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Flowerhorn Care Guide – Diet, Tank Mates And Other Tips

The Flowerhorn is a species of cichlid that is best known as a fish with a big forehead. These distinctive fish, with their remarkable looks, can make a real talking point in any display tank, and they are reputedly easy to care for.

But is the Flowerhorn fish aggressive, does the Flowerhorn change color, and does the female Flowerhorn have a hump, or is it only the male that does?

In this guide, we give you all the information that you’ll need to decide if a Flowerhorn cichlid would be a good pet for you.

Where Do Flowerhorns Come From?

flowerhorn cichlid or cichlasoma fish in the aquarium

Did you know that you will never find a Flowerhorn living in the wild? That’s because Flowerhorns are hybrids, and, as such, they don’t exist in nature.

These weird-looking fish were actually created as a result of the extensive artificial crossbreeding of various cichlid species. Cichlids are notoriously promiscuous and will gladly mate with most other fish of the opposite sex, provided that they are members of the same species or some other type of cichlid. That quirk enabled breeders to create some of the most bizarre-looking fish in the hobby.

Malaysian Roots

The Flowerhorn was developed in Malaysia in the mid-1900s when many varieties of South American cichlids were interbred. Breeders loved the fishes’ large nuchal humps, citing a resemblance to the warships of the time, known as “Karoi.”

Popular opinion among enthusiasts is that the Flowerhorn came into being as a result of crossbreeding several naturally occurring species of cichlids, including:

Aquarium with cichlids fish from lake malawi

  • Three-Spot cichlid
  • Red Terror
  • Midas cichlid
  • Red Devil
  • Redheaded cichlid
  • Jingang Blood Parrot

Flowerhorn breeders today insist on keeping their fishes’ bloodlines pure. That ensures that the fish remain healthy and that their looks are preserved.

Hua Luo Han Cichlids

The Flowerhorns that you find in the trade today are referred to as the Hua Luo Han Cichlids. These fish were first bred in the late 1990s and were created by crossing the Blood Parrot with the hybrid Jingang Blood Parrot. These original fish appeared in regular and golden-based color morphs. However, further variations appeared, and by 1999 there were four distinct strains of Flowerhorn:

  1. Regular Flowerhorns
  2. Zhen Zhu Golden Flowerhorns
  3. Pearl Scale Flowerhorns
  4. Flowerhorns that fade

More crossbreeding took place, and in 2000 and 2001, the first Kamfa strains appeared that were essentially hybrids of any of those four species and Blood Parrot cichlids. Those fish had ever more strange features, including massive nuchal humps, short mouths, wraparound tails, sunken eyes, brighter colors.

Lucky Fish

In Asia’s fish keeping circles, the Flowerhorn is regarded as a kind of celebrity fish that can bring its keeper good fortune and good Feng Shui, even influencing the financial success, relationships, and health of the owner.

Flowerhorns that have especially bright colors and unusual patterns such as Chinese letters or heart shapes can fetch thousands of dollars, especially those with huge nuchal humps. The fish’s nuchal hump gets larger as the fish ages, so the Flowerhorn is associated with the Chinese God of Longevity. So, fish with massive humps are viewed as extremely lucky and thus command a higher price.

Flowerhorn Appearance

The Flowerhorn cichlid is one of the most unmistakable tropical aquarium fish species that you can find in your local fish store.

The crossbreed cichlid fish (flower horn) in a fish tank

Both sexes have chunky, oval-shaped bodies, growing to reach between 12 and 16 inches in length at maturity. But it’s the large nuchal hump on their heads that sets these fish apart from other species of cichlids.

The Flowerhorn typically has greenish-blue metallic scales that may be red and pink toward the front of the fish’s body, and most Flowerhorns have horizontal black stripes.

The dorsal and anal fins are long and pointed, and the caudal fin is rounder and more spad-shaped. The fins have sharp, spiny rays toward the rear that work as a defense against other Flowerhorns and predators. The remainder of the fin is soft, enabling the fish to swim and position itself accurately. Although Flowerhorns do like to hang out in open water, these are not fast swimmers.

Flowerhorn Fish Standards

If you’re looking for a show-quality Flowerhorn, there are seven prescribed “standards” that you need to look for, which are:

close up big aquarium fish the flower horn

  • Nuchal hump
  • Body shape
  • Color
  • Black horizontal markings
  • Metallic or pearlized scales
  • Erect tail and fins
  • Prominent eyes

As with all cichlids, Flowerhorns have a set of prominent teeth in their throats, as well as regular teeth. These fish have a nostril on either side of their heads that they use to suck in water, which they sample for “smells” and then expel.

Color Changing

Although Flowerhorns are prized for their coloration and weird marking on the head, these fish gradually change color as they mature and progress through their natural growth cycle. That’s a double-edged sword for fish keepers who choose a Flowerhorn as a pet.

On the one hand, you have the enjoyment of watching your pet evolve and change color as he or she grows, which is a wonderful experience. However, if you want to breed Flowerhorns, choosing fish for color and markings is important and next to impossible when buying juvenile specimens.

Determining Gender

Telling the boys from the girls is no easy task when it comes to Flowerhorns! However, there are a couple of fairly reliable methods that are used by breeders.

  • Mature fish that are in breeding condition develop thick tubes that protrude from the fish’s vent area. Generally, male Flowerheads have thicker tubes than their female counterparts.
  • Take the fish out of the water and gently place it in your palm on its back so that its belly faces upward. Apply very gentle pressure to the fish’s belly underneath its rib cage, pushing down toward the vent.
    If the fish is male, you should notice a clear liquid squirting from the vent. In female fish, no liquid will be produced.

Lifespan

Flowerhorns are relatively long-lived fishes, surviving for around 12 years in captivity, provided that they are given the correct environment and nutrition.

Flowerhorn Cichlid Care Guide

Although Flowerhorns are large, exotic-looking fishes, they are quite easy to care for, and they do make pretty good pets for novice fish keepers, provided that you follow the basic rules of aquarium maintenance and feeding.

Aquarium Size

Beautiful flowerhorn fish with big horn head in the tank.

These are big fishes that need lots of space if they are to thrive, so the minimum tank size that we would recommend is at least 55 gallons for a single specimen. The tank should be at least four feet in length and two feet in width so that the fish has ample swimming space.

However, if you want to breed Flowerhorns and decide to keep a pair, you will need an aquarium of at least 125 gallons. If you add a few large tankmates, 200 gallons is the bare minimum tank size that you could have.

Decoration

The first thing to know when you’re planning your aquascaping for a Flowerhorn tank is that you cannot use live plants. Flowerhorns are extremely destructive and will happily uproot your plants and rip them to shreds overnight! Also, these fish eat many species of aquarium plants, so you’re best to stick with using silk planting, provided that you have each one well-anchored in the substrate.

A decent layer of gravel substrate works well in a Flowerhorn tank, and it’s also a good idea to include some rocks, although you must make sure that any rockwork is well-anchored so that the fish don’t topple it over. Male Flowerhorns are territorial, and they can be very aggressive even toward a mate, so plenty of hiding places are essential if you decide to keep a pair so that the female can stay out of the male’s line of sight.

Remember that Flowerhorns do like to spend much of their time cruising around their domain, so be sure to leave plenty of open water for swimming.

Water Conditions

A green beautiful planted tropical freshwater aquarium with fishes

Flowerhorns are large, messy fish, so you will need a very efficient filtration system that pushes out a moderate flow throughout the aquarium and keeps the water well-oxygenated.

These fish like warm water and the temperature in the tank should be between 80° to 89.0° Fahrenheit. The ideal pH range for Flowerhorn cichlids is between 6.5 and 7.8, with a water hardness of between 9 and 20 dGH.

Feeding And Diet

Flowerhorn cichlids are carnivores, and they have a large appetite! For that reason, you need to be careful that you don’t underfeed your fish.

These fish aren’t fussy when it comes to diet, and they will gobble up pretty much anything that you offer them in the way of frozen, live, or fresh, meaty foods. Flowerhorns enjoy plenty of variety, too, so keep your pet happy by including bloodworms, cichlid pellets, crickets, earthworms, nightcrawlers, and similar. To enhance your fish’s colors naturally, you can enrich its diet with a supplement that contains carotene.

As with most fish species, it’s recommended that you feed your Flowerhorn two or three times per day, offering just enough food that your fish will clear in two to three minutes.

What Not To Feed Your Flowerhorn

Little girl feeding fishes in the aquarium.

Although Flowerhorns are carnivorous, do not feed them any form of mammal meat. That includes foods such as beef heart, as that can cause serious digestive problems.

Flowerhorn Health And Common Diseases

The Flowerhorn cichlid is quite a robust, hardy species that will do well if kept in the appropriate water conditions. Generally, these fish don’t fall victim to diseases unless their diet is inadequate or incorrect, and the tank is dirty.

That said, there are a couple of common freshwater fish diseases that can afflict Flowerhorns.

Ich

Ich is also known as White Spot disease and is just about the most common ailment that you’ll see in both tropical and coldwater fish.

Showing sign of white spot on fish body.

White Spot disease is caused by a protozoan parasite called Ichthyophthirius multifiliis that’s commonly found in many aquariums. Under normal circumstances, Ich doesn’t bother the fish unless they are weakened by poor water hygiene or stress.

Fish with Ich start rubbing or flicking their bodies against tank decorations and the substrate as they try to relieve the skin irritation that the parasites cause. As the parasites’ life cycle progresses, a rash of white spots develops on the fish’s body, fins, and gills. If left untreated, the parasites clog up the fish’s gills, leaving it unable to breathe, and the victim ultimately dies.

As with most common fish diseases, prompt diagnosis and treatment give the best prognosis and outcome. If your Flowerhorn develops Ich, raise the tank temperature to 86° Fahrenheit for three days, and use an over-the-counter White Spot treatment that you will get from your local fish store, following the manufacturer’s instructions.

Hole-In-Head disease

All species of cichlids are prone to Hexamitiasis or Hole-In-Head disease as it’s commonly known. As with many common fish diseases, Hole-In-Head disease is caused by a parasite, Hexamita.

Affected fish develop lesions on their flanks and head, and although the disease can be deadly, if it’s treated quickly, the fish will survive. However, the creature will be left disfigured. Again, Hexamitiasis can be treated effectively with an over-the-counter medication that you’ll find in your local fish store.

Disease prevention

When it comes to fish keeping and dealing with diseases, prevention is very definitely better than cure.

So, be sure to carry out partial water changes every week, vacuum the gravel thoroughly, and maintain the filtration system properly. Also, remember that Flowerheads need a nutritious, meaty diet, supplemented with cichlid pellets.

You can help to keep disease and parasites out of your tank by washing any new decorations thoroughly before you introduce them to the setup. If you plan on adding new fish to your collection, you must put them into a quarantine tank for at least two weeks so that you can be sure they are healthy and disease-free before you introduce them to your main aquarium.

Flowerhorn Behavior And Temperament

Although beautiful, the Flowerhorn does not have a temperament to match its looks!

Is The Flowerhorn A Community Fish?

Portrait of beautiful flowerhead cichild fish swimming in aquarium

These fish don’t make good community fish unless you have a very large tank of at least 200 gallons. Flowerhorns are highly territorial, and they can be extremely aggressive, too, so much so that any other fish in the tank is likely to be attacked.

I’ve even read reports of these cichlids attacking their keepers during tank cleaning, inflicting minor skin abrasions on their owners!

Flowerhorn Tankmates

Flowerhorns are notoriously aggressive and territorial, and for that reason, these fish should be kept singly or in an established breeding pair in a very big tank.

However, if you have an extremely large aquarium of over 250 gallons, you could perhaps consider creating a community of other aggressive cichlids of a similar size to the Flowerhorn. In that case, be sure to use plenty of rocks and driftwood to create natural screening and territories that will help to keep the occupants segregated.

Breeding Pairs

Even breeding pairs of Flowerhorns need careful monitoring to make sure that they don’t become aggressive. It’s not unknown for a male specimen to kill his mate if she encroaches too much on his territory, so you will need to separate the pair immediately if they don’t settle peacefully together.

Other Species

Needless to say, you cannot safely keep any species of invertebrates in the same tank as a Flowerhorn; snails, shrimp, and other crustaceans are all regarded as a food source and will almost certainly be eaten.

Breeding

Unusually for a hybrid species, Flowerhorns do breed successfully. Although you can breed these fish in a home tank environment, that’s not an easy task, largely due to the species’ aggressive tendencies.

However, if you do want to try breeding your fish, you will need to set up a spawning tank.

Spawning Tank Setup

The spawning tank should contain lots of rocks and other suitable screening so that the female fish can hide if the male becomes aggressive toward her.

A proven technique that works well in keeping the fish safe from each other is to place a divider just above the substrate. Place a flat stone next to the divider and don’t offer the fish any other spawning locations in the tank. The female will have no choice but to deposit her eggs on the stone in a location where the male can fertilize them. You can further assist the process by directing the pump flow from the male’s location to the female’s side of the divider.

Water Parameters

To create ideal spawning conditions, keep the water temperature in the breeding tank at around 82° Fahrenheit with a pH of 7.0.

Conditioning

You can bring the fish into spawning condition by providing them with high-quality food several times each day. That will cause an increased amount of fish waste, so be sure to carry out frequent water changes to keep the water clean and vacuum the substrate to get rid of pollutants.

Raising The Fry

Once the female has laid her eggs, and the male has fertilized them, both parents will guard the eggs. Now is the time that the male is most likely to become aggressive toward his mate, so be vigilant and get ready to remove the female Flowerhorn if the couple starts fighting.

Once the fry hatch, it’s wise to remove the male in case he starts eating the babies.

Little happy boy holding a plastic bag with new fishes he bought at the zoo store for his home room aquarium feeding and taking care of pets

You can feed the fry baby brine shrimp until they are large enough to take crushed flakes or cichlid pellets, usually when the babies are two weeks old.

Flowerhorn Availability And Price

You’ll find Flowerhorns in many good fish stores, depending on where you live, they are also available online.

So, how much do you expect to pay for one of these unusual fish? Well, the Flowerhorn is not a cheap creature, but the price you pay depends on a few factors, including age, size, markings, and color. Large, mature fish tend to have the biggest nuchal humps and the most outrageous markings; hence they are the most expensive examples.

Small, juvenile Flowerhorns can be bought for around $20, whereas a large, well-marked specimen could cost you $100 or more.

In Conclusion

Flowerhorn Cichlid

The Flowerhorn cichlid makes a very unusual, interesting pet that may suit you if you have a big tank, and you’re happy to keep just one fish.

Despite their weird, exotic appearance, these fish are pretty straightforward to look after, as long as you give them a spacious environment, monitor and manage the water conditions in the tank and give your Flowerhorn a good quality diet that contains all the nutrition that it needs to thrive.

Did you enjoy our guide to the enigmatic, spectacular Flowerhorn? If you did, please share the article with your friends. If you are the proud owner of one of these beautiful creatures, tell us about your pet in the comments section below.

Flowerhorn Cichlid - Complete Care Guide-infographic

Alison Page has been an avid fish keeper for over 35 years and has owned many different species of freshwater tropical fish including bettas. Currently Alison has two large freshwater tanks. The first tank has two huge fancy goldfish who are almost ten years old and still looking as good as ever. In the other, she has a happy community of tiger barbs, green tiger barbs, corydoras catfish, platys, and mollies.

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