Flowerhorn Cichlids – A Complete Guide (Care, Diet, Facts)

The flowerhorn cichlid is a fish with a short, but rich history. Its bulbous head (“horn”) and spots (“flowers”) gives it both its name and notoriety. Because of this, it is one of the most unique and sought after cichlid species out there.

Cichlids are very easy to care for in general due to their hardiness. Flowerhorns are no exception. They may look intimidating, but even the most beginner fish keepers can take care of them with ease.

This care guide will go over everything there is to know about taking care of the flowerhorn cichlid.

Background

Cichlids (pronounced sick-lids) are a freshwater fish from the Cichlidae family. They are popular for their striking colors and unique patterns. Some well-known species of cichlids include oscars, angelfish, and tilapia.

Cichlids are most common in Africa and South America. They have also made their way to the Middle East, India, Sri Lanka, and even North America.

There are over 1,350 estimated species of cichlids in the world. In fact, cichlids make up 5% of all vertebrates (animals with backbones). The three major lakes of East Africa (Malawi, Tanganyika, and Victoria) house over 500 species of cichlids alone.

The flowerhorn cichlid is unique because it does not occur in nature. It is a hybrid cichlid that has been selectively bred by Malaysian fish breeders in 1996. These breeders wanted fish with large heads (called nuchal humps, or kok) because they resembled warships (called karoi). They also resembled the Chinese God of Longevity.

Feng Shui, otherwise known as Chinese geomancy, is the practice of uniting an individual with the outside world using energy forces. For those who believe in Feng Shui, the bigger the head of a flowerhorn, the more luck it will bring the owner. This made them very sought after in the early 2000s with some fish selling for hundreds of thousands of USD.

The exact lineage of the flowerhorn is unknown. We know they came from South African species but the exact species are up to speculation. Specialists generally agree on the three-spotted cichlid (Cichlasoma trimaculatus), the Red Terror (Cichlasoma festae), and the Jingang Blood Parrot as its parent species. Of course, there are more they don’t know of or agree on.

There are no naturally occuring flowerhorns in the wild. The only flowerhorns in the wild are unsellable ones that breeders dump into ponds or rivers. These fish usually have deformities or are generally too unimpressive to be sold.

As a result, they have become an invasive species. This means they take precious resources from and hunt down the native species in the area.

To this day, flowerhorns remain popular in Southeast Asia where they are good luck. Though, they are rarely sold for the prices they once were. After only existing for a short period of time, they have become one of the most sought after breeds of cichlids out there.

Care

The flowerhorn might look unique, but it is as easy to care for as any other cichlid.

They can grow to be over 1 foot long and live over 12 years, so this fish needs someone who is willing to make a commitment. Only buy an animal if you have all the supplies and finances first.

Tank Size

The flowerhorn cichlid can grow to be over 1 foot long, so it is best to keep it in a tank of at least 50 gallons. The more fish you want, the bigger the tank you must get. The general rule is to add 5 gallons per every fish in the tank after the initial tank size.

Lighting

Appropriate lighting is also important for an ideal flowerhorn environment. Full spectrum light bulbs are good to both give the fish the light it needs to thrive and to bring out its vibrant colors.

Leave the lights on 8-10 hours a day and turn off at night. This will allow the fish to have a natural daylight cycle that will help keep them healthy.

Substrate

Substrate is important as it allows beneficial bacteria to grow and catches debris. Be sure to choose a substrate that is not too sharp as it could injure your fish. Regular aquarium gravel or sand will suffice.

For a natural looking tank, use a neutral-colored gravel or sand. Black gravel is good for bringing out the vibrant colors of your flowerhorn. Fish stores have every color you can imagine, so feel free to get creative.

Decor

Decorations are a good way to add personality to your tank. Avoid putting in too many decorations, though as flowerhorns need a lot of room to swim.

Live plants are pretty, but are not necessary for flowerhorns. In fact, they will most likely try to eat or destroy any plants in their tank. Small plastic plants could work, but be sure that they do not have any sharp edges that could hurt your fish.

Caves are very important for all species of cichlids because they love to hide. Be sure to choose a cave that is both safe and large enough for your flowerhorn to hide in. Without a cave, your fish could get very stressed.

Tankmates

Flowerhorns are very aggressive fish. Because of this, they do not do well with tankmates. They will likely try to fight or eat any fish smaller than them, so it is best to keep them alone or with the same species.

If you do wish to add tankmates, other South African cichlid species of similar size are your best bet. Make sure to arrange your decor in such a way that allows for territorial borders. Do this by adding distinct caves or objects in which your fish can claim as their own.

You should always add tankmates with extreme caution. If your fish show any sign of aggression, it is best to move them to separate tanks. But remember, all fish are different and have their own personality. Passive fish can be aggressive and aggressive fish can be passive.

Water Requirements

Flowerhorns need water within the temperatures of 80-89° F. The pH should be between 6.5-8 with a hardness of 9-20.

You should always have a filter in your tank to get rid of waste (ammonia) build up. Beneficial bacteria will mostly live on your filter media, so do not change out the media that often. The packaging of the filter will tell you the wattage appropriate for the size of your tank.

But, a filter can only filter out so much waste. You should always do regular water changes as well. A weekly water change of 20-25% is best with a 50% change once a month.

Always be sure to use a water conditioner when changing water. This gets rid of any dangerous chemicals that might be in your tap water. Also, make sure that the temperature of the new water matches up with the old water exactly to prevent stress/shock.

After you set up your tank, it is important to cycle it. This involves allowing the tank to remain set up and running for about a month or so to allow the “nitrogen cycle” to occur. The nitrogen cycle is when ammonia is broken down into safer nitrogen compounds (nitrates). Ammonia is very harmful to your fish so it is important to get rid of it before adding them in.

The most common way to kickstart the nitrogen cycle is to add one or two hardy small fish to your tank. They will produce waste (ammonia) which will turn into nitrates with time. By the time your tank is cycled, beneficial bacteria will have grown in your tank which will help keep ammonia at bay.

You can use test strips to check to see if your ammonia levels are good enough to add your flowerhorns.

Diet

The flowerhorn is not a picky eater by any means. Feed them a mix of fish pellets, flakes, and the occasional shrimp, crab, or bloodworm treat.

Flowerhorns are big fish and need lots of food to thrive. You should feed your fish two to three times a day to ensure they are getting the proper nutrients.

Be sure to remove any uneaten food after feeding to prevent unnecessary buildup. The large amount of food they eat will likely take a toll on the quality of the water. This adds to the importance of doing 20-25% water changes every week.

Common Diseases

Like any other fish, flowerhorns are prone to getting common fish diseases. This includes ich, flukes, fin rot, dropsy, and other fungal infections.

These diseases are very preventable by keeping your tank clean with proper water conditions. Keeping stress levels down is also key. Though, sometimes fish get sick even if you do everything right.

All of these common diseases can go away with the help of medicine purchased from a vet or a pet store. Be sure to follow the dosage and put sick fish in a separate healing tank to prevent spreading of the disease.

Some diseases are more serious. For example, flowerhorn cichlids are very prone to cancer stomach lymphoma and liver cancer. The cause of these cancers are unknown, but it could be due to their hybridization. In most flowerhorns, though, these cancers are spontaneous without a specific cause.

Treatment of these cancers is not as developed as it is with humans or other species of animals. Unlike us, they cannot undergo radiation therapy or chemo. The only possible cure is to attempt to remove the tumors, but this often does not work.

Symptoms of cancer in flowerhorn cichlids include mucus in the stool, lack of appetite, and a swollen stomach.

Cichlid Threats

Cichlids as a whole face many man-made hardships. Out of 500 of the species that live in the lakes of East Africa, ? of them have become threatened or extinct. Since 2010, the International Union for Conservation of Nature has classified 184 species as vulnerable, 52 as endangered, and 106 as critically endangered.

Many species of cichlids have become a main food source for many people around the world. This is especially true in East Africa. Overfishing by local fishermen in this area has hurt the population of cichlids.

Pollution of these lakes have also hurt cichlid numbers. Polluted runoff from agriculture can seep its way into the waters in which cichlids live. This causes them to get sick. Human development and lack of pollution prevention is a major issue for all species in the world.

Flowerhorns do not live in the wild naturally, so they have different threats. The main one being the dumping of deformed or unimpressive specimens by fish breeders. Flowerhorn breeders will often dump unfavorable fish into lakes and rivers. This leads to the small unnatural populations observed in the wild today.

The alternative to dumping these fish is killing them. The culling of unimpressive specimens has become an unfortunate practice among fish breeders. They do not want to waste the resources on fish that will not sell for a lot of money, or at all, so they kill them.

Conclusion

The flowerhorn is a very unique species of cichlid. They are man-made through cross-breeding South African species, dating back to 1996. Their large heads are both revered as resembling warships (karoi) as well as being good luck in Feng Shui geomancy. Because of this, they have become a very popular fish in Asia, and now across the globe.

These fish are very hardy and can tolerate an array of water conditions. They need at least a 50 gallon tank with water temperatures of 80-89°F, a pH of 6.5-8, and a hardness of 9-20.

In sum, these fish are great for beginners. They have a short, but rich, history. They may face some obstacles, but they still remain one of the most popular species of cichlid to this day.

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