Flowerhorn Cichlid care guide

One of the most unique and interesting tropical fish you can keep in your aquarium is the Flowerhorn Cichlid.

These unique looking fish are technically a man-made species, as they’ve been genetically manipulated and produced by scientists for their unique looks.

They’re truly a fascinating species worth looking into, as long as you can provide proper care and a large enough aquarium.

Let’s take a look.

Quick Intro to Flowerhorn Cichlid

Family: Cichlidae
Scientific Name: Unknown – Hybrid
Common NamesFlower horn cichlid, Flowerhorn
Care Level: Intermediate

Natural Habitat, Identification, and Where to Buy flowerhorn cichlid

flowerhorn cichlid

Flowerhorn Cichlid is a species of fish that is man-made and boasts an impressive lifespan of up to 12 years. They originate from Malaysian fish keepers who bred them at the turn of the century.

Ever since appearing on the marketplace in 1996, they have been rising in popularity. They are ubiquitous enough to be found in almost any fishkeeping shop, no matter where you are in the world.

An average medium-sized flowerhorn cichlid will sell for around $35.

While none exist naturally in the wild and the closest natural occurring relative are the South African Cichlids from the Amazon.

The Flowerhorn cichlid is close enough to its South African cousins that they have a similar shape, they all share elongated bodies and unique head shapes.

Their heads bulge out from their bodies and have they have deeply planted eyes. They have dorsal and anal fins that extend to the base of their tails and have a braid-like ending.

Their tails are nearly round and are thinner than the rest of their fins.

 Because they have such a unique shape, they are fish that can be recognized by their silhouette alone.

Adding to their unique appearance, they come in a very vivid selection of colors, the variety ranges from light purple, and fiery red. Additionally, they have a variety of patterns to complement their strong colors.

This variation in appearance means that you can find the perfect type for your aquarium. If you need a plain mono-colored fish or something more exotic, there is a Flowerhorn cichlid that will meet your needs.

Enough owners have shown gross irresponsibility in releasing this fish into the wild that variation has begun to appear around the world.

Asian fish keeping circles adore this fish almost to the point of making it a celebrity. Some believe that this fish can be a part of great Feng Shui and bring good fortune to its owners.

Some even tell their clients that if they purchase this fish it will bring them good health, improve their relationships, and help them achieve financial success.

Types of Flowerhorn cichlid

Due to the large variety of Flowerhorns, they are broken up by color patterns and morphs. They are not considered to be separate species.

Despite the variety of colors and patterns, all Flowerhorns have a common need when it comes to care and water parameters.

Zhen Zhu

Zhen Zhu is famous for its perfect flowing pattern of flowers along its body. They tend to be rounder in shape, have red eyes, and present in a more tan or yellow coloring.

Thai Silk

Thai Silk Flowerhorns are sometimes called Titanium Flowerhorns due to the metal-colored scales across their entire body. Their colors are a light blue but variations can also be white or gold.

Kamfa Flowerhorn

Kamfa Flowerhorns are known for having large nuchal humps and having vivid patterning. The typical one has deep red as a base and light blue and white patterns across its body.

Golden Base Fader

Golden Bases are called Faders because the juvenile fish has gold and red but lose this as they age. As they grow older they will turn black and then back to gold and red.

Gold Monkey

Gold Monkey is a fish that is considered to be lucky and is a rare luohan-based Flowerhorn still alive. They come in various colors but mostly are golden based in color.

Red Ingot Flowerhorn/King Kong Parrot

The Red Ingot, aka the King Kong Parrot, is one of the earliest Flowerhorns to be have been bred. They have various body sizes and shapes but all tend to be the same deep red color.

Types of Nuchal Humps (Koks)

flowerhorn cichlid
Photo by rigel on Unsplash

A common element of this fish species is the nuchal humps on the body, a.k.a. koks.

Water Koks are made of a gel that is under the skin and is very squishy when touched. Another trait is that this fish is transparent under LED.

Hard Koks are made of a dense layer of fat that stays small.

Medium Koks are a mix of the water and hard Kok and is rare among the fish.

Optimal Water Conditions for Flowerhorn Cichlid

Water Temperature82 to 88 degrees Fahrenheit
Water Flow Rate: Moderate to high
pH: 7.4 to 8.0
Water Hardness: 9-20 dGH

Tank Setup

Minimum Tank Size70 gallons per one or 150 per two Flowerhorns
Optimal Tank Size215+ gallons per pair
Optimal Tank Shape: Standard long tanks
Recommended Filter Type: Strong HOB filters, canister filters, or overhead filters

When setting up your aquarium for Flowerhorn cichlids, it’s good to remember they are strong fish that can tolerate moderate and high flow of water but be careful to not let the flow get too high.

If you notice that your fish is having trouble swimming around the tank don’t be afraid to reduce the flow. When you have the right balance of water flow it helps to keep your oxygen and water temperature at an even level.

Temperature is important, the ideal range for this species is between 20-30C temperature while some fish keepers suggest a more specific 82-88 Fahrenheit.

As far as PH Levels are concerned, Flowerhorns should have water that is between 7.5-8.0. In addition to that moderate PH level, they need their water changed at regular intervals at least once a week.

If you are having trouble maintaining the pH level, adding crushed coral to your travel can help. Make sure to be vigilant about the pH levels because any drastic change can be lethal to Flowerhorns.

One of the most important keys to having a healthy Flowerhorn is to have a quality filtration system. Most experts suggest using an overhead filter.

Overhead filtration system can be cleaned with minimal issues and clogs can be avoided.

One of the most important things this species of fish needs is salt. Salt provides sodium ions and chlorides for your fish as well as aids in killing any parasites in the tank.

There are a variety of options for adding salt to the tank and it’s important to find the one that works with your budget and tank set up.

It is important for your tank’s water to have complete water changes at least once a month. Filter’s cannot keep the water 100% clean so there is still a need to refresh the tank.

Any tank that contains Cichlids, including Flowerhorns, needs to be spacious. The minimum size for a single Flowerhorn should be around 70-120 gallons.

Bubblers are not necessary for flowerhorn cichlid. They don’t require the extra water texture, flow, and oxygenation these provide.

You may, however add them, if you prefer – though don’t go overboard on them.

Top Tip: If you are wanting your fish to have community then you are looking at a minimum of 175-200 gallons of water. The large tank is one of the reasons many inexperienced hobbyists avoid the Flowerhorn.

Creating the Landscape for flowerhorn cichlid

One of the most fun parts of fishkeeping is crafting the landscape that your fish will get to enjoy.

While looking for the base, a good suggestion is to use large pieces of tile, sand substrates, or even consider having a bare bottom to your tank.

Be careful with choosing to use gravel as a substrate. Large fish have a bad habit of picking up the gravel while swallowing their food. If this happens the gravel can become impacted in the fish’s intestines.

This will stop the fish from being able to pass waste and cause serious medical issues.

Choosing decorations for your fish can be difficult because Flowerhorns are known to dig around. They will nose around in the substrate and even move the decorations around the tank.

Their aggressive nature even leads to them attacking and destroying plants.

The easy route is to just have a bare bottom tank. If, however you want to include substrate or plants, make sure that what you choose will not be easily eaten or destroyed. Any plants need to be firmly bedded to the bottom of the tank.

Flowerhorn cichlids are larger fish that creates a lot of waste and are known to be territorial, so it’s important to have a large enough tank that can suit their needs.

Author Note: A single fish will need a 70-gallon tank, a breeding pair of fish will need at least 120 gallons of water and if you are planning on keeping multiple sets of this fish you will need at least a tank of a minimum size of 200 gallons.

A trick to enhancing the brilliant colors of your fish is to have the right lighting. Most professionals suggest using indirect light for the tank.

In nature this fish is used to having indirect sunlight, so make sure that your tank doesn’t have light shining directly on your fish.

Best Plants: Anubias, Java Ferns, Java Moss, Water Hyacinth
Best Lighting: They’re not as picky about lighting, though dimmer rather than brighter is best.
Best Decorations: Ideally use large pieces of tile, sand, or a bare bottom in their tank.
Decorations to Avoid: Avoid gravel substrate

Physiological Considerations for Flowerhorn Cichlid

flowerhorn cichlid
Size: Up to 16 inches
LifespanUp to 12 years
Temperament: Aggressive
Preferred Tank Region: Middle to bottom
Scale Thickness: No special concerns.
Gill Considerations: No special concerns.
Swimbladder Considerations: Avoid overfeeding your flowerhorn to help avoid swim bladder issues. They are susceptible to the disease, as are other freshwater fish, and overfeeding and dirty aquariums can cause severe health issues.
Fin Shape Considerations: Their fins are susceptible to snagging on sharp corners and edges. Be sure to keep only smooth-edges items in the aquarium with your Flowerhorns.

There are four kinds of Flowerhorn Fish: Zhen Zhu, Kamfa, Golden Monkey, and Golden Base. Flowerhorn fish is a result and product of cross-breeding.

While you can have other fish in your tank alongside your Flowerhorn, you should make sure that the Flowerhorn has a priority. You need to make this fish’s health and happiness a priority.

The most popular of Flowerhorn cichlids color is red. This fish color is beloved because of the feng shui it offers. Other popular colors for Flowerhorns are silver, blue, orange, yellow.

Author Note: While some people have methods of changing your fish’s color, this can be dangerous for the fish’s health.

Spread and Intensity of Coloration

This fish can have their natural colors enhanced. These color enhancers can help with the intensity of the color. The lines and patterns may become more vivid, however, it’s important to monitor the fish’s health.

Color Balance

With how intense Flowerhorns colors can be, it is important to find a balance with using enhancements. The best way to have balance is to focus on the less intense colors of the fish.

Beware of Going Overboard

The danger of using too many color enhancers means that your fish may suffer from an allergic reaction. For example, if you have a blue-colored Flowerhorn and feed it red pellets, instead of turning red the fish will start to turn a dark color.

If you continue there is a chance the fish will stay the dark color, even when you stop feeding it enhancers.

The easiest solution to your fish being the right color is to pick the right colored fish when you first purchase them.

Instead of trying to worry about transforming colors, simply buy the right colored Flowerhorn and you will not have to worry about changing hues.

Society for flowerhorn cichlid

pale peach fish swimming near rocks

Flowerhorns are fish that has an aggressive temperament and is very territorial. This fish is a carnivore and makes it dangerous to keep them in the same tank with fish that are smaller or the same size.

Some owners have even reported being bitten by their aggressive fish.

If you wish to give you Flowerhorns company then you need to pick larger fishes that are equally as aggressive and have a tank big enough for all of them.

However, If the other fish is too aggressive the Flowerhorn may get sick from stress. If your fish is too stressed it will begin to lose its color.

It can be difficult to locate fish that can share the same tank as Flowerhorn Cichlids.

Due to the Flowerhorns’ aggressiveness and size, they will prey on smaller fish or deliberately eat all the food and try to starve the other fish in the tank. If you decide to try and find a friend for your Flowerhorn.

The best tank mates for Flowerhorn cichlids include:

Gender, Breeding, and Reproductive Considerations

Even if you don’t intend to breed this fish, it is helpful to know some basic facts about this. The easiest way to start is to get a pair of Flowerhorn cichlids.

Place them in their breeding tanks and make sure they have a good diet, and make sure their tank is ready.

Top Tip: While it may seem silly, the fish are easily startled while they court one another so placing some newspaper around the tank can help them feel safe and able to relax.

It can be difficult to tell the male and female of the species apart when they are at a young age. As they age, they develop characteristics that are more obvious.

At this stage of their growth and development, the female will have a noticeable ovipositor, and the males will have a papilla.

When it comes to the process itself, a flowerhorn cichlid breeding is like that of South American Cichlids and they’re easy to breed. The problems mostly occur before or after the breeding.

A major problem is that due to the fish’s aggressive nature, the male may attack the female.

If the two fish aren’t both read for mating, a fight could break out, or the male outright hunting the female. Make sure there is a rock for the female to hide if she needs to be safe.

Nutritional Needs

flowerhorn cichlid

Flower Horns love to eat. If you want to make feeding simple, you can use a high-quality dry pellet. This will provide your fish with a well-balanced meal.

Other things your fish will be eager to eat are mealworms, earthworms, live blood worms, shrimp, smaller fish, and minced meat. Being omnivores, a flowerhorn cichlid will also happily eat lettuce, peas, and spinach.

Because this fish is so happy to eat, it is easy to overfeed.  Overfeeding can make the fish sick and lead to death.

Top Tip: Make sure you give measured amounts of food when you feed your fish. Due to how hunger this fish is, some aquarists feed them between two to four times a day.

Also, make sure to clean up any leftover food to help keep the tank clean the fish free from infection.

If you are interested in enhancing your flowerhorn cichlid’s color, there are food options. Just make sure to research all possible side effects and harmful effects overfeeding your fish some of these foods can cause.

The most common food is astaxanthin which encages orange and red. Xanthophyll brings out the yellow colors. If you are interested in a sharper blue hue then spirulina is what you should choose.

Specifically, your Flowerhorn cichlid will do well with a blend of:

  • Peas
  • Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Live bloodworms
  • Mealworms
  • Small fish
  • Earthworms
  • Minced Meat
  • Frozen bloodworms
  • High protein, low grain pellets
  • Spirulina
  • Crickets
  • Nightcrawlers
  • Brine shrimp
  • Brine shrimp eggs
  • Milled feed options for large cichlids
Best Sustenance Food Type: The best sustenance food for your Flowerhorn cichlid is not any single option. Instead, they require a healthy balance of dry foods like low or no-grain flakes and pellets, vegetables, insects, and crustaceans.
Additional Food For Optimal Health: More of the same! The key for Flowerhorns is to give them a balanced diet.
Special Foods and Considerations for Best Color and Growth: Live food, spirulina, Xanthophyll, and Astaxanthin in combination with their healthy balanced diet will produce the most vivid colors and healthiest growth.
When and How Often to Feed Fish Based on Life Cycle: Flowerhorns do well with feedings 2 to 3 times per day. Whatever they eat each time in a 2 to 3 minute period is a good gauge for how much. If your Flowerhorn seems to be ravenous, however, be sure to increase the food slightly, one day at a time, until you reach the right level.

Common Diseases and How to Avoid and Treat Them

Flowerhorn Fish has several common diseases that they are susceptible to. It is important to have your aquarium already prepared for your fish so that they will be able to stay healthy.

To keep your fish healthy, maintaining high water qualities are just as important as making sure to feed your fish every day.

When you feed your fish, make sure that they are behaving normally and that nothing seems wrong about them. If your fish is behaving differently then there is a reason and oftentimes that means the fish is sick.

Ich (White Spot Disease)

Ich, or Ick, or white spot disease, is a disease where your fish will have white spots all over their body. Treating this involves changing the water in your tank and adding a medication like Aquarisol.

Hole in the Head

Hole in the Head (HITH) is where small pits and pimples grow on the head and gray worms may grow on the fish. This can potentially be fatal for your fish.

The disease is caused by a protozoan known as Hexamita spp., which develops in poor quality water.

Early signs of the condition include pitting and pimples – and if it’s left untreated, the holes become surrounded by mucus.

The fish with hole in the head grow lethargic and lose their appetites, as well as lose weight and have stringy white feces.

Treating this involves changing the tank water, adding a medicine like Metronidazole, and force-feeding your fish.


Dropsy is where excess fluid builds up in the fish and it finds it difficult to move around. You can use a commercially available antibiotic to treat your fish and you will need to change the tank’s water.

fish swimming in aquarium
Best Antibiotics: Bacta, Tetracycline, API Melafix and Aquarium salt, Jungle Labs Fungus Eliminator, Metronidazole, Aquarisol
Treatments to Avoid: Nothing specific.
Food Recommendations When Sick: Up the vegetables and live food to improve your flowerhorn’s health.
Hospital Tank or Isolation Withing the Community Tank: Avoid cross-tank contamination and quarantine new or infected fish until all symptoms have cleared.

3 Facts About Flowerhorn Cichlid

  1. Flowerhorn cichlids are not found in the wild – they have been genetically enhanced and tweaked to create their distinct looks.
  2. The Flowerhorn cichlid are created from the red devils and trimac cichlids from Central America and the hybridized blood parrot cichlid from Taiwan.
  3. Because of the species used to create the Flowerhorn Cichlid and the affects that this kind of hybridization creates, these fish are extremely territorial and exceptionally aggressive! They definitely don’t play well with others.

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