Flowerhorn Cichlid Care Guide & Tank Set Up For Beginners

When cared for properly, Flowenhorn cichlids can be one of the most rewarding fish to own as a hobbyist.

Not just for their exotic, vibrant colors or show-stopping, distinctive hump. But, for their friendly personality and willingness to physically interact with their owners.

In this guide, you’ll discover all of the information on flowernhorn cichlid care. Including, how to set up their aquarium, water parameters, tank mates, diet, and breeding.

Flowerhorn Cichlid Care Overview

  • Care level: Expert
  • Minimum tank size: 75 gallon (284 liter) for a single fish, 150 gallons (568 liters) for a pair
  • pH: 6.5-7.5
  • Temperature: 75°-82°F (24°-28°C) 
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Lifespan: 10-12 years
  • Size: 12 inches (30 centimeters)
  • Family: Cichlidae
  • Common names: Kamfa, King Kamfa, Golden Monkey, Thai Silk, Red Dragon, Kamalau, Golden Base, Red Texas

Flowerhorn Cichlid Origins & Appearance

Birght red flowerhorn cichlid swimming with blue aquarium background

There’s no doubt, Flowerhorns are one of the most interesting looking fish in the aquarium hobby. 

There are many, many different color varieties of Flowerhorn, so many, that it’s not reasonable to try and cover them all here.

But there are some basic characteristics that most of them all share.

First off, let’s talk about their most prominent feature, those great big bulbs on top of their heads. The proper term is a nuchal hump (also known as a kok, and yep, it’s said just like it’s spelled).

In nature, many cichlids have nuchal humps. Usually, it’s only mature males that have them, although there are a few species where females have smaller nuchal humps. 

Generally, nuchal humps are signs of health, virility and dominance that signal to potential mates and rivals that a male is mature, big, strong and ready to produce young.

The nuchal hump can expand or contract over the course of days, even hours sometimes. The kok is made up mostly of tough connective tissue, similar to a lymph node. There are circular structures that fill up with lymphatic fluid, causing the nuchal hump to swell.

If a Flowerhorn becomes stressed, it can cause the fluid to leave the tissue, causing the nuchal hump to “deflate” somewhat.

Female Flowerhorns have nuchal humps, but they are much smaller. It’s the males that have the absolutely huge ones that are the hallmark of this fish.

Males are especially thick-bodied, heavy fish. They have pronounced lips that help add to their appeal. 

These fish have beautiful showy fins. Most varieties have long trailing rays at the ends of their dorsal and anal fins. Different color variants often come with different tail shapes.

Most varieties are covered in large iridescent blue speckles, known as pearls. These shimmer and shine as the fish swims, they’re gorgeous.

Also, most Flowerhorns have a strip of irregular black markings that run from their heads to their tails. These markings are called “flowers” and are part of what gives this fish its name.

Both males and females are brilliantly colored, but females are much smaller than males.

Size

Flowerhorns can grow up to 12 inches long, with males often being larger than females. Male flowerhorns tend to also have a faster growth rate.

Even though females are shorter, they have a wider cross section, while males have much larger nuchal lumps. However, the size of the lump can also change depending on the well-being of the fish.

Flowerhorn Care & Aquarium Set Up

Flowerhorn cichlid with bright orange hump and white body swimming in tank

Flower Cichlid Tank Size

It’s important to keep in mind that these fish can grow to be very large, especially males. So be prepared. That cute little Flowerhorn you’ve been eyeing at the live fish store could grow up to be a giant tank buster. 

Males can grow to be 12 inches long and they are a robust, heavy-bodied fish.

So, you’re going to need a very large tank to house this fish. 75 gallons (284 liters) is the absolute minimum that I would recommend for a single fish. If you want to keep a pair, a 150 gallon (568 liter) tank would be best.

And Flowerhorns are very active fish that put off a ton of waste. They need the bigger water volume so that their waste is diluted enough to not adversely affect water quality in between water changes.

Also, it’s nice for them to have ample room to move around.

Water Parameters

  • Water Temperature: 75°-82°F (24°-28°C)
  • Ammonia/Nitrite: 0 ppm
  • Nitrate: <30 ppm
  • pH: 6.5-7.5
  • GH: 8-12 dGH
  • KH:  3-12 dKH

How To Set Up A Flowerhorn Fish Tank

Let’s go through the equipment you’ll need to set up and run a successful flowerhorn cichlid tank.

Do Flowerhorn Cichlids Need a Heater?

Flowerhorn cichilds do need a heater on their tank.

You see, Flowerhorns were bred by mixing together different South and Central American cichlid species. So, while we can’t reference this fish’s native habitat to look for its ideal temperature, we can assume that they need conditions similar to most New World cichlids.

It’s best to keep Flowerhorns in water that’s 75°-82°F (24°-28°C). That’s much higher than average room temperature, so you will definitely need a heater. 

Since Flowerhorns need such big tanks, I would recommend getting two heaters for more even heating. 

For more information about heaters, and reviews about heaters that I tested in my own personal aquariums, check out our article here.

Filtration

Good filtration is an absolute must if you plan on keeping Flowerhorns and providing them proper care. These huge fish put off a lot of waste. That waste sinks to the bottom of the aquarium and breaks down. 

As it rots, it puts off ammonia (NH3), which is highly toxic to fish. All it takes is one drop of ammonia per 13 gallons of water to stress and kill many fish species.

Left to itself, ammonia from fish waste will build and build in the tank water until it’s so toxic that it will kill any fish in the aquarium.

That’s where aquarium filters come in. There are beneficial bacteria that grow in fish filters that eat ammonia and detoxify it. 

There are several species of beneficial bacteria. One kind eats ammonia and turns it into something called nitrite (NO2 -1). 

Nitrite is also fairly toxic. But luckily, there is another kind of bacteria that eats up the nitrite and turns it into a substance called nitrate (NO3-). 

Nitrate is much safer and can be allowed to build up in the water column in between frequent water changes (weekly). 

For more information about the Aquarium Nitrogen Cycle, please see our in depth article, here.

But, not just any filter is going to be good enough for a Flowerhorn tank. You need a filter that has room for lots of biomedia, the kind of filter media that beneficial bacteria grows on. 

Without enough biomedia, fish waste can overwhelm the beneficial bacteria and lead to ammonia and/or nitrite spikes.

I would highly recommend using a canister filter so that you can maximize the amount of beneficial bacteria you have to process fish waste.

One of the best on the market is the Fluval FX6. It’s got a huge capacity and is super easy to maintain. It even helps pump water out of the tank for water changes.

Even with a good filter, be prepared to perform large water changes every week to remove excess nitrate.

Substrate For Flowerhorns

Flowerhorns don’t really have specific substrate needs, it’s pretty much just a matter of your personal preference.

Some Flowerhorn keepers prefer to skip substrate altogether because a bare bottom tank is easier to clean. Not saying you have to do this, but it is something to consider.

Lighting

Flowerhorns aren’t picky when it comes to lighting. You can just use whatever suits your taste.

Plants and Tank Decorations

I’m sorry to say that your choices for aquarium plants and decorations are somewhat limited if you keep Flowerhorns.

This species will uproot plants that are grown in the substrate. You may be able to keep some plants in pots or plants like Java fern that you can attach to rocks and driftwood.

Flowerhorns are big, strong and very active. They will easily knock over decor and hardscape in the tank unless it is very heavy or solidly attached to something.

Also, Flowerhorns frequently hurt themselves by snagging themselves on sharp or jagged decor as they swim by. So anything you put in the tank needs to be free of sharp edges.

Many, many Flowerhorn owners keep their fish in a bare tank to avoid hassles and possible dangers.

If you do want some decor in the tank, I would recommend using large, smooth stones and driftwood. 

There are also some pieces of resin decor that you can use. You just need to make sure that they’re 1) big enough to not get knocked around easily and 2) have no sharp edges or points that a Flowerhorn might hurt themselves on.

Flowerhorn Food and Diet

Small vibrant flowerhorn cichlid swimming at front of fish tank

Flowerhorns are omnivores that will gladly gobble up anything small enough to fit in their mouths.

It’s best to feed them a varied diet made up of high quality ingredients. Feeding fish a wide variety of foods makes sure that they get all the nutrients they need.

I highly recommend giving them a staple diet of Omega One pellets. Omega One is one of the best fish food companies in the business, in my opinion. 

This can be supplemented with frozen foods, like tilapia and whole shrimp.

You can see our in-depth article about what makes fish food high quality here.

I do not recommend using feeder fish for your Flowerhorn. I don’t have a problem with the principle of feeder fish, but in practice, feeder fish can carry harmful diseases and parasites that can infect your fish. Also, feeder fish often aren’t very nutritious because they are raised in poor conditions with inadequate nutrition.

Tank Mates

When it comes to mingling with humans, Flowerhorns are one of the most friendly and interactive fish you could ever own.

More than once I’ve seen them referred to as “water puppies” because they are so personable. Some even like to be petted by their owners. 

But, when it comes to other fish, Flowerhorns are a very aggressive fish.

In fact, they could be described as insatiable rage monsters bent on utter destruction. Kind of like the Hulk, but much more violent and bloodthirsty.

Now, you will find videos online of people keeping Flowerhorns in a community tank. I’ve seen them, and if you look closely, they all have one thing in common, the Flowerhorn is very young.

The older and bigger they get, the more aggressive they get. So, you might be able to keep them with other fish while they’re young, but more than likely, they will start trying to murder their roommates once they mature.

Keeping Flowerhorn Cichlids Together

You can keep a mated pair together in a tank. It’s best to put them together as juveniles and let them grow up together.

Or you can introduce them to each other through a clear tank divider. They’ll eventually get used to each other and it will be safe to remove the divider.

And you absolutely cannot keep two males together. They will fight and fight until one or both are dead.

So, if you have dreams of a big thriving community tank, this is not the fish for you. 

Flowerhorn cichlids are best kept as singles or pairs.

Breeding Flowerhorns

OK not gonna lie, there are A LOT of challenges when it comes to breeding Flowerhorns. Not saying it’s impossible by any stretch, but you may have to go through some substantial trial and error before you get any fry.

First off, because Flowerhorns are hybrids, like mules, many of them are infertile, especially the males. 

Certain varieties, like Kamfas and King Kamfas, can have fertility rates as low as 4%, making it fairly difficult to find viable breeding stock.

Asian breeders will often keep fertile males for themselves and export infertile males that have been rejected from their breeding programs, further limiting the number of fertile males on the market.

And there is no easy way to tell if the male you have is fertile or not. You have to wait until he’s sexually mature, which can take 8 months to 2 years, get him paired with a female, wait for them to lay eggs and then see if you get any viable fry or if all the eggs just turn white and rot.

There is no surefire way to tell other than that. 

You have to be very careful when you first introduce male and female fish to each other. If it’s not done right, the male may injure or kill the female.

Separate your breeding pair with a clear divider for several weeks so that they can get used to each other. Once the fish stop trying to attack each other through the divider, you can remove it and observe them.

Be ready to put the divider back in if you start to see any signs of stress.

Once the happy couple are no longer trying to kill each other, they’ll need a place to lay their eggs. Flowerhorns like to lay their eggs on a flat surface that lays on the bottom of the tank.

Breeders often use terracotta plates for this purpose. They’re cheap, readily available and inert, all great qualities. Plus, you can switch them out so that you can remove eggs from their parents and raise the fry.

The happy couple will lay eggs every 2 or 3 months.

Eggs should be removed from the spawning tank so they can be safely reared. It’s best to make sure there is plenty of waterflow over the eggs to keep them oxygenated.

After 3-4 days the eggs will hatch and 2-3 days after that the fry will become free swimming. They will do best on a commercial fry food until they are large enough for freshly hatched brine shrimp and crushed flake.

Are Flowerhorns Right for You?

This is truly a unique fish with so many awesome characteristics.

But, because it gets so big, it may not be a good choice for many aquarists. 

They require a huge amount of space, even more if you want to keep a pair. Most hobbyists can’t swing a 150 gallon tank. Aquariums are a huge part of my life and even I can’t accomodate a 150 gallon.

This species also requires a lot of dedication because they have to be kept by themselves. And since they live 10-12 years, that is a pretty big commitment. 

You can’t just add them to a community tank. If you want a Flowerhorn, the tank has to be all theirs.

But, if you have the tank space, and want to commit to this big bruiser of a fish, they have great personalities and love to interact with their owners.

They’re big, flashy and super active with lots of spunk. If you’re prepared to take care of one, they truly make great pets.

Default image
Katherine Morgan
Hey, there! I'm Katherine from Northwest Florida. A nunchuck specialist, I've kept aquariums for over two decades, enjoy experimenting with low-tech planted setups and an avid South American cichlid enthusiast. If You'd like to see more of my tanks, check out my Instagram

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.