True cichlid species, such as the author’s fish Ike (a Nandopsis haitiensis), can offer the same bad attitude and attractive traits as many flowerhorns.
The markings on the sides of flowerhorns can sometimes resemble Chinese characters.
These markings are likely derived from the
three spots found on trimacs Amphilophus
trimaculatum (one suspected parent species
of the flowerhorns) and from broken-up
remnants of vertical bands of other species.
These are the structures referred to as flowers,
which is where the unusual name for these
fish comes from. There is a rumor that the
flowers on one fish actually translated into
a winning lottery ticket, which naturally
didn’t hurt the popularity of these fish as
good-luck charms. A large-headed, colorful,
interactive fish with writing appearing all
the way down its side is a great thing to have
if you place credence in these values.
All Mixed Up
The origin of these fish is shrouded in
a considerable amount of mystery. What
exactly is a flowerhorn? The shortest answer,
although probably not the most accurate, is
that they are Mesoamerican cichlid hybrids.
Herein lies the complexity and controversy
of these fishes. Hybrids in general have been
frowned upon in the hobby for many reasons,
the main reason being the dilution of true
lineages. These problems have been common
in many African peacock cichlids, and they
have also happened with some New World
cichlids (Vieja species are one example).
While some hybrids occur accidentally
or are a product of ignorance or misleading
of potential fish owners, there have also
been many hybrids that were intentionally
created to produce a more showy fish that
is not sold as anything other than a hybrid
(to prevent any confusion). Some varieties
of platies are good examples of this, where
swordtail genes are mixed in to get some
different colors. But those are both in the
same genus. Flowerhorns actually involve
the hybridization between different genera!
The level of hybridization and number of
species involved with flowerhorns is both
confusing and unprecedented.
Okay, that’s fine, but what actually goes
into a flowerhorn? Which species are
While some people consider any Central
American cichlid hybrids to be flowerhorns,
others would strongly disagree. They
would state that flowerhorns are the
result of complex breeding projects that
include trimacs and multiple other species
(Amphilophus citrinellus, Vieja/Paratheraps
species, Herichthys carpintis, etc.), but you
can never find exactly which species are
involved in any given flowerhorn strain.
Why so much mystery surrounding
what goes into creating each of these
flowerhorn strains? Well, part of the
reason is certainly financial. If you had
a secret about how to make a fish worth
almost half a million dollars, you might be
tight-lipped yourself! But there’s also the
issue of complexity and experimentation,
where a lot of trial and error with multiple
hybridizations can result in the loss of
some of this information.
As a rule, the body form and the red
eyes you see in many flowerhorns are
from trimacs, the spangles are often from
H. carpintis, and the large nuchal hump is
from either Midas or Vieja stock. A natural
question to ask at this point is if you can
do this yourself. Well, some hobbyists are
trying to do just that. While there’s debate
on whether these homebrewed hybrids are
true flowerhorns, who cares? The point
is to create an interesting strain, much
like one might make his/her own colorful
strain of platy with some mix of swordtail
and true platy species. But is making this
hybrid (or even buying a hybrid) the right
thing to do?