Flowerhorn fish: Food, lifespan, care, types and tank size

Flowerhorn cichlid fish

Flowerhorn fish overview

The Flowerhorn fish is a man-made species which was selectively bred at the turn of this century by Chinese fishkeeping lovers.

This means that there is no such fish in the wild, and their closest relatives are South African Cichlids. 

However, given the unfortunate habit of letting fish out into the wild, some Flowerhorn variations have been introduced into the natural environment and are now roaming the waters in some parts of the globe. 

This fish is the result of various South African species being selectively breeded. They have an elongated body like their ancestors, and a unique head shape. 

Also these giants have a quite impressive lifespan and can live up to 12 years! 

Flowerhorn Behaviour

These hybrids, such as Jack Dempsey fish or their other relatives, have retained the aggressive behavior seen in many Cichlids.

They are not very accommodating to foreign species and often get into fights with each other. 

Even though they’re not schooling fish, they still prefer to swim in pairs together – this helps reduce their aggression and makes them feel less stressed. 

Flowerhorns are an aggressive bunch but this can be overcome with careful planning, and alongside other species you will be able to fully enjoy these colorful giants. 

These fish are a bit slow when you compare them to smaller fish because of their bulky body.

Flowerhorn cichlid appearance

Flowerhorn fish appearance

Flowerhorn cichlids have an elongated body that is slightly compressed from the sides, although some varieties have a more rounded body that even resembles a disk.

Their dorsal and anal fins extend all the way up to their tail base. 

One of its defining features is its bulged head with deeply planting eyes. It is one of the fishkeeping world’s most iconic sights – you’ll only be able to recognize a Flowerhorn by its silhouette. 

Both its anal and dorsal fins have a long and braid-like end. Its tail is nearly round and thinner than the other fins.

Their pectoral fins are very elegant, almost see-through at times but much shorter than all the others.

Combined with a very rich selection of colors, this peculiar shape has a huge variety ranging from golden to fiery red to luminous purple. 

These many colors come with various patterns. 

Whether you’re looking for a plain monocolored fish or an exotic mix, throughout every case, Flowerhorn strains have you covered. 

Their body shape originates from other South African Cichlids from which they were bred.

Flowerhorn fish tank

Flowerhorn cichlids are fish bred in captivity since it was presented to the wider public. 

Because of this, we can’t say for sure what wild habitat they feel most comfortable, but their preferred conditions are most likely to remain largely the same as most other Cichlids. 

These species are usually found in warm tropical waters which are relatively hard. 

They prefer slow-moving basins with a beautifully sheltered riverbed with a generous amount of live plants on the bottom and a wide range of potential preys as well.

In any tank, these conditions can be easily replicated-the only thing that complicates it is the large volume they require.

Flowerhorn fish tank size

Flower horn fish requires a minimum tank of 40 gallons, with an optimal 75 gallons. Depending on the size, a breeding pair might require a tank of 150 gallons or more.

However, it also depends on the number of fishes you add to your aquarium.

If you plan to keep them with other Cichlids or species, you’ll need 215 gallons or more.

Flowerhorn tank setup

These fish love clean waters with a moderate flow, that’s why using a powerful filter like a canister is recommended.

It’s also very important to keep the tank regularly with frequent changes of water and a cleaning routine as Flowerhorns can be quite messy fish. 

Water parameters are extremely important to make sure your fish don’t get sick and keep their natural rhythms in order. For those species the recommended temperature is 78.8-86 ° F. 

The water acidity can also affect their health, so it should be kept within the range of 6.5-7.8pH, whereas the hardness should be kept within the range of 9-20 dGH.

Keeping an eye on those parameters is the key to keeping them healthy at all times. 

It gets a little bit more complicated when it comes to decorating the aquarium. Flowerhorns really enjoy digging up the substrate and frequently breaking up live plants. 

It is better to use mono-colored gravel for the substratum and lots of rocks and driftwood to create artificial cover. 

Make sure all decorations are secured as they can end up just bumping into them and can easily turn them over because of their size.

Also make sure the substratum is safe to use and contains no sharp or broken grains.

Flowerhorn cichlids are ornamental aquarium fish that are known for their vivid colors and the distinctly shaped heads they are named for.

Their protuberance to the head, or kok, is formally called a nuchal hump. Like blood parrot cichlids, they are man-made hybrids which only exist because of their release in the wild.

They first developed in Malaysia , Thailand and Taiwan, and became popular among Asian fish hobbyists. They are also kept by hobbyists in the US and Europe.

Numerous cast-off flowerhorns were released into the wild, particularly in Singapore and Malaysia where they became an invasive pest animal. Their import into Australia is prohibited.

Flowerhorn tank mates

Most Cichlids with very limited compatibility became known as pretty aggressive species. Flowerhorn cichlids are unfortunately not an exception. 

Don’t be discouraged though, if you plan carefully, there are still a few fish that can be kept with them. 

Because this fish was bred artificially and never really left the tank, we can’t say for sure with which fish they would swim in the wild.

We can however, analyze their ancestors’ compatibility, and go from there further. 

It’s better to keep those fish either alone or in pairs. Firstly, if you are to keep Flowerhorns with other fish, the aquarium should be at least 150 gallons.

This is designed to prevent conflicts and keep the fish healthy. 

For example, Pirapitinga, Leopard Pleco, clown pleco, other Plecos and Jaguar Cichlids, the best tank mates are usually fish of similar size or slightly larger with a similar temperament. 

Giant Gourami, Oscar Cichlids, Suckermouth Armored Catfish, Spotted Hoplo, Spotted Raphael Catfish, Lowland Cichlids and Bushynose Catfish are others that would make good tank mates. 

For smaller, slower fish, the Flowerhorn won’t match well. 

You may add oscar fish with flowerhorn. However oscar fish is quite a bit agressive too. If their neighbor is significantly weaker, they will have no hesitation in attacking them. Also avoid overly active small fish, as these will often cause trouble by irritating cichlids.

Flowerhorn fish food

The Flowerhorn Cichlid has a great appetite when you think about their size, which seems quite reasonable.

They will happily feed on anything that ends up in the tank, be it live foods or frozen ones. Being omnivores, they also need a leafy supplement to their diet. 

They eat all kinds of foods but it’s important to make sure their food is protein-rich as this is the compound that makes up most of their diet. 

Nutritional variety is just as important as quality. With that in mind you can give pre-made foods for large cichlids, shrimps, bloodworms, other worms, dried crickets, dried grasshoppers, small fish filets, or gammarus to Flowerhorns.

You should also include some plant-based foods besides the meaty diet base. This could be done either through buying pre-packaged readymade leafy foods at the store or getting live plants for the tank. 

The last option is slightly more demanding as fish often break down the plant stem or dig it up. 

Depending on how well their digestive system works, adults should be fed two to three times a day. If the portion size is correct, eating the fish should usually be done in 5 minutes.

If that isn’t the case or you see food lying at the bottom of the tank, try to reduce the amount you ‘re giving.

Flowerhorn fish care

These are quite hardy fish and don’t need much care. 

Due to their healthy appetite their diet should not be a problem either. While beginners can technically keep this fish, the size of the tank puts most beginners off.

That means you’ll spend much more time cleaning up the tank and taking care of the equipment. 

Not only are they large but they are also very territorial which further complicates things. At times, their aggressive behavior can be a bit extreme, to the extent that Flowerhorns can even attack the owner while feeding.

What then with the general illnesses? 

Luckily, they are not susceptible to any disease in specific but there are still some things you should look out for. Mechanical damage for example is a serious problem for large and active fish. 

They can possibly damage themselves when digging up the substrate or swimming close to sharp rocks. All of this can be easily avoided if you filter the substrate in advance and make sure no sharp pieces slip into the tank. 

Another major problem is toxicity. Unlike what you might think at first, this doesn’t mean their food will be wrong.

Origin of flowerhorn cichlid

Dates of breeding of the Flowerhorn to 1993. Taiwanese and Malaysians admired fish with protruding heads, known in the western part of the nation as ‘kaloi’ or ‘warships.’

In Taiwanese society the slightly protruding front and long tail of these fish was prized as bringing fortune in geomancy.

By 1994, red devil cichlids (typically Amphilophus labiatus) and trimac cichlids (Amphilophus trimaculatus) had been imported into Malaysia from Central America and the hybrid blood parrot cichlid had been imported into Malaysia from Taiwan and bred these fish together, marking the birth of the flowerhorn.

In 1995, the blood parrots were further crossbred with the Fortune ‘s Human Face Red God, that further produced a new breed called the Fortune ‘s Five Colors.

This fish quickly became popular with its beautiful colours. Selective breeding continued until 1998, when the seven-colored Blue Fiery Mouth (also known as Greenish Gold Tiger) was imported from Central America, and crossbred with the Taiwanese Jin Gang Blood Parrot.

This crossbreeding led to the first generation of hua luo han flowerhorn hybrids (often generally called luohans in English), followed by subsequent introductions of the flowerhorns.

Flowerhorn fish arrival

When luohans were first imported into the United States, for distribution, flwerhorn and golden base, there were only two varieties of those fish.

There were two varieties of Flowerhorns, those with pearls (silver-white spots on the skin) and those without.

There were also two varieties of golden bases, those which faded and those which didn’t. Among the flowerhorns, those without pearls were quickly overtaken by those with pearls in popularity, becoming pearl-scale flowerhorns, which had developed into the Zhen Zhu variety.

The unfaded ones developed an attractive golden skin within the golden bases, instead of what had been the grey skin of the flowerhorn.

By 1999 the American market had four varieties of flowerhorns available: regular flowerhorns, pearl-scale flowerhorns, golden flowerhorns, and faders.

Commercial breeders proliferated, and with little regard for terminology, fish were chosen for appearance. Thus names became confusing and it became difficult to track parentage.

The Kamfa variety appeared around 2000 through 2001. These were hybrids of any kind of flowerhorn crossed with any species of the Vieja genus, or with any cichlid of parrots.

These brought in some new features such as short mouths, wrapped tails, sunken eyes and growing head bumps.

Seeing this, in order to compete with the Kamfa strains, those who bred the Zhen Zhus began line breeding their fish to develop faster and become more colourful.

Flowerhorn fish lifespan

Flowerhorn cichlids have about 10–12 year life span. They are usually kept at a water temperature of 80–85 ° F, and a pH of 7.4–8.0.

Being aggressive and territorial, two or more flowerhorns are not usually kept together, but they may be divided by acrylic dividers or egg crates into the tank housing them.

There are several ways that breeders can make a distinction between male and female flowerhorns.

Males are generally larger than females, but some exceptions do exist. Males are on their foreheads with the kok or the nuchal hump. Males have brighter and more vivid colors, too.

The females have black dots on their dorsal fins for most breeds, whereas males usually have longer anal and dorsal fine.

Females tend to have an orange belly, particularly when they’re ready for breeding. The male ‘s mouth is more thick and pronounced than the female’s.

One sure way to determine flowerhorn sex is that grown female, even without the male, will lay eggs each month.

Several diseases affect Flowerhorn cichlids, including hole-in-head disease, “ich,” and digestive blockages.

Types of Flowerhorn fish types

Golden Monkey

In Bercham, Ipoh, Malaysia, the genuine Golden Monkey (also known as Good Fortune) or Kamalau was bred by Lam Seah and Lam Soon.

They were all sold to the A-1 Aquarium in 2001, after the third generation. This type of flowerhorn is an original fish based on luohan, and not a Zen Zhu or Kamfa mixed-type. 

It can be an especially expensive flowerhorn, carrying a price tag of more than $1000. During a 2009 Malaysian exhibition the far more expensive Golden Monkey was sold for $600,000 dollars.

Kamfa

This variety arose directly from the luohan. Its main characteristics are white or yellow eyes (red eyes are possible but not common), a fan tail, a watercolored head bump, sunken eyes, and smaller lips than the Zhen Zhu.

In general, this variety also has a bigger and more square body than the Zhen Zhu. You can find head flowers on the Kamfa but not as prominently as Zhen Zhus.

Zhen zhu

This variety, derived from the luohan, originally came slightly after the Kamfa. It has a rounded tail, large mouth, protruding red eyes, and a prominent flower of head. Zhen Zhu means the flowerhorn of the pearl.

The strongest characteristic of this variety is pearliness. Often breeders cross other types with Zhen Zhus because they breed easily and the next generation can create better pearling (flowerline). However, weak tails can carry over too.

Golden base

Golden Basis is a multi-variety group including Faders and Golden Trimac. Faders are called by this name because they first lose their color during the juvenile period of life and then go completely black, as the process of fading continues, the black fades away , leaving a more vibrant color, usually yellow or red. 

Red Texas cichlids are related to the flowerhorns golden base family. Originally they were created by breeding a green Texas cichlid with a Mommon or King Kong parrot, then crossing offspring back to the parents until a consistent red color was reached. Hobbyists regard the color as the most important feature of red Texas.

Red Texas cichlids are available in colours, and are classified as: 

  • Unfaded: Red Texas in lowest grade.
  • Yellow: Lowest grade in second.
  • Orange: the majority of red Texas fall into this category.
  • Coral: rosy but not wholly red.
  • Red: most appealing colour.

The second characteristic which distinguishes red Texas is pearl. Red Texas can vary considerably as to the type of pearl.

King kamfa

This fish has generally white or yellow sunken eyes from the Kamfa family, although red eyes are possible and yet rare.

This strain’s distinctive features include an intense black double flower row along the lateral line, and also a very thick white pearling.

This strain originated in Thailand and has seen a recent rebirth in Vietnam. The body is characteristic of a Kamfa, with a fan tail and a larger body than some other Kamfas.

King Kamfa is the most expensive strain in the flora.

Kamfamalau

This is a cross of a Kamfa male and a Malau female. A typical Kamfa resembles the body and face (see above). The finnage and sunken eyes reflect the Kamfa genes.

A Kamfamalau’s main trait is the pearling. Fins typically take on a “frosted” look of pearl that is seldom found in any other flwerhorn varieties.

Pearling usually crosses the whole way across the head bump, another rarity in varieties of flowerhorns. This strain should show both Kamfa and Malau best characteristics.

Thai silk

The Thai Silk, also known as Titanium, is a relatively new strain, almost entirely of metallic blue, gold, or white. Its origins are vague.

A new strain of Thai silk that has a kamfa-type body and red , blue or white eyes has been developed. It was thought to be a cross between the White Tigers (Lineage of Texas), the pure Texas cichlid, and the Vieja.

The back half is a golden gradient which intensifies towards the tail in colour. The body is very broad and high, a reversal to the original luohan. The chin or “gobbler” is very pronounced.

The head is usually protruding forwards. The tail, close to that of a Kamfa, is fan-shaped. Trailers are lacking in the dorsal and anal fins, a common trait also found in Zhen Zhu. The caudal peduncle is quite large and pronounced in this strain.

Tan king

A Mr. Tan of Vietnam created this strain, by crossing a Zhen Zhu with a Kamfa. It has pearls and a flower line similar to a King Kamfa, but the body and fins are closer to the Zhen Zhu. Most of them have protruding eyes and a rounder tail, like a Zhen Zhu.

Strains developed in the US

New flower-horn strains were developed in the United States through breeding programmes.

Though it is difficult for the US to compete with well-established flowerhorn breeding farms in Asia, strains have been created with unique genetics.

Criticism:

Like many other cichlids, the flowerhorns are aggressive and can rapidly breed, compete, and eat native fish. 

Flowerhorn breeding contributes to the commercial demand for new and different fish, resulting in unethical practices such as anatomical deformity breeding, as occurred in goldfish breeding. 

Because of the difficulty of breeding them, flowerhorns are not favored inside the aquarium hobby. The majority of flowerhorn males are sterile (can not reproduce), so finding one that can is time consuming.

Hobbyists must wait for a male fish to reach sexual maturity for 8–10 months, and then pair it with a female to test fertility.

Summary

Flowerhorns breed in comfortable conditions without any problems. There are some things you should be preparing in advance though. 

First, you would need a really large breeding tank as it’s unlikely to have them breed successfully in the common tank. This is a challenge in itself, given their size. 

These species mature fully at approximately 1.5-2 years. At only about 12 months of age, some individuals might be prepared to reproduce even earlier. 

The spawning process itself is naturally occurring and requires little to no stimulation. The females lay their eggs usually on a smooth substrate like rocks or ceramics.They lay as many as 900 eggs, which the male then fertilizes. 

If the male becomes particularly aggressive, place a divider between the offspring and him. 

The first youngsters start hatching towards the end of the second day and two more days later they start swimming around. They can be fed brine shrimp or certain juvenile fish foods that you can find in a store. 

Parents will have about two months to look after their young, after which you can put the young back in the common tank.

They begin to develop their characteristic appearance at around 6 months and at the same time you will be able to tell the fish’s gender.

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