Flowerhorn 101

Ever been to an aquarium and seen those lovely fish with unique protruding heads, beautifully colored scales and bold black patterns on their side? This fish is called a Flowerhorn Cichlid. The Cichlid family is both large and diverse with 1,650 species scientifically identified and new species being discovered annually. Cichlids are popularly kept in home aquariums. Flowerhorn Cichlids, were first bred in Malaysia, Thailand, and Taiwan, and they eventually became popular with aquarium hobbyists all over the world.

How did the beautiful Flowerhorn come into existence?

Flowerhorn Cichlids are tropical fish with origins traced back to Malaysia. Here’s the timeline:

1993: Malaysians adored fish called Kaloi which means warships. They have protruding heads and long tails. Some Taiwanese consider these unique features to bring bad luck.

1994: Malaysia imported Red Devil Cichlids and Trimac Cichlids from Central America. They also imported Red Parrot Cichlids from Taiwan. These fish were all bred together which created the Flowerhorn.

1995: Parrot Cichlids were further crossbred with Human Face Red God of Fortune, creating a new breed called Five-Colors God of Fortune. The fish instantly became a star of aquariums all over Asia, because of its beautiful colors.

1998: Malaysia imported Seven-Colors Blue Fiery Mouth from Central America. They also brought Jin Gang Blood Parrot from Taiwan and they crossbred these fish together to create the first generation Hua Luo Han Flowerhorn hybrids.

The Flowerhorn has been crossbred and tweaked to achieve the largest nuchal humps, brighter colors, longer tails and the boldest patterns. Flowerhorns can’t be found in the wild. These man-made fish have been a huge hit in the aquarium hobby and have gradually become one of the most popular fish kept.

Providing a home for your fish

Due to its big size, which can reach up to 30 cm (11.81 inch) and sometimes even bigger, Flowerhorns need an aquarium that can accommodate 200 liters (52.83 US gallon, *Most hobbyist use the standard 55 gallon tank), in order to live happily. They should have a lot of free space for swimming, substrate for digging and a cave or two for hiding. Although they are a strong fish that can live in different water conditions, it is recommended to provide between 25°C (77°F) and 30°C (86°F) of temperature. Ideally, pH value must also be controlled between pH level of 7 and 8. The water’s acidity affects the colors of the fish, It can also make them sick. To prevent your Flowerhorn from being vulnerable to bacteria that can cause sickness, avoid changes of temperature, monitor ammonia levels and avoid over feeding. This big fish can cause nitrate levels to increase in the water, that’s why filtration is deeply important. There are two options, you can choose between internal and external filtration. If your aquarium does not have enough free space, external filtration will work better to leave more space for the fish to swim.

Before you decide to bring home a Flowerhorn, you should have a cycled aquarium for the fish. Maintaining the fishes environment is a must. Observe the water to make sure that you oxygenate it keep it at a temperature so the fish can thrive. In order to make the fish feel at home, tank decorations are important. You can use fine gravel but when you place them in the aquarium, make sure that the rocks are stable. Flowerhorn likes to dig a lot. Decorations must be secured as to not risk hurting the fish. Place live plants such as big Anubis because they are strong and won’t be mistaken by your Flowerhorn as food. Sometimes these fish crave plants so artificial plants are the safer bet.However live plants can help with oxygenation and filtration.

Flowerhorns are naturally aggressive and extremely territorial. That’s why it’s better to have it separated from other fish. Any fish that can fit in its mouth will be eaten, also any fish that is close to its size will be taken as a threat and you’ll have bullying at the very least. If you plan to keep your Flowerhorn with other fishes it is ideal to place them all in a large tank (i’d say 120 gallons and up). Provide each fish with the territory they can occupy to avoid fights. You can use accessories and decorations to divide the tank into those territories. When housing multiple fish overcrowding is also a good trick to minimize aggression but extra filtration is a must.

Feeding your fish

Flowerhorn’s diet should consists of live food, frozen food, and standard dry fish food. Integrating live food allows them to hunt but can also stimulate aggression so be careful. Recommended live food includes earthworms,meal worms and wax worms. Small feeder fish can also serve as live food, just feed them sparingly as they are known to carry bacteria that can make your fish sick. Feed your fish with live food as a treat from their staple dry food. Another type of food that is a good substitute for live food, is frozen food. Young Flowerhorn normally eats Chironomus and brine shrimps. They also eat frozen fish which are intended for human consumption. But if you do choose to feed your Flowerhorn with frozen fish make sure that the fish you use are freshwater ones. Look for high quality food no matter which type you choose, the quality will show up in your flowerhorn’s appearance.

Remember that a Flowerhorn cichlid should be fed twice a day, every day. Be mindful of the amount of food you give your fish. Be careful and do not overfeed your fish. The rule is to reduce the amount of the food if you know that the food is rich in nutrients.

Feeding your fish does not just involve giving them food. It also includes cleaning the tank after your fish has eaten. Both live and frozen food have the tendency to make the water inside the tank become dirty and eventually polluted. This is unhealthy for your fish. This can also negatively affect the oxygenation of the water inside your tank. Removing the leftover food fast is a hassle but worth the effort as it will lower the amount of water changes you’ll have to do.

How are Flowerhorn Cichlids bred?

Flowerhorn cichlids are aggressive, territorial and predatory by nature. All these factors add to the difficulty of breeding them. They attack anything that moves in their space especially any other fish of similar size or build. In order to breed Flowerhorns, a large tank is needed. The female has to have enough space to hide. Normally, the male Flowerhorn digs a pit in the smooth rock or gravel for the female to lay their eggs when they are ready. Female Flowerhorns also tend to lay their eggs on a flat surface. When the female has laid her eggs, the male usually swims over them while releasing his sperm. This is how fertilization happens. After this, the parents have the tendency to fight each other. Before this happens, take the initiative to insert a divider into the tank to remove the female from harms way. The last thing you want is the female to get over stressed. When this happens, the female panics and sometimes eats her eggs. It is usually the male’s duty to guard the eggs, especially from other fish. He aerates the eggs by fanning them with his fins. When the eggs hatch, which normally happens after 3-4 days, he also guards the fry until they large enough to live by themselves.

Why do people keep Flowerhorn Cichlids?

People go gaga over these elegant looking fish. The trend exploded in the 90’s in South East Asia. It was also the time when people started to breed them in order to produce more colorful, bigger and interactive ones.

Another factor that makes them highly valuable in Asia, is the large hump that Chinese considers a trait similar to the forehead of Shou Xing, their god of longevity. This is why Flowerhorn is widely regarded as good luck charm. Some claim that markings on the side of a Flowerhorn resemble Chinese characters. This adds to the fish’s mysterious reputation. There was a story going around about a Flowerhorn with markings that translated into winning lottery numbers, bringing wealth to its owner. This also contributed to the fish’ popularity.

However, most of the fish-breeders do not need the lottery to make money from Flowerhorn Cichlids. You can take care of a fish, keep it until it grows to a nice size and sell it for top dollar. Some Flowerhorns can cost thousands of dollars, depending on the size of the  nuchal hump, the overall size and of course the coloration. The larger the fish the brighter the colors and the bolder the patterns the bigger the price tag. It is not uncommon for the most beautiful flowerhorns to be sterile unable to produce, this is another factor that can raise prices.

It’s not all about the money! A lot of hobbyists keep Flowerhorn because they have a great personality. They chase your fingers around when you feed them.  They are interactive and they want to play with their owners. This is as opposed to other fish which can be skittish and unresponsive to people..

Flowerhorn Cichlids are popular simply because they are beautiful to many. Try sitting in front of an aquarium with a Flowerhorn inside, they explode in bright colors, their tails and their fins fan in elegance, they spark conversation and they create intrigue. Ultimately the Flower is an amazing fish to keep if you are considering it weigh the responsibility and if it makes sense DO IT! You wont regret it.