Flowerhorn fish care guide

Flowerhorn is a unique fish with a very interesting behavior, temper, and completely unusual appearance. Those who decided to keep flowerhorn in a tank have never regretted it. However, the fish has its peculiarities that you should be aware of before buying it. Further in the article, you’ll find out how the Flowerhorn appeared and whether it exists in the wild. How difficult is it to keep it, and how long is its lifespan? How to feed and select tank mates for it.


Cichlids, as a rule, aren’t very picky when choosing their match. Therefore they can make couples not only with their kind but also with completely different cichlid types. Such a peculiarity gave breeders the possibility to obtain several amazing hybrids with different kinds of fishes.

Not all hybrids are successful. Some of them don’t have good coloring, and some become sterile after such breeding. But there are always some exceptions. One of the famous and popular tank fishes – parrot fish, is exactly the result of artificial crossing.

As well as a flowerhorn, it’s a result of genetics and Malaysian aquarists’ persistence. It was Malaysia where a thorough line breeding and different cichlid types breeding (but no one yet knows for sure) was performed to get a healthy and fruitful breed. Flowerhorn fish is a hybrid. However, it doesn’t tend to get sick, and it’s good-looking and fruitful.


Flowerhorn fish max size may be up to 12-15 inches (30-38 cm). Its growth rate is rather impressive; during their first year of life, they grow up to 2 cm in a month.

It is a hybrid artificially bred, and it means that it can never be seen in the wild. The first flowerhorn was bred in Malaysia in the 90th of XX century by breeding several fishes’ types, cichlids from South America mainly. Breeders were amazed by its hump on the head, and they called the fish “Karoli” which means a fighting ship.

The question of what kind of fishes were bred to get flowerhorn fish is still controversial. The true combination is known only to those who bred it. Aquarists agree that the fish comes from the breeding of Cichlasoma trimaculatum and red terror cichlid, Amphilophus citrinellus, Amphilophus labiatus, Vieja synspila.

The first breeding line of flowerhorn cichlids that appeared on the market was called Hua Luo Han. Hua Luo Han was bred approximately in 1998. But since then, it became very popular as well as lots of its morphs and hybrids. Some of them are with huge forehead humps (kok) or with shortened or curved bodies, etc.

Since 2001 they have become constant participants of the “AQUARAMA” exhibition in Singapore, where at the very first time, they received the undivided attention of aquarists from worldwide. Their popularity has put in the shade all other fish kinds that were famous during the last years.

The most popular hybrids nowadays are KamFa , Kamalau (KML or Golden Monkey), Zhen Zhu (ZZ) and Thai Silk (titanium flowerhorn), Red Dragon, Gold flowerhorn (golden base), Red Texas.Description

This is a typical large American cichlid with a big bulky body, fan-shaped unpaired fins, and a bright-colored kok, or the nuchal hump on its forehead. This is flowerhorn’s distinctive feature, one of the main breeding parameters. It’s interesting that not only the male has such a hump, but the female, too – but it’s rather small and unpronounced. This is the only common thing they have.

Basically, the kok growth is due to genetics. However, some expensive flowerhorns exist with huge humps (due to selection and special food) and cheap flowerhorns with large horns (due to genetics and pre-sale processing with testosterone-type hormones). In the latter case, you receive the coloring and large hump with a small body size and gastrointestinal tract problems.

Very seldom you can see two identical fish species. Mainly all species, even relatives from one offspring, vary greatly in coloring and body shape. During their life, the coloring changes, and it gets its full beauty when the fish becomes reproductive.

Attentive studies of lots of fish photos showed that morphologically “flowerhorns” can be divided into several groups, each of them will have its dominating features common with their parental type. Therefore, it’s quite possible that the fish breeding process was performed simultaneously in several breeding lines.

An interesting peculiarity of the fish is that it changes its color during its life up to the reproductive stage. So, if you are interested in buying a bright-colored species of a certain color, you have to choose among mature fishes. Otherwise, you’ll be surprised later and possibly in a bad way. On the other hand, if you buy juveniles, you’ll see series of wonderful color changes, and who knows, maybe you’ll have an awesome colored fish in the end?

Scientific NameNone
Common NameFlowerhorn fish; flower horn; flowerhorn cichlid; horn fish; flowerhead fish; floran fish
Ease of keepingMedium
Lifespan10 years
Tank size400 liters (104 gallons) and more
Tank typeCommunity of large fishes
Temperature26-30 °C (78,8–86 °F)
Water hardness9–20 dGH
Size15 inches (38 cm)

Difficulties in keeping

Care is rather easy since the fish adapts to water parameters well, which may be a problem for other fishes. The fish isn’t demanding as for feeding – it eats any protein-containing feed: both artificial and live. It has to be mentioned that though the fish seems to be good for beginners, it’s not – for several good reasons.

Firstly, it’s a very large fish requiring a spacious tank. Secondly, flowerhorn fish is very aggressive and territory-dependent, so it’s desirable to keep the fish alone in a tank – without any tank mates and even plants. Beginners can easily find smaller and more peaceful cichlid fish.

Finally, the flowerhorn is so aggressive that it attacks and bites its owner’s hand while feeding or maintaining the tank.

However, if you are sure that this is the fish you want, no circumstances should stop you. Despite all the obstacles mentioned above, this fish is ok for beginners if they study the fish and if they are ready to face some problems.


These fishes (at the condition that the fish is healthy) have a perfect appetite. They eat both life and dry feed. The fish eagerly eats special dry feed for flowerhorns and common frozen prawns or mussels. It will gladly feed on bloodworm or fresh sprats (or other small fish), pieces of calamari, or low-fat fish (like goldfish).

Also, fish requires some plant additions to the diet or some feed based on spirulina. When feeding these fishes in a community tank, you’ll be surprised how fast they swim to the feeding hand. By the way, flowerhorns aren’t afraid of humans at all, and they let us touch them. But, do it carefully since they can bite. The fish is a glutton, so when it refuses to eat it may be a signal that the fish is ill. Anyway, an important thing is not to overfeed them.

Some aquarists feed flowerhorn with homemade food made of mammal forced meat. Unfortunately, such an approach is the worst possible since they digest this food poorly, and sooner or later, it leads to gastrointestinal tract issues and your pet’s death.

Quality dry food is an optimal choice for flowerhorn feed. They are made from quality raw materials with high protein content to meet cichlids’ dietary needs, while a vitamin complex supports their immunity and ensures a long lifespan.

Specialized food was developed according to the flowerhorn’s diet requirements. Usually, these are pellets or granules containing natural color boosters. They ensure the healthy growth of these cichlids. High digestibility of the food components reduces tank water pollution.

It’s better to feed them with small portions of food but frequently, twice a day. All food should be eaten in several minutes since this will allow avoiding water pollution.

Care and keeping in a tank

The first thing to do before getting a fish is to check its state (defects, bloom on its skin, fins) and activity. Body coloring is an important component, but in flowerhorn case, it may not be of crucial importance since they get their complete coloring quite late. While the fish grows, its coloring may significantly vary. It’s worth checking the breeders, not the juveniles.


Flowerhorn fish lifespan is about 8-10 years, but some sources mention a longer lifespan. It depends on three factors: genetics, tank conditions, and water temperature. The higher it is, the faster fish metabolism is, and the shorter is its lifespan.

Tank size

Flowerhorn care is very easy since the fish isn’t demanding, and it’s an enduring one. Let’s mention that the fish grows up to be very large – about 30-40 cm and it requires a spacious tank, especially if the fish has some tank mates.

Every aquarist should understand that it requires a large tank due to its size. It’s better if there are at least 33 gallons (150 liters) for one species. However, you will be able to see its full beauty only in a species tank 300-500 liters (66-110 gallons) large.

It is recommended to keep this cichlid in couples. At that, you must monitor the male’s behavior. He may attack the female and hurt her. If you have a tank of proper size and want to keep several fish couples, you should zone the territory and put many shelters to minimize conflicts between the tank dwellers.

As a rule, it is recommended to keep this cichlid in a separate tank, where you can see flowerhorn in all its glory. This is how they do in Malaysia, where it was bred, and even in Thailand. They put several tanks with just one fish in each.

An adult fish swims calmly and proudly. It seldom hides in shelters. It is difficult to scare it since it can frighten anyone himself by opening its grills and threading his enemy, even if it’s his own reflection in the mirror. This cichlid likes spacious tanks and always swims in view. Thus a large tank with a flowerhorn in it won’t look empty.

Water parameters

Such large fish has high demands for tank water quality and purity. A strong external filter and proper aeration is a must, as well as weekly water renewals (up to 20% of the total volume) and tank substrate cleaning. The water temperature should be rather high – 26-30°C (78,8–86 °F), pH: 6.5-7.5, 9 – 20 dGH.

Tank setup: decorations and plants

Flowerhorn likes digging tank bottom and eating the tank plants, so you aren’t likely to create some kind of nice aqua-scape with plants. Because of that and the fish size, it’s recommended to put rocks, snags, and other tank decorations directly on a tank bottom, not on a substrate. Otherwise, fishes will move the decorations around the tank as they wish.

As for the tank decorations, it’s difficult to create them – the fish likes digging and doesn’t like plants. There’s no point in putting plants into the tank at all – they will be ruined.

Gravel should be used as a substrate, and big rock and snags as covers. However, the fish doesn’t like hiding, and it’s rather active. Make sure that rocks and other tank decorations, equipment are anchored well, and they won’t fall since flowerhorn is quite capable of turning them over.

Sadly, keeping them in a planted tank isn’t likely to be a success. Everything will be dug and ruined. Even stiff-leaved plants such as Anubias fixed to a heavy snag, or a stone will not survive. These cichlids are strong enough with powerful jaws. The male can bite rather notable even for a human while the plan will fail to stand it.


The fish loves moderate flow and clean water, so a powerful canister filter is necessary, as well as weekly water renews and bottom siphonate (since flowerhorn makes a mess when eating).

Tank mates

It’s better to keep fish alone as a rare show fish. It is a rather territory-dependent fish with an aggressive temper and rather badly behaved for its tank mates (except for very big tanks). In smaller tanks, flowerhorn fish tank mates will get injured, or they will be stressed all the time.

The fish isn’t a good tank mate for any other fish since it’s very large, aggressive, and territory-dependent. It’s better to keep one fish alone or a fish couple, but if you still want to have flowerhorn tank mates – a tank should be very spacious. The fish will even attack you and bite when maintaining the tank. To decrease its aggressiveness, a spacious tank is required with lots of covers and large tank mates in it.

The following tank mates are good for flowerhorn fish: jaguar cichlid, oscar fish, black pacu, giant gourami. However, as a rule, those who keep flowerhorn conclude that it must live alone in a tank! Even sailfin pleco won’t survive there. My fish couple attacked a huge catfish, and they bit its eyes. I had to put the catfish in another tank. It wasn’t injured, but I didn’t want to wait till it comes to this. If there are many shelters in the tank, you can try putting adult bristlenose plecos there. They are very quick and can hide from flowerhorn. Since the latter slips at night, the catfish will have a chance to clean all the tank walls.

If you want to breed flowerhorns, remember that the fish’s aggressiveness spreads on its relatives. Carefully watch the fish couple so they won’t kill each other.

Gender differences: male vs female

Here’s no highly reliable way to see between flowerhorn male and female yet. Visually females are significantly larger than males. They both have kok, but females have it less pronounced. Besides, males have brighter and more appealing coloring as well as the fleshy mouth. The most reliable sign is when the fish is laying eggs in a tank. This can happen without the male.


Very often, such hybrids are sterile, i.e., they can’t have any offspring. But it’s not about flowerhorn. To get the juveniles of the same color as their parents, one has to know well how pure is their breeding line, otherwise, the juveniles will differ greatly from their parents.

Flowerhorn breeding is very much alike with other large South American cichlids breeding. Usually, the fish breeds in the same tank where it lives, and the biggest problem is to save the female from the male attacks. You have to design the tank so that the female will have a place to hide and the male won’t see her. Quite often, the female isn’t ready for spawning, but the male starts haunting and attacking her. Another way is to divide the tank into two parts using a net, so the female is safe, and the sight of other fish stimulates the beginning of spawning.

Also, one can put a big flat rock near the net and remove all other objects where she can spawn from the tank’s female side. When she lays the eggs on this rock, it is then removed to the male’s section of the tank, and the water flow is directed on the rock so the male can fertilize the eggs.

In any case, – with or without the net, you’ll have to create the conditions stimulating spawning.

The water temperature should be about 28°C. The water should have neutral pH of 7.0. The fishes should be fed a lot with qualitative feed. Also, the major part of the tank water can be renewed with a fresh one.

The parents will guard their eggs eagerly. Even if the fish couple is kept separately and there’s no hazard, the male can decide that the female is needless and start attacking her. In this case, it’s better to remove the female from the tank or to put it back behind the net. Flowerhorn ich fry and juveniles are large and easy to care for.

If you want to have full-value juveniles, the hatched larvae should be removed from the community tank using a thick hoose without creating a strong water flow. The water in the tank with juveniles is taken from the community tank. It should have the same temperature as well. Aeration must be used. In a few days, depending on the temperature, the larvae start to swim and look for food. Juveniles can be fed with brine shrimp nauplii, milled feeds for large cichlids. As the juveniles grow, the food size becomes larger. Also, you should sort them according to the size to avoid cannibalism (large species may eat the smaller ones).

Flowerhorn fish types

This isn’t a traditional classification in customary form, and it doesn’t have a scientific background. This is just an attempt to divide a huge number of shapes, colorings, and breed lines for the purpose of breeding and commerce. There is no single classification. You can encounter many various names and pronunciations of the fish types and their commercial names. Moreover, each type may have characteristics of another type, and not every species can be decisively defined as one kind or another.

Besides, there’s fish classification (A, AA, B, BB, C), where the class depends on the shape and intensity of bands and spots on the fish body sides.

Qualitatively cichlid has to meet the standards of its body shape:

  • the fish body: has to be oval-shaped, big, and bulky with a rounded abdomen. Some new morphs have a more rounded shape.
  • Occipital kok: it should be big and symmetrical to the body proportions.
  • Black spots: they need to be thick and easily visualized since this is the main fish feature. Some new fish morphs don’t pay that much attention to it.
  • Coloring: the most common fishes are usually red. In any case – any color should be bright and well defined.
  • Fins: fluke and other fins have to be as large as possible.

Flowerhorn Kamfa

Kamfa was obtained as a result of cross-breeding subspecies “ZZ” with parrot fish or Vieja synspilum. It has a large round-shaped tail. The coloring can be different. It doesn’t have protuberant eyes. They are either light-golden or red-colored. The dorsal and anal fin doesn’t have any filamentary outgrowths, even if they are longer than the tail.

The tail fin is widely outspread, and it looks like a fan (it even overlaps dorsal and anal fins) without any gap between the tail, dorsal and anal fins. The body shape is rectangular (the fish itself looks rectangular with its fins and forehead). Black spots on its body are focused mainly at the back of its body.

Flowerhorn ZZ

The first combination of this fish obtained by Zhen Zhu was called “ZZ,” which is shortened from Zhen Zhu. Zhen Zhu has a red-yellow body and a line of black patterned spots. The eyes are protuberant, always with a red iris. The body looks like an inverted triangle (with its wider side on top). Black spots are uniformly scattered over it.

Dorsal and anal fins are long with outgrowths. An adult male can have them 1/3 longer than its total body length. The tail is either round or spear-shaped. Between the tail, dorsal and anal fins, there are large gaps. Modern ZZ now has turquoise spots, probably due to texas cichlid in the breeding process.

Flowerhorn Kamfa Malau

Its characters are similar to Kamfa. The head is massive and wide. The eyes are red and flat, and the mouth is almost flat and horizontal. The body shape is similar to that of Kamfa. The more bulky and rectangular it is, the better. The coloring may vary, but it is closer to the classical one – the transition from red to yellow. Sparklets may vary in color. They are very thin and scattered all over the fish body and head. This kind of fish is quite rare and expensive.

Flowerhorn Thai Silk

Thai Silk has a uniform silvery-blue coloring and is really gorgeous. It is highly valued for its large nuchal hump.

Flowerhorn King Kamfa

This is the most controversial and debated type. Currently, this is the most popular type. It usually has white or yellow eyes, even though red eyes are also possible, but the rare case. The breed’s distinctive features include two rows of black spots along the lateral line and thick white spots like pearls. The body is typical for Kamfa with a fan-shaped tail. The body is more massive than that of other Kamfa kinds.

Flowerhorn Golden base

This is likely a color variation that isn’t a type or a breed and has a random nature since it is an uncontrolled mutation, even though it can be inherited.

Flowerhorn Super red monkey

There is almost no information about how red monkey was obtained. What makes it so special? The main characteristic is obvious – they have solid red coloring without pearl spots with a wide and not elongated body and yellow eyes, not white. Many people want to copy Super red monkey, but pay attention to the details. If the fish has pearl-colored or white eyes, they are considered SRM of the highest quality.