The flowerhorn cichlid is an extremely unique freshwater fish that is getting a revival in popularity among the aquarist community.
The combination of their bright coloration and patterns with that noticeable hump means they’re a fish that stands out in a crowd. Flowerhorn cichlids are also quite large, which makes it even harder to miss them!
If you’re looking for a large fish that breaks the mold from a lot of the other popular aquarium options, the flowerhorn could be exactly what you’re looking for.
In this new guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about flowerhorn cichlid care. The trick with these fish is managing their size and potential aggression, and that’s something we cover at length.
By the time you’re done reading this, you’ll be totally prepared to own one yourself!
Table of Contents
The flowerhorn cichlid is a fish that does not exist naturally in the wild. This is because this fish has been bred entirely in captivity over the years.
The first instances of this occurred in Thailand, Taiwan, and Malaysia. Over time the interest in this fish spread to other parts of Asia, Central America, and eventually the United States and Europe.
Any flowerhorn cichlids that can be found in the wild are not meant to be there. They’re fish that have been released by people into the wild and have quickly become an invasive species in a number of countries.
Despite this, the demand for this fish is still quite high around the world. These fish consistently fetch a high price from breeders and the interest doesn’t seem to be dying down any time soon.
The average lifespan of a flowerhorn cichlid is 11-12 years. This is quite a long period of time and that’s definitely something to consider before buying one. If you take care of it you’ll likely have it for a while!
Their lifespan can shift significantly depending on the quality of care you provide and how suitable their tank conditions are. Overall these fish aren’t very difficult to take care of as long as you manage their potential aggression.
The first thing you’ll notice about this colorful freshwater fish is the hump on their head (especially with males). This is called a nuchal hump or kok and it can expand or shrink in the span of a few days depending on the situation.
The rest of the fish a little more standard, but still unique in a lot of respects. Their body shape is long, tall, and thin with a relatively symmetrical appearance.
The bulk of their dorsal fin matches their anal fin and begins about two-thirds of the way back on the body of the fish.
Both of these fins extend back quite a way and really dwarf their caudal fin which is rather stubby be comparison. At the end of their dorsal and anal fins, you’ll also find a long thin strand of tissue.
Flowerhorn cichlids have a lumpy “chin” area that leads right into their ventral fins. The ventral fins are fairly thin and begin a third of the way down their bodies.
These fish have rather planted eyes that really stand out on their heads. You’ll definitely get the impression that they’re studying you and trying to figure you out.
Male flowerhorn cichlids have very prominent lips that really give them an expressive face. This is one of the reasons why they became so popular when they were first bred. The face and hump bring quite a unique look to your tank!
Author Note: There are a number of different types of this fish such as the Zhen Zhu, Thai silk, and Golden Monkey. The main type that you see most often is the Red Dragon Flowerhorn.
Flowerhorn cichlids can grow to be anywhere from 12 to 16 inches in length (Kamfas are on the larger end of this). Males are typically larger than the female flowerhorns and will weigh a bit more too.
You need to be aware of the size of this aquarium fish when planning their tank setup. Not only does this mean you’ll need more space for them, but it affects everything from feeding to tank mates.
Flowerhorn Cichlid Care
When it comes to providing a suitable tank, Flowerhorn cichlid care is not that challenging. As long as you give them the appropriate amount of space and make sure the water conditions are stable, you’re going to be fine.
Most of the difficulty with this fish comes from their temperament and interactions with other fish. That’s something we’ll dive into a bit later so for now let’s examine the ideal tank setup.
The minimum recommended tank size for one flowerhorn cichlid is 70 gallons. If you’re looking for a freshwater fish that can fit in an average-sized tank, this is not the fish for you.
If you want to keep two flowerhorn fish in the same tank you’ll want to add at least another 70 gallons to that minimum number if you want them to thrive.
Author Note: While these numbers are the recommended minimum, we highly encourage you to go even bigger if possible. These are one of the most aggressive and territorial fish out there, and the extra space can be a life-saver here (literally).
Another reason why you need to provide enough space is for the sake of enrichment and comfort. These fish like to roam and will often run gentle but steady laps around your tank. Giving them a little bit of extra space can go a long way in making sure they can comfortably turn around in the tank.
Maintaining the right water levels is essential when it comes to flowerhorn cichlid care. This will help them thrive and avoid many common diseases that stem from low water quality. A lot of the recommended parameters fit the mold of a standard tropical fish.
- Water temperature: 80°F to 86°F
- pH levels: These fish tend to do best in the 7-8 pH range
- Water hardness: 8-20 dGH
It’s also necessary for you to perform regular water changes. This will help deal with unwanted nitrates and keep your fish healthy.
What To Put In Their Tank
If you’ve watched any videos of flowerhorn cichlids or seen one in person, you’ve probably noticed that some of the tanks are a little bare.
Aquarists who do this are the ones that prefer to seek out as much interaction with the fish as possible. Bare tanks help facilitate this.
Our personal preference is that we’d rather provide these fish with some additional sources of enrichment within their habitat. If you’re like us, then the following information will prove useful.
Flowerhorn cichlids love to dig and root around the substrate. The thing is, their size means they can easily knock things around and unroot plants.
You can give plants a shot if you want, but be prepared for some casualties. We prefer to go with things like driftwood or reasonably sized rocks instead. These can jazz up the inside of the tank a bit and handle any punishment these big fish dish out.
The substrate in your tank should be soft to account for the likelihood of digging. Anything hard or sharp can lead to cuts on your fish (they don’t have a lot of self-control).
Oh, and don’t forget filtration.
Since flowerhorn fish require such large tanks, it’s usually best to use a reliable canister filter (like the FX4) and moderate flow rate. Making a good choice here will result in consistent and clean water that gives you peace of mind.
Author Note: Flowerhorns don’t need a ton of extra light so pretty much any standard aquarium light will do. There’s no point in spending more money than you have to!
Common & Potential Diseases
There are a couple of diseases that you’ll want to look out for with your flowerhorn cichlids. They aren’t prone to sickness like some other species of fish, but they aren’t immune to subpar living conditions either.
The first one that you’ll want to keep an eye out for is hole-in-the-head disease. This is a rather gruesome looking illness that stems from poor water quality and the presence of activated carbon in your tank.
This will present itself as one or two pits/holes in the skin of your flowerhorn’s head. While it’s almost always curable (fixing your water quality and removing activated carbon is usually all you need to do), it will usually leave some scarring on your poor fish!
The other disease you’ll want to keep an eye out for is ich. This is obviously not a flowerhorn-specific illness, but since ich is so common it’s definitely worth mentioning here.
This will show itself as white spots on the body, fish, and gills of your fish. We won’t do a full ich treatment guide here (there are plenty of those online) but it’s something you need to take very seriously if it affects your flowerhorn.
Food & Diet
You have a lot of different options when it comes to flowerhorn fish food. You’ll want to make sure they get enough protein, but also provide some variety to ensure they have a balanced diet.
Any typical high-quality protein source such as bloodworms, crickets, grasshoppers, worms, and shrimp will all go a long way in providing them with the protein they need. We’ve even seen people feeding them treats like crawfish.
However, this shouldn’t be the staple of their diet.
In order to provide your flowerhorn cichlid with the necessary nutrients, the base of their diet should be some kind of plant-based food. This can come in the form of whatever’s convenient for you, but pellets are a common choice.
Flowerhorns are a fish that you need to avoid overfeeding. These fish will scarf down pretty much whatever you put in their tank, so you need to make sure you’re giving them an appropriate amount of food on a daily basis.
Feeding them three times a day is the common rule of thumb to follow. This helps spread out their intake which leads to less work for their digestive system. If it takes them longer than a minute to eat what you gave them you’ll likely need to reduce the quantity.
Behavior & Temperament
This is where flowerhorn cichlid care gets a little more tricky. These are aggressive fish, there’s no way around it (typical cichlid).
They are typically more prone to aggression when it comes to staking out their perceived territory in the tank. This is why it’s so important to provide them with enough space if you have more than one in the same tank.
Their aggressive nature also makes choosing tank mates difficult (more details down below) but it’s not impossible.
The funny thing is these fish can be extremely friendly and playful when it comes to their owners. This isn’t the case all the time, but there are some great videos out there that show them acting like little water dogs!
Their general behavior in the tank is not very patterned. While some fish only roam a specific area, flowerhorns like to investigate everything! Sometimes you’ll see them near the surface, other times they’ll be checking out the substrate.
This is another reason why adequate space is so important. These fish like to swim around and explore every inch of the aquarium, so give them room to do so!
Flowerhorn Cichlid Tank Mates
Because of their aggressive nature, flowerhorn cichlids are difficult to find roommates for. These are big fish that view the tank as theirs, and there’s really no way around that.
This means if you want to choose the safest option, keeping your flowerhorn by itself is the way to go. They’re a fish that can be quite happy by itself and will enjoy ruling over the whole aquarium in peace.
If you want to give them a buddy, the easiest tank mate for these fish is one of their own kind. There are plenty of aquarists who keep these fish in pairs. Just make sure you abide by the minimum tank size recommendations!
Tank mates of other species can be possible too, there’s just an added risk. Here are some flowerhorn cichlid tank mates that tend to work well:
- Oscar Fish
- Plecos (the Sailfin/Leopard is great)
- Bichir (the bigger the better)
- Big Cichlids
- Silver Arowana
- Bristlenose plecos
- Spotted hoplo catfish
Most fish that are significantly smaller than your flowerhorns are probably not a good idea. They need to have the size and speed to hold their own or swim away if necessary.
Author Note: There’s always a chance that your flowerhorn might just be too aggressive to be kept with another fish (even another flowerhorn). Pay close attention to your fish when introducing them to each other to ensure everyone gets along!
Breeding flowerhorn cichlids presents a handful of challenges that you’ll need to overcome. The first and most significant obstacle is that a lot of these fish aren’t fertile. This will obviously stop any breeding attempts before they start, so it’s important for you to find fish that are capable of breeding first.
You’ll need to put your flowerhorns in a separate breeding tank and will need to be moved shortly after the mating process has occurred. The breeding tank should be similar in size to their normal tank, so you don’t need to worry about any special space considerations.
The breeding tank will also function as the fry tank which will save you a little extra transition work once they’ve hatched. The tank doesn’t need anything at the bottom either in terms of the substrate but smooth flat rocks are an option as well.
You won’t need to make any adjustments to the water temperature to initiate the breeding process either. Using a divider that passes water flow between the male and the female is a good way to encourage mating though.
Once fertilization has taken place your make flowerhorn will take care of the eggs (the female should be removed) for a few days until they hatch. Once the fry are out and about you can remove the male as well.
You’ll want to feed the fry live food (like brine shrimp) in order to help them grow and provide the nutrients they need. Feeding them anywhere from five to ten times a day will be necessary to keep up with their need for food.
Flowerhorn cichlid care is not that complicated once you have a solid understanding of the fish. From a tank size and water condition standpoint, they’re pretty easy to manage.
However, their aggression means that finding suitable tank mates is where most of the difficulty lies.
Owning a flowerhorn fish can be incredibly rewarding and enjoyable. They’re quite intelligent fish and there’s something about them that leads to a deep bond between them and their owners.
It’s no wonder that this fish has a loyal following of aquarists who swear that they’ll always own a flowerhorn no matter what. If you want a unique and fun freshwater fish to care for, this animal might be just what you’re looking for!