Flowerhorn Cichlid Care Guide: The Magic Tropical Fish

The Flowerhorn Cichlid is a must-have for all lovers of colorful and large fish.

This exotic beauty presents a wonderful mix of graceful appearance and unique coloration.

There are very few aquarists that regret getting a Flowerhorn for their own collection. Their extravagant appearance combined with their sturdiness has made them one of the most sought-after Cichlids.

This fish is a great starting point regardless of whether you have dealt with such species before or not – they are a piece of tropical magic.

Does that sound like something you have been looking for? Then carry on reading as we discuss every aspect of keeping these mesmerizing fish…

Category Rating
Care Level: Intermediate
Temperament: Moderate to Aggressive
Color Form: Blue, purple, green, reddish and many more
Lifespan: Up to 10 Years
Size: Up to 16 Inches
Diet: Omnivore
Family: Cichlidae
Minimum Tank Size: 75 Gallon
Tank Set-Up: Freshwater, few planted
Compatibility: Limited

Overview

Flowerhorn Cichlid Appearance

The Flowerhorn Cichlid is a man-made species which was selectively bred by Chinese fishkeeping enthusiasts at the turn of this century. This means that no such fish exists in the wild and its closest relatives are South African Cichlids.

However, given the unfortunate habit of letting fish out into the wild, some variations of Flowerhorns have been introduced into the natural environment and now roam the waters in some parts of the world.

This fish is the result of selectively breeding different South African species. Like their ancestors, they have an elongated body and a unique head shape.

These giants also have a pretty impressive lifespan and can live up to 12 years!

Their popularity has been on the rise since their very first appearance on the market around 1996. These fish can be found in almost every shop no matter where in the world you are. Prices are not budget friendly though with an average price of $35 for a medium sized fish.

Typical Behavior

These hybrids have retained the aggressive behavior seen in many Cichlids, like Jack Dempsey fish or their other relatives. They are not very welcoming to foreign species and often get into fights with each other.

Although they are not schooling fish, they still prefer to swim together in pairs – this helps lower their aggression and makes them feel less stressed.

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

Due to their bulky body these fish are a bit slow when you compare them to smaller fish.

Just like in their natural habitat, these species prefer to move up and down the water column rather than just stay in a particular layer in the tank.

Flowerhorn Cichlid Appearance

Flowerhorn Cichlid Overview

Flowerhorn Cichlids have an elongated body that is slightly compressed from the sides, although there are some varieties with a more rounded body resembling even a disc. Their dorsal and anal fins stretch all the way to the base of their tail.

One of their defining features is their bulged head with deeply planted eyes. It is one of the most iconic sights in the fishkeeping world – you will be able to recognize a Flowerhorn by their silhouette only.

Both their anal and dorsal fins have a long, braid-like ending. Their tail is almost round and is thinner than their other fins. Their pectoral fins are very elegant, sometimes almost see-through but are much shorter than all other ones.

This peculiar shape is combined with a very rich selection of colors, they have an enormous variety ranging from golden to fiery red to light purple.

These many colors are accompanied by different patterns.

Whether you are looking for a plain mono-colored fish or an exotic mix, Flowerhorn strains have got you covered in every case.

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

Flowerhorn Cichlid Habitat and Tank Conditions

Flowerhorn Cichlid

Flowerhorn Cichlids are fish that have been bred in captivity ever since they have been presented to the wider public.

Because of this we can’t say for sure what wild habitat they feel most comfortable, but it’s most likely that their preferred conditions would largely stay the same as most other Cichlids.

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

They prefer slow-moving basins with a nicely sheltered riverbed that has a generous amount of live plants on the bottom and also a wide range of potential prey. These conditions can easily be replicated in any tank – the only thing complicating it is the large volume they require.

Tank Setup

These fish love clean waters with a moderate flow, this is why it’s recommended to use a powerful filter like a canister. It’s also very important to regularly maintain the tank with frequent water changes and a cleaning routine as Flowerhorns can be quite a messy fish.

Water parameters are extremely important to ensure that your fish don’t become sick and their natural rhythms are kept in order. The recommended temperature for these species is 78.8-86°F.

The water acidity can also have an effect on their health, so should be kept in the range of 6.5-7.8pH, while the hardness should be kept within the following range: 9-20 dGH. Keeping an eye on these parameters at all times is the key to keeping them healthy.

When it comes to decorating the aquarium it becomes a bit more complicated. Flowerhorns really enjoy digging the substrate up and often break up live plants.

For the substrate it’s better to use mono-colored gravel and plenty of rocks and driftwood to create artificial cover.

Make sure that all decorations are secured because they may end up just bumping into them and due to its size can quite easily turn them over. Also make sure that the substrate is safe to use and does not contain sharp or broken grains.

What Size Aquarium Do They Need?

Flowerhorn Cichlids are pretty demanding when it comes to tank volume. You should allocate at least 70 gallons per one fish and 150 gallons per pair.

If you plan on keeping them with other Cichlids or species, you will need at least 215 gallons.

Flowerhorn Cichlid Tank Mates

Flowerhorn Cichlid Tank Mates

The majority of Cichlids have become known as pretty aggressive species with very limited compatibility. Unfortunately, Flowerhorn Cichlids are not an exception.

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

Because this fish was bred artificially and has never really left the tank, we can’t say for sure what fish they would be swimming along with in the wild. However, we can analyze the compatibility of their ancestors and go from there.

It is better to either keep these fish alone or in pairs. First, the aquarium should be at least 150 gallons if you will be keeping Flowerhorns with other fish. This is to avoid conflicts and keep fish healthy.

The best tank mates are usually fish of similar size or slightly bigger with a similar temperament, for example, Pirapitinga, Leopard Pleco, other Plecos and Jaguar Cichlids.

Other fish that would make good tank mates include Giant Gourami, Oscar Cichlids, Suckermouth Armored Catfish, Spotted Hoplo, Spotted Raphael Catfish, Lowland Cichlids and Bushynose Catfish.
The Flowerhorn will not be a good match for smaller, slower fish.

If their neighbor is significantly weaker, they won’t hesitate to attack them. Also avoid small fish that are overly active because these will often cause trouble by irritating Cichlids.

Keeping Flowerhorn Cichlid Together

Flowerhorn Cichlids can be kept together but their aggressive nature makes keeping them together difficult.

It is not impossible but you would need to ensure that there is enough free space for every individual (150+ gallons) and they all get enough food so they would not have something to fight over.

Diet

The Flowerhorn Cichlid has a big appetite which seems quite reasonable when you think about their size. They will happily feed on anything that ends up in the tank, be it live foods or frozen ones. Being omnivores, they also require a leafy addition to their diet.

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

The variety of the diet is just as important as the quality. With that in mind you can give Flowerhorns pre-made foods for large Cichlids, shrimp, bloodworms, other worms, dried crickets, dried grasshoppers, small fish filets or gammarus.

In addition to the meaty base of the diet you should also include some plant-based foods. This can be done either through buying pre-packaged readymade leafy foods at the store or getting live plants for the tank.

The last option is a bit more demanding as fish will often break down the stem of the plants or dig it up.

Adults should be feed two or three times a day depending on how well their digestive system works. If the size of the portion is right, the fish should usually be done eating in 5 minutes. If that’s not the case or you see food lying at the bottom of the tank, try reducing the amount you give.

Other than that, they are considered a pretty healthy species and won’t require any additional supplements.

Flowerhorn Cichlid From the Front

Care

These are pretty hardy fish and don’t need a whole lot of care.

Their diet should not be a problem either thanks to their healthy appetite. Whilst technically this fish can be kept by beginners, the size of the tank puts most beginners off. This means that you will be spending a lot more time on cleaning the tank and taking care of the equipment.

Not only are they big but very territorial as well which complicates things even further. Their aggressive behavior can be a bit extreme at time, to the extent that Flowerhorns may even attack the owner during feeding.

Even though this rarely happens it does not hurt to pay attention when placing your hands close to the water to avoid provoking these giants.

What about general illnesses then?

Thankfully, they are not susceptible to any disease in particular but there are still some things you should look out for. For instance, mechanical damage is a serious issue for large and active fish.

They can easily hurt themselves when digging up the substrate or swimming close to sharp rocks. All of this can easily be avoided if you filter the substrate beforehand and ensure that no sharp pieces slip into the tank.

Another big problem is poisoning. Unlike what you might think at first, it does not mean that there will be something wrong with their food. It would usually mean quite the opposite; harmful chemical composition of the water like lack of oxygen or high Sulphur content.

Lastly, the final problem is infection. More often than not that means fin rot. Depending on the severity, they can be treated by simply adding chemicals to the water either for prophylactic purposes or to speed up the recovery.

Breeding Flowerhorn Cichlid

Under comfortable conditions Flowerhorns breed without any problems. There are some things that you should prepare beforehand though.

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

These species become fully mature at around 1.5-2 years. Some individuals might be ready to reproduce even earlier at only about 12 months of age.

The spawning process itself happens naturally and requires little to no stimulation. The females usually lay their eggs on a smooth substrate like rocks or ceramics. They lay up to 900 eggs which are then fertilized by the male.

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

The first juveniles start to hatch towards the end of the second day and two more days later they will begin to swim around. They can be fed brine shrimp or specific foods for juvenile fish that you can find in a store.

Parents will look after their young for about two months, after which you can place the young back into the common tank. They start developing their characteristic appearance at around 6 months and you will be able to tell the gender of the fish at the same time.

Are Flowerhorn Cichlids Suitable For Your Aquarium? (Summary)

The Flowerhorn Cichlid is an amazing choice for any setup if you can afford to keep a particularly large aquarium at home.

They come in a huge variety of colors including: blue, purple, green, reddish and many more.

Just remember this is a large fish and keeping an aquarium of this size can be hard work.

However if you feel that you are experienced enough, this species will be a wonderful, colorful addition to any aquarium.

They have a great appetite and you will not have any trouble finding food for them. Nor will you have any problems with their health, they are a sturdy bunch and are not susceptible to any particular illnesses.

Do you own a Flowerhorn Cichlid? If yes, what do you like the most about them? Let us know in the comments section below…

Robert Woods Portrait
Robert Woods is the creator of FishKeeping World, a third generation fish keeper and a graduate in animal welfare and behavior. He is also a proud member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Marine Aquarium Societies of North America and the Nature Conservancy.

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