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Flowerhorn Cichlid: The Ultimate Hybrid

Last Updated July 3, 2020
Flowerhorn Cichlid

Much ornamental fish have been selectively bred to express the most desirable and beautiful traits. Whether it’s for controlling temperament, more vibrant colors, or longer and flowier tails, breeders have tried for decades to get the most high-quality fish possible. One of these hybrids is the magnificent flowerhorn cichlid.

Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about flowerhorn cichlid care and keeping one of these fish in your own freshwater aquarium!

Name

The flowerhorn cichlid gets its name from its accentuated headpiece as well as the dark markings that could be commonly found along the lateral line on the side of the original varieties. Because these cichlids are hybrids, they are not assigned a scientific name.

Flowerhorn cichlid origins

Being a hybrid means that these fish are the result of being selectively bred. Flowerhorns first entered the aquarium trade in the early 1990s in Southeast Asia, in parts of Taiwan, Malaysia, and Thailand. Fish breeders wanted a fish with distinct protruding head structure as they were supposed to bring good luck.

In order to achieve this body shape, three main South American cichlids were bred together: the red devil cichlid (Amphilophus labiatus), the three spot cichlid/trimac cichlid (Cichlasoma trimaculatum), and the already hybridized blood parrot cichlid. As the flowerhorn cichlid became popularized, more and more cichlid species were bred together. Even if the fish didn’t have flower markings on its side, it was still labeled as a flowerhorn fish.

How much is a flowerhorn cichlid?

Over the years, different flowerhorns were slowly introduced to the rest of the world. However, it is known that these freshwater fish go for especially high prices...especially high prices. In 2009, it was reported that a golden monkey variety went for $600,000.

While this is an extremely rare example of expense, why are these fish so much money? This is because not every fish that is bred will come out with desirable traits. Even if the best of the best cichlids are paired together, there is a chance that their offspring will not form an exemplary flowerhorn fish.

Juvenile fish also change coloring over their life, so it is difficult to distinguish and market fish that do not have their final colors. Unfortunately, these two reasons mean that a lot of these cichlids are forgotten about and disposed of otherwise.

Interestingly, they are banned from import into Australia.

Natural habitat

Because these tropical fish are hybrids, they are not native to any areas of the world. However, because of the likelihood of getting a less-than-perfect fish from a breeding pair is high, flowerhorns have been released into the wild through the aquarium trade, especially around Malaysia and Singapore.

Flowerhorn Cichlid

Identification

One of the most obvious and defining features of flowerhorns is their prominent head growth. This is called the nuchal hump, also known as the kok, and is most apparent on males. The overall size and buoyancy of this hump will largely depend on genetics and aquarium care.

Their second most noticeable feature is their vibrant and intense colorations. They come in a variety of colors, from red to blue and from gold to green; the best part is that no two fish will ever look the exact same!

If considering a younger flowerhorn, make sure that they still have their juvenile patterning. These fish do not display their adult colors until about a year old. Any bright colorations before then were probably the result of injected dyes.

How big do flowerhorn cichlids get?

Flowerhorns can actually get considerably large so don’t be fooled when you see them at just a few inches in the pet store! Not only can they grow between 12-16 inches (30.5-40.6 cm) long, but their nuchal hump will also result in additional height that needs to be considered.

Their anal and dorsal fins can also add height when fully extended as they taper off towards the tail of the fish; in comparison, the caudal tail seems under-proportioned. Besides their head growth, these fish can grow quite the bumpy chin!

How do I tell a male flowerhorn cichlid from a female flowerhorn?

In most cases, male flowerhorn cichlids are larger than females. The males will also be more brightly colored, have a larger nuchal hump, and may have noticeably larger lips and longer fins.

There are a few other ways to tell your female flowerhorns apart, too. The females will usually have black dots on their dorsal fin and an orange belly that intensifies in color when nearing spawning periods.

How long can flowerhorn cichlids live?

Flowerhorn cichlids can live for a considerably long time, so make sure that this is a fish that you really want and can house for the duration of its life! These fish can easily live 10 years under good aquarium conditions, and can even live closer to 15 years.

Flowerhorn varieties

The original flowerhorn cichlid varieties were also known as luohans. Since the inception of hybridizing these fish, several colors and patternings have been popularized and commercialized; they may sometimes be referred to as ‘breeds,’ but they are all hybrids with different variations. Here are some you’re likely to come across:

Zhen zhu

These types of cichlids are known for their pearl-like appearance and are the most common and hardiest type of flowerhorn. These fish will usually have a rounded tail and significant head growth. They will also have red eyes and a large mouth.

In this variety is the very common red dragon flowerhorn. The red dragon flowerhorn is one of the easiest varieties you can breed. Most breeders focus on emphasizing their impressive red coloring, the size of their hump, and/or the signature pearling of the zhen zhu.

Golden monkey

For a fish that goes for $600,000, the golden monkey needs to be utterly spectacular. These fish are extremely rare and are usually the most vibrant and exclusive flowerhorns in the aquarium trade. They are the deepest saturated red, have the pearliest scales, and have a broad and even body stature.

Kamfa

These cichlids can have white or yellow eyes that are usually sunken into the face. They also have a fan tail and have an overall square-shaped body.

These fish tend to be more sensitive to changes in water chemistry and are not the easiest to breed. Kamfa flowerhorns are also thought to be a little more aggressive than most other varieties.

Golden base

A golden base flowerhorn cichlid actually refers to two main subsequent varieties: faders and golden trimacs. Faders get their name from the brilliant transition of colors they make between their juvenile and adult stages. Juveniles lose their color and turn black. The black then fades into their adult colorings, which are mainly red and yellow.

Golden trimacs mostly resemble the fish from which they are bred with more natural body shapes and colors. However, they express red and yellow patternings instead.

Flowerhorn cichlid tank requirements

Flowerhorn cichlids are large fish that can live for a long time and will require a large tank size. For just one flowerhorn cichlid, 75 gallons (284 L) is the minimum tank size. These fish thrive in clean and stable water conditions with moderate water flow.

Flowerhorn cichlids prefer higher water temperatures compared to other tropical fish, and do best when kept in 78- 86° F (25.5-30.0° C). At lower temperatures, these fish tend to lose their coloring and become more sluggish. pH should be maintained between 6.0 and 8.0.

These fish will also do best in an uncrowded tank; they love to dig in the substrate and pull up decorations and live plants. If wanting to bring some interest to your tank, try adding rounded objects instead, like smooth rocks that can’t hurt your fish. You can also add substrate and live plants, though be prepared when your fish has completely overturned the tank! Any substrate used should also be fine-grained as to not hurt the fish when burrowing.

Something to consider about these fish is their head growth. With these fish, you have to be mindful to not fill up the aquarium all the way if you have a hood. If the waterline is where you keep it with other fish, it is possible that your flowerhorn can go to the surface and hit its hump. This can cause the hump to temporarily lose its shape, but should come back if the problem is fixed.

Flowerhorn cichlid tank mates

Like most species of cichlid, the flowerhorn is an aggressive fish. Because these fish are not found in the wild, we cannot base our compatibility on anything that would occur naturally. Over the past few years, hobbyists have had great success keeping a flowerhorn with other tropical fish; the trick seems to be having a large enough tank to diminish aggression.

For a long time, flowerhorn cichlids were only kept by themselves or in pairs; you would also sometimes see one large take divided by egg crates, with each fish having its own section. Some hobbyists kept these fish in pairs, in which case, a 150 gallon (567.8 L) tank would be the bare minimum.

In recent years, hobbyists have started introducing other tropical fish into their flowerhorn tanks. If the tank is large enough, then all fish should be of relative size and added to the aquarium all at once; it is even better to introduce them while they’re still juveniles. Some of these fish include:

However, many of these freshwater fish get large on their own, and adding them to a flowerhorn tank will only increase their aquarium size needs. Also, remember that each fish has its own personality and has the chance of harassing or even killing another fish.

Can flowerhorn cichlids live with other cichlids?

Yes, some hobbyists have had success, but there is a good chance that there will be fighting between the fish. Keep in mind that flowerhorns have more specific aquarium needs than most species of cichlid. Decorations, substrate, and plants that would normally go with cichlids would need to be removed and/or modified to make sure that the flowerhorn doesn’t injure its hump.

Flowerhorn cichlid behavior

Flowerhorns are beautiful fish and have a lot of personality. Despite their aggressive personality, flowerhorns are some of the most interactive fish that a hobbyist can own and are sometimes referred to as the dogs of the aquarium trade. Flowerhorns will chase your finger if you run it along the outside of the glass; of course, this means that they might also chase your hand if you have to reach inside your tank for whatever reason!

Many hobbysists also teach their flowerhorns to eat directly out of their hand and in return, the fish may even let you touch them! Otherwise, these fish enjoy swimming the length of the tank, but may stay by any structures if other fish are introduced.

Are flowerhorns aggressive?

As we discussed before, there is no way to tell what kind of personality your flowerhorn will have as an adult. In general, flowerhorns are aggressive fish that can become very territorial.

Still, South American cichlids are usually less aggressive than African cichlids.

Flowerhorn cichlid diet

Flowerhorns are big fish with a big appetite; luckily, they’ll eat pretty much anything that you offer them.

As omnivores, flowerhorn cichlids should be given an assortment of high quality live and frozen foods as well as blanched vegetables from time to time. Bloodworms, brine shrimp, pieces of tilapia and shrimp, and dried insects will all be readily accepted by your fish.

They should be fed once to twice a day, in portions that can be finished in less than 5 minutes.

Breeding flowerhorn cichlids

While flowerhorns are highly desirable fish, they’re actually not too difficult to breed and will usually do so on their own if conditions are favorable. However, it should be noted that since these varieties are hybrids, there is always a chance that they are sterile. They also don’t reach full maturity until about 2 years old.

If intentionally trying to get your flowerhorns to breed, it is best to move them to a similar tank with the same water parameters. If they weren’t kept in the same tank before, it may be best to acclimate them to each other slowly by separating them at first with a piece of egg crate. It is possible that the male can fertilize eggs through the divider if he is especially aggressive.

Otherwise, remove the divider. The female will lay up to 1,000 eggs and the male will fertilize them. At this point, you should transfer the female back to the display tank; the male will look after and care for the fry, but so much so that he may even kill the female. You can also move both flowerhorns back to the display tank if you don’t want to risk losing any fish as the fry are very resilient and will do just fine on their own.

The eggs should hatch after a couple of days and then become free-swimming a few days after that. Juveniles should be fed an assortment of foods that can be easily swallowed, like bloodworms and brine shrimp. They will start to resemble the typical flowerhorn stature and coloration around 6 months to 1 year.

Flowerhorn Cichlid

Diseases

Like all other fish, flowerhorn cichlids are susceptible to ICH. For more information on how to treat ich, find our full treatment guide here.

One of the main concerns for flowerhorns though is hole-in-the-head disease. Popular belief is that this is caused by a parasite called Hexamitia, however, other unfavorable conditions may also cause the fish to become sick.

Hole-in-the-head is obviously marked by physical red pits and receding skin near the head and lateral line of the fish. There may also be signs of lethargy, loss of appetite, and discolored feces. Even worse, these lesions can lead to further viral and bacterial infections that make treatment more complicated.

While the exact treatment for hole-in-the-head is not exactly clear, it is best to perform frequent large water changes. Water parameters should remain stable and a high quality diet with iodine supplements should be offered. It may also help to remove activated carbon from the aquarium as some believe that the dust from carbon helps to onset the disease.

If symptoms persist, it would be worthwhile to medicate with metronidazole in a quarantine tank.

Here you can see just how horribly this disease affects fish and how much it takes to understand what is causing it.

Conclusion

Flowerhorn cichlids are some of the most beautiful fish available on the aquarium market but need a large tank that can handle their boisterous personality. They will not need any substrate, plants, or other decorations, but should be offered a wide variety of foods. Flowerhorns thrive in most water conditions and can be easily bred if conditions are right.

If you have any questions about flowerhorns or if you have kept these fish in your own aquarium, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!

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