Aquarium

Flowerhorn Fish: Types, Breeding, Feeding, and Care

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By Milthon Lujan

Flowerhorn Fish. Source: Lerdsuwa
Flowerhorn Fish. Source: Lerdsuwa

Flowerhorn cichlids, also known as humphead cichlids or flowerhorn fish, are renowned for their stunning appearance, characterized by a prominent nuchal hump or kok, vibrant coloration, and intricate patterns. These majestic fish have captivated aquarium enthusiasts worldwide, making them one of the most sought-after cichlid species.

The popularity of Flowerhorn cichlids stems from their unique beauty and captivating personality. Their vibrant colors, ranging from reds, oranges, and yellows to blues and greens, add a splash of vitality to any aquarium. Their kok, a distinctive nuchal hump, varies in size and shape, enhancing their individuality and appeal.

Despite their captivating appearance, Flowerhorn cichlids require specialized attention to thrive in an aquarium environment. Understanding their unique needs and providing them with proper care is essential to ensure their health and well-being. This comprehensive guide delves into the world of Flowerhorn cichlids, exploring their care requirements, feeding habits, breeding practices, common diseases, and the diverse varieties that grace the aquarium hobby.

Flowerhorn Fish Characteristics

Origin and Distribution

While Flowerhorn cichlids are not found in the wild, they have been selectively bred in Southeast Asia, particularly Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, since the 1990s.

Hybrid Origins

The Flowerhorn fish is known as a fish breed produced by artificial hybridization between various cichlid fishes (Sari et al., 2023) native to Central America. This hybridization process has resulted in a wide range of colors, patterns, and kok shapes, making them highly sought after among aquarium enthusiasts.

Common Hybridization Crosses

Some of the hybridization crosses to obtain Flowerhorn fish include:

  • Red Devil Amphilophus labiatus × Black Convict Cichlasoma (Amphilophus) trimaculatus (Sahandi and Hajimoradloo, 2011; Tarkhani et al., 2017).
  • Black Convict Cichlasoma (Amphilophus) trimaculatus × Midas Cichlid (Amphilophus citrinelllus) × Vieja synspilum (Kupittayanant and Kinchareon, 2011).

Physical Characteristics: Kok, Colors, and Patterns

The most distinctive feature of Flowerhorn cichlids is their prominent nuchal hump or kok. This kok varies in size and shape, ranging from a small bump to a large, bulbous protrusion. The kok is a sexually dimorphic trait, with males typically exhibiting a larger and more prominent kok compared to females.

Flowerhorn cichlids can reach up to 30 cm (12 inches) in length and are adorned with a kaleidoscope of colors, including reds, oranges, yellows, blues, and greens. These colors can be solid, patterned, or a combination of both, creating a mesmerizing spectacle in the aquarium. The patterns, often intricate and detailed, add a unique beauty.

Under recommended care, Flowerhorn fish can live up to 10 years.

Types of Flowerhorn Fishes

Kamfa Flowerhorn: Distinctive Kok and Vibrant Colors

Kamfa Flowerhorn cichlids are renowned for their distinctive kok, which is typically large, bulbous, and well-defined. They exhibit a vibrant array of colors, often with a black base and metallic sheen. Kamfa Flowerhorns are highly sought after for their striking appearance and are considered one of the most popular varieties.

Kamfa Flowerhorn. Source: Thaifh
Kamfa Flowerhorn. Source: Thaifh

Luohan Flowerhorn: Sleek Kok and Pearlescent Scales

Luohan Flowerhorn cichlids are distinguished by their elegant kok, which is typically smaller and more streamlined compared to Kamfa varieties. They are renowned for their pearlescent scales, imparting a shimmering appearance. Luohan Flowerhorns are prized for their elegance and are a popular choice among aquarium enthusiasts.

Luohan Flowerhorn. Source: Ekam Dp
Luohan Flowerhorn. Source: Ekam Dp

Jen Head Flowerhorn: Unique Head Shape and Pattern

Jen Head Flowerhorn cichlids are distinguished by their unique head shape, often described as Jen Head or Jen Face. This head shape is characterized by a prominent forehead and a slightly elongated snout. Jen Head Flowerhorns exhibit a variety of colors and patterns, adding to their individuality and appeal.

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Other Popular Varieties

Apart from the three main types mentioned earlier, there are many other popular varieties of Flowerhorn cichlids, each with its unique characteristics and allure. These include:

  • Golden Base Flowerhorn: Characterized by a dominant golden base color, often adorned with vibrant patterns.
  • Black Base Flowerhorn: Distinguished by a striking black base color, often complemented by contrasting colors and patterns.
  • Red Base Flowerhorn: Showcasing a bold red base color, often enhanced by intricate patterns and vibrant accents.

Despite the diverse appearances of Flowerhorn cichlids, genetic studies by Sari et al. (2023) have revealed that they are all derived from a single species, Amphilophus trimaculatus. This study utilized DNAmt-based COI to identify distinct morphotypes among Flowerhorn fish samples, including Cencu (LH1CC), Kamfa (LH2KF), Thai Silk (LH3TS), Kirin (LH4KR), Parrot (LH5PR), and Vieja (LH6VJ).

Various types of Flowerhorn. Source: Ngarianto et al., (2022).
Various types of Flowerhorn. Source: Ngarianto et al., (2022).

Flowerhorn Fish Care: Tank Setup and Requirements

Spacious Aquariums for Flowerhorn Fish

Flowerhorn cichlids are large fish that require a spacious aquarium to accommodate their growth and movement. A minimum tank size of 100 gallons is recommended for a single adult Flowerhorn, with larger tanks preferred as the fish matures. The tank should be well-filtered to maintain pristine water quality and provide sufficient oxygen.

Essential Water Parameters for Flowerhorn Cichlids

The following table summarizes the key water requirements for raising Flowerhorn fish:

ParameterRange
Tank Volume100 gallons for a single adult Flowerhorn
Water Temperature78-86°F (25-30°C)
Water pH7.0-8.0
Water Hardness8-20 dGH
Water Changes25-50% weekly

Kupittayanant and Kinchareon (2011) investigated the effects of acute hypoxia (low oxygen levels) on Flowerhorn cichlids. They found that exposure to hypoxia for up to 48 hours can impact the fish’s physiological functions. However, when normal oxygenation conditions are restored, the fish can recover from most of these physiological alterations.

If you need to handle your Flowerhorn fish, eugenol can be used as an anesthetic. A concentration of 50 mg/L can induce anesthesia in the fish within 3 minutes (Tarkhani et al., 2017).

Regular aquarium maintenance is crucial for the health of your Flowerhorn fish. This includes:

  • Gravel vacuuming: Remove detritus and waste from the gravel bed using a gravel vacuum.
  • Filter media cleaning: Clean the filter media regularly to ensure proper filtration efficiency.

Feeding and Nutrition

Dietary Requirements

Flowerhorn cichlids are carnivores and require a diet rich in protein. Offer a variety of high-quality cichlid pellets, frozen foods, and live foods to ensure they receive the necessary nutrients. Avoid overfeeding with fatty foods, as this can lead to health problems.

Dietary Supplementation

Studies have shown that dietary supplementation with vitamins C and E (1000 mg/kg each) can significantly improve growth factors in Flowerhorn cichlids compared to a diet without these vitamins (Shokrollahi et al., 2014). Additionally, adding red bell pepper (10 g kg-1) to their diet can be beneficial for their overall health (Azimi et al., 2014).

Feeding Recommendations by Life Stage

Research by Lin et al. (2003) provides feeding recommendations for Flowerhorn fishes at different life stages:

Larval Stage (Week 0-5):

  • Best Food: Artemia nauplii (live brine shrimp)

Larvae fed live Artemia nauplii achieved the best growth, showing significant increases in both length and weight compared to those fed Moina (another live food) or pellets.

Fry Stage (Weeks 6-13):

  • Transition from Live Feed to Worms: As the fish transitioned into the fry stage, their dietary needs changed, requiring more protein for growth. The study shifted the diet from live Artemia nauplii and Moina to Oxheart and Tubifex worms.
  • Best Food: Oxheart Worms

Fry fed Oxheart worms exhibited the highest growth in terms of length and weight compared to those fed Tubifex worms (control) or pellets.

  • Tubifex Worms Outperform Pellets: Fish fed Tubifex worms showed better growth than those fed pellets, but were still outperformed by those fed Oxheart worms.

Flowerhorn Cichlid Reproduction

Sexual Dimorphism in Flowerhorn Cichlids

Flowerhorn fish exhibit sexual dimorphism, meaning males typically display distinct differences from females in terms of size, aggression, and kok size.

  • Size: Males are generally larger than females.
  • Aggression: Males tend to be more aggressive than females, especially during breeding season.
  • Kok Size: Males typically have a more prominent and developed kok compared to females.

Identifying Males and Females

Identifying the sex of Flowerhorn cichlids can be challenging, especially in young fish. However, observing their physical characteristics and behavior can provide clues to their gender.

Physical Characteristics:

  • Kok Size: As mentioned earlier, males generally have a larger and more prominent kok compared to females.
  • Body Shape: Males often have a more elongated and streamlined body shape compared to females, who may have a slightly rounder body.
  • Fins: The dorsal and anal fins of males may be slightly more pointed and elongated compared to those of females.
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Behavior:

  • Aggression: Males tend to be more aggressive, especially during breeding season, displaying territorial behavior and chasing other fish.
  • Courting Behavior: Males may engage in courting behavior, such as circling around females and displaying their kok.

Vent Shape:

A definitive method for sex identification is to examine the vent shape of sexually mature fish.

  • Females: Females typically have a “U”-shaped vent, while males have a “V”-shaped vent with a small pointed papilla.
Differentiation of male and female flowerhorn fish. Source: Leewillfh
Differentiation of male and female flowerhorn fish. Source: Leewillfh

Breeding Tank Setup and Conditioning

A separate breeding tank is recommended to provide a controlled environment for spawning and rearing fry. The tank should be well filtered and provide ample hiding places for the breeding pair. Conditioning fish with a high-quality diet and ideal water parameters is essential to encourage reproduction.

Spawning and egg care

Flowerhorn cichlids are monogamous and form strong pair bonds. Once ready to spawn, the female will lay eggs on a flat surface, such as a rock or cave. The male fertilizes the eggs and both parents guard the nest.

Flowerhorn Fish Breeding

Larva care

Newly hatched Flowerhorn larvae are extremely vulnerable and require specialized care. The larvae should be moved to a separate tank with pristine quality water and a slightly higher temperature than the adult tank. Feeding live infusoria or brine shrimp is essential for their survival and growth. Abe et al., (2021) recommend that Flowerhorn larvae should be reared in the first 15 days of larviculture at a stocking density of 10 larvae/L with 200 brine shrimp nauplii distributed twice daily for better growth performance and space utilization.

As the fry grows, they can be gradually introduced to a more diverse diet, including finely ground cichlid pellets and frozen foods. Regular water changes and maintaining a clean aquarium environment are crucial to its continued development.

When the fry matures, they can be aggressive towards each other. Separating them into individual tanks or dividing the tank into sections can help reduce aggression. Selecting fry with the most desirable kok and coloration is a common practice among hobbyists.

On the other hand, a widespread practice is sexual reversal. Silarudee and Kongchum (2013) worked with 6-day-old larvae and recommended that immersion in 250 μgL-1 of mesterolone is effective in reversing sex in flowerhorn fish to males, although a 100% reversal is not guaranteed.

Using the Internet of Things for Flowerhorn Breeding

Ngarianto et al., (2020) suggests that Internet of Things (IoT) technology has the potential to improve the breeding of Flowerhorn fish, allowing better selection and care of the specimens, thus increasing their quality and commercial value. The researcher proposes a system that uses cameras, deep learning and computer algorithms to monitor the development of fish.

Flowerhead Fish Compatibility

Flowerhorns have aggressive behavior; In this sense, specialists recommend breeding them with jaguar cichlids, Oscars, Arawana, Plecos and pacos.

Common diseases and health problems

Identification of signs of illness

Flowerhorn cichlids can be susceptible to various diseases, such as bacterial infections, parasites, and fungal infections. Signs of illness may include lethargy, loss of appetite, discoloration, and pinched fins.

Disease prevention through proper care

Maintaining a clean and healthy aquarium environment, providing a balanced diet, and avoiding overcrowding are essential to preventing disease. Regular water changes and monitoring water parameters can also help reduce the risk of infections.

Treatment of common flowerhorn diseases

If you suspect your Flowerhorn cichlid is sick, it is essential to seek immediate veterinary attention. Early diagnosis and treatment can significantly improve the chances of recovery. Depending on the disease, treatment may include medications, antibiotics, or other interventions.

Lymphocystis

Rahmati-holasoo et al., (2010) reported that lymphocystis in flowerhorn fish is caused by a virus, which causes white masses on the head and gills.

Hexamithiasis: Hole in Head

The disease hexamithiasis, also known as “hole in the head,” is caused by a parasite of the genus Hexamita or Spironucleus, and is often a fatal disease. Sahandi and Hajimoradloo (2011) tested a new treatment called “suction cupping” with fair success, achieving 50% recovery of sick flowerhorn fish.

Liposarcoma or lipomatosis

Rahmati-Holasoo et al., (2016) reported liposarcoma, a disease characterized by the presence of mature adipocytes of variable sizes and invasive behavior, which affected the internal organs and eyes of flowerhorn fish. The fish present bilateral exophthalmia with some masses around the eyes.

Parasites

Arumugam et al., (2024) report the appearance of Paracapillaria philippinensis, a parasitic nematode in flowerhorn cichlids (Cichlasoma sp.) of southern India. They indicate that infected fish demonstrated clinical symptoms namely: dark coloration, lack of appetite, lethargy, erratic swimming, and white, stringy feces.

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Conclusion

Flowerhorn cichlids are captivating fish that add a touch of color, personality and majesty to any aquarium. Their vibrant hues, intricate patterns and distinctive kok make them true masterpieces. However, it is important to recognize that these fish require specialized care and attention to thrive in an aquarium environment.

Responsible care and ownership are essential when raising Flowerhorn fish. Understanding their unique needs, providing a spacious, well-maintained aquarium, and offering a balanced diet are crucial to their health and well-being. Furthermore, it is essential to respect their territorial nature and guarantee that they have adequate spaces to avoid attacks.

With proper care and attention, Flowerhorn cichlids can provide years of enjoyment and beauty to their owners. Their captivating appearance, unique personalities, and fascinating behaviors make them a rewarding addition to the aquarium hobby. By understanding their needs and providing them with a suitable environment, you will be able to witness the true majesty of these extraordinary fish.

On the other hand, the breeding of flowerhead fish is surrounded by controversy because it is a hybrid of several species of cichlids, and because of its release into natural ecosystems in some Asian countries, where they have established populations that affect the populations of native fish.

References

Abe, H. A., Reis, R. G. A., Barros, F. A. L., Paixão, P. E. G., Meneses, J. O., de Souza, J. C. N., & Fujimoto, R. Y. (2021). Optimal management improves Flowerhorn fish larviculture. Aquaculture Research.

Arumugam, U., Pandian, R.G., Jayasimhan, P. et al. First report of Paracapillaria philippinensis infection in flowerhorn cichlid in India. Parasitol Res 123, 150 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00436-024-08175-4

Azimi A., M. R. Imanpoor, R. Maleknejad, S. Shokrollahi. 2014. Effects of natural (red bell pepper & tomato) and synthetic (Astaxanthin & β-carotene) pigments on flower horn fish (Cichlasoma sp.) blood parameters. International Journal of Advanced Biological and Biomedical Research, 2014, Vol. 2, No. 11, 2761-2767 ref. 47

Kupittayanant, P., & Kinchareon, W. (2011). Hematological and biochemical responses of the flowerhorn fish to hypoxia. Journal of Animal and Veterinary Advances, 2011, Vol. 10, No. 20, 2631-2638 ref. 35

Lim, L. Y., Ling, K. H., Wong, C. C., & Tan, E. L. (2003). Dietary influence on the growth performance of the early and fingerling stages of the flower horn fish (Cichlasoma sp.). Singapore Journal of Primary Industries, 2003/2004, Vol. 31, 15-20

Ngarianto, H., Purwanto, E. S., & Andrean, H. (2022). Cultivation of Flowerhorn Species in Search of Superior Quality Seeds using IoT and Open CV. International Journal of Emerging Technology and Advanced Engineering, 12(12), 75-83.

Rahmati-holasoo, H., Hobbenaghi, R., Tukmechi, A. et al. Lymphocystis in a flower horn fish. Comp Clin Pathol 19, 433–435 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00580-010-0993-6

Rahmati-Holasoo, H., Shokrpoor, S., Tavakkoli, A., Vajhi, A., & Mousavi, H. E. (2016). Liposarcoma or invasive lipomatosis in flower horn fish, hybrid cichlid: Clinical, radiological, ultrasonographical and histopathological study. Journal of Fish Diseases, 39(3), 309-315. https://doi.org/10.1111/jfd.12364

Sahandi, J., & Hajimoradloo, A. (2011). Hole-in-head disease: New method of treatment in flower horn ornamental fish. Human and Veterinary Medicine, 3(2), 165-169.

Sari, D. W. K., Achmad, H., Rahman, H., & Bimasuci, H. (2023). Molecular Identification of Several Morphologically Distinct Flowerhorn Fish (Family) Using Mitochondrial COI Gene Marker. Journal of Tropical Biodiversity and Biotechnology, 8(2), 78459.

Shokrollahi, S., Taghizadeh, V., & Imanpoor, M. R. (2014). The effect of diets supplemented with different levels of vitamins (C and E) on growth indices of Flower horn (Cichlosoma sp.). Journal of Animal Environment, 6(2), 75-81.

Silarudee, S., & Kongchum, P. (2013). Masculinization of Flowerhorn by Immersion in Androgens. Science, Engineering and Health Studies, 2(2), 26–32. https://doi.org/10.14456/sustj.2008.8

Tarkhani, R., Imani, A., Jamali, H., & Moghanlou, K. S. (2017). Anaesthetic efficacy of eugenol on Flowerhorn (Amphilophus labiatus × Amphilophus trimaculatus). Aquaculture Research, 48(6), 3207-3215. https://doi.org/10.1111/are.13151