. Second, Flowerhorn Cichlids are very aggressive and territorial, so they are generally kept singly and without any tankmates or even live plants. Most beginners find it more satisfying to keep a larger variety of fish in order to “test the waters” concerning what type of fish they prefer, rather than diving into keeping one, and only one, large cichlid. Lastly, Flowerhorns can be difficult to maintain due to their aggressive natures. They will often literally “bite the hand that feeds”, i.e. give a painful bite to their owner’s hand during tank cleaning.
However, if you feel that this is absolutely the fish for you and you, like many others around the world, have simply fallen in love with the Flowerhorn, don’t let us discourage you! Other than the restrictions previously mentioned, these fish are suitable for a beginner who knows what they want and is wiling to put the time and money necessary into their hobby.
- Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy
- Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner – These fish are only recommended for beginners who are well versed in their behaviors, setup requirements, and probable expense.
Foods and Feeding
The Flowerhorn Cichlid is a carnivore with a large appetite and is easy to underfeed. So it is important to be sure they are getting enough food. They can eat all kinds of live, fresh, and high quality frozen foods. Variety of food is just as important as quanity and quality, so feed them a good mixture of high quality cichlid pellets, krill, frozen bloodworms, earthworms, night crawlers, crickets, and carotene enhanced supplements. Feed 2 to 3 times a day and remember it helps with maintenance if you avoid foods that pollute the tank’s water. Their coloring can be affected by the foods you feedm them. All fish benefit from vitamins and supplements added to their foods.
Warning: many sites and other sources will suggest feeding beef heart or other types of mammal meat. Do not do this. These types of foods create digestive issues with the Flowerhorn and should be avoided.
- Diet Type: Carnivore
- Flake Food: Occasionally
- Tablet / Pellet: Occasionally
- Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Most of Diet
- Vegetable Food: Some of Diet
- Meaty Food: Most of Diet
- Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day
The Flowerhorn Cichlid is not as sensitive to water conditions as many other cichlids, but this does not mean tank keepers should not have a strict maintenance schedule. Because they are large fish and extremely messy eaters, it is recommended to have very strong filtration. The tank should be cleaned bi-weekly or monthly depending on what and how much the fish is eating. During cleaning the viewing panes should be cleared of algae and once settled vacuum the substrate completely. When your hands and arms are in the tank, keep a close eye on the Flowerhorn for signs of aggression as this fish can leave a nasty bite.
- Water Changes: Bi-weekly
Like all larger South American Cichlids, the Flowerhorn Cichlid needs a lot of room. If kept alone, a minimum of 55 gallons is required, though a tank at least 4′ long and 2′ wide would be ideal. A breeding pair should isolated and kept in at least 125 gallons and if you are keeping a Flowerhorn with other large tankmates you will need at least 200 gallons. They do fine with moderate water movement and good efficient filtration. These fish can be destructive and will eat live plants, so keep that in mind when deciding on which decorations to purchase.
They appreciate a gravel substrate and some rocks to hide behind, but will spend most of the time out in the open. It is a digger and plants don’t fare so well as they will be shredded. Make sure rocks are well bedded on the actual glass bottom of the tank to prevent toppling. Be sure to have plenty of open space for swimming.
- Minimum Tank Size: 55 gal (208 L)
- Substrate Type: Sand/Gravel Mix
- Lighting Needs: Moderate – normal lighting
- Temperature: 80.0 to 89.0° F (26.7 to 31.7° C)
- Breeding Temperature: 82.0° F – with a pH of 7.0
- Range ph: 6.5-7.8
- Hardness Range: 9 – 20 dGH
- Brackish: No
- Water Movement: Moderate
- Water Region: All
The Flowerhorn Cichlid is not a community cichlid as it is very territorial and aggressive and can only be kept either singly, as a pair in a large tank, or with other large and aggressive tankmates in a very large tank. This fish is best kept alone. Even your hands are fair game and its bite can hurt. Keeping other fish out of its ‘line of sight’ will help to lower aggression, so decorate in a way that provides natural borders for its territory.
If you are interested in breeding these fish, be aware that their aggression will transfer to fish of their same species Keep a close eye on your breeding pair and take care they don’t kill each other. Similar to most other large American cichlids, Flowerhorns are aggressive towards their own species and completely intolerant of fish from another genus.
- Temperament: Large Aggressive – Predatory
- Compatible with:
- Same species – conspecifics: No
- Peaceful fish (): Threat
- Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
- Aggressive (): Threat
- Large Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
- Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat – Only in a very large tank.
- Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Threat – is aggressive
- Plants: Threat
Sex: Sexual differences
No reliable sexing method has yet been confirmed, though several methods have been suggested. When adults are ready to breed there is a thick tube that sticks out of the vent area. Some say the male’s tube is thicker and others say the female’s is thicker, some say the vent is bigger not the tube, and some say the female may have a black spot on the dorsal fin.
A technique thought to possibly work is one used by tilapia farmers. Take the juvenile and lay it on its back in your hand out of the water. With the belly facing up, gently press the belly from below the “rib cage” down toward the vent. If it is a male then a clear liquid will squirt out and females will not squirt anything. Some experts feel this is the only reliable method.
Breeding / Reproduction
Unlike most hybrids, the Flowerhorn Cichlid is fertile. The first step in breeding these fish, if being bred with specific colors or patterns like that ‘jackpot’ Chinese luck sign in mind, is to be aware of the ancestry of the fish you are breeding. Otherwise you may end up with a brood that displays none of the colors or patterns you are looking for.
The Flowerhorn Cichlid has breeding needs similar to other South American cichlids, like the Three Spot Cichlid Cichlasoma Trimaculatum. Provide the female with plenty of places to hide so that the male cannot see her at all times. The male will attack her if she does not have a place to get “out of sight” when he is being aggressive. If he is overly aggressive put in a divider with the bottom elevated enough that they can interact without being able to squeeze through. In this case, a flat stone can be put next to the divider. Remove all other possible spawning locations so as to force the female to deposit her eggs in a place that the male can fertilize them. Directing the water to flow from the male’s side to the female’s will help the male fertilize the eggs.
Once you have established whether they can stay together or must be separated, you need to condition them like you would any other breeding cichlid. The water should be around 82° F (28° C) and have a neutral pH of 7.0. Feed several times a day and perform more frequent water changes to prevent the increased bio load from spoiling the water.
They will guard their eggs and fry with every ounce of energy. Even if up to this point the parents are getting along, the male may decide that the fry are all his and attack the female to keep them away from her. If this happens you must remove the female. The fry are large and easy to care for. They can be fed newly hatched brine shrimp once they are hatched and should be fed crushed high quality pellets or flake foods after a week or two. See more about cichlid breeding in: Breeding Freshwater Fish: Cichlids.
- Ease of Breeding: Difficult – Due to their propensity to attack one another, these fish can be quite challenging to breed safely.
The Flowerhorn Cichlids are susceptible to typical fish ailments, especially if water is stale and of poor quality and oxygenation. One common problem is Ich. It can be treated with the elevation of the tank temperature to 86° F (30° C) for 3 days. If that does not cure the Ich, then the fish needs to be treated with copper (remove any water conditioners). Several copper based fish medications are available for Ich. Copper use must be kept within the proper levels, so be sure to follow the manufacturers suggestions. A copper test also can be used to keep the proper levels. You can also combine increasing the temperature with an Ich medication treatment. Intestinal disease can be treated with metronidazol.
Flowerhorns are also known to be prone to hole-in-head disease and digestive blockages which can be prevented with proper diet and tank conditions.
As with most fish these cichlids are prone to skin flukes and other parasitic infestations (protozoa, worms, etc.), fungal infections, and bacterial infections. It is recommended to read up on the common tank diseases. Knowing the signs and catching and treating them early makes a huge difference. For information about freshwater fish diseases and illnesses, see Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments.
The Flowerhorn Cichlid is readily available both in fish stores and online. Their price range varies from moderate to extremely pricey, depending on the size and/or color pattern of the particular fish.
- Animal-World References: Freshwater Fish and Plants
- George Zurlo, David Schleser, Cichlids (Complete Pet Owner’s Manual), Barron’s Edu Series, 2005
- Glen S. Axelrod, Brian M. Scott, Neal Pronek, Encyclopedia Of Exotic Tropical Fishes For Freshwater Aquariums, TFH Publications, 2005
- Richard F. Stratton, The Guide to Owning Cichlids, T.F.H. Publications, Inc., 2002
- “History of the Flower Horn“, Flowerhornking.com, Referenced online, 2007, http://www.flowerhornking.com/FlowerHorn/
- “Flower Horn Fish Standards“, Flower Horn Fish Consortium, Referenced online, 2007, http://www.flowerhornxport.com/standard.htm
- “Flowerhorn Cichlids, The history of the Flowerhorn cichlid”, Aquatic Community, Referenced online, 2007
- Flowerhorn cichlid, Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia