Home | Aquarium Livestock | The Flowerhorn Cichlid, Past and Present – Personal Recollections

The Flowerhorn Cichlid, Past and Present – Personal Recollections

Living Legend FlowerhornHello, Frank Indiviglio here.  While new fishes occasionally enter the trade (much to our delight!), it’s not often that an entirely new species is created by breeders.  But that’s exactly what happened in the early 1990’s, when the incredible Flowerhorn Cichlid burst onto the scene.  Since then, “fine-tuning” has resulted in a fish with perhaps the most complicated parentage of any hybrid – 7 to 10 species have contributed their genes! 

Flowerhorns Arrive in NYC

In the late 1990’s, lower Manhattan’s fish-keeping community was alive with talk of an unusual fish that had just arrived on the scene.  Originally developed in Taiwan and Malaysia, the huge, aggressive beasts were said to have arisen via a complicated series of pairings between several different Latin American cichlids. 

I decided to investigate.  The new fish was then only available in shops along Mott and Mulberry Streets, in the New York City neighborhood known as Chinatown.  I’ve always loved the Chinatown markets, and have haunted them since childhood.  The food stalls supplied me with live Snakeheads, huge Loaches, frogs and others, and the pet shops yielded many surprises, such as odd eels, Amphiumas and colorful shrimps. 

Auspicious and Expensive

I found the Flowerhorns right away.  It seemed they had taken on a great degree of importance to some people in the neighborhood, and might soon eclipse the famed Arowana as a possible means of ensuring prosperity, luck and other desirable states. 

Individuals with particularly large head protuberances, (“head flowers” or nuchal crests), and those resembling Chinese characters or bearing certain patterns, were sold at astronomical prices…the neighborhood is famous for good deals, but not in this case!  Known throughout the city for their business savvy, local Chinese merchants formed something of a “fish stock market” – buying and trading Flowerhorns with astonishing exuberance.

History of a Hybrid

With the help of a friend fluent in the local dialect, I ascertained that 2 specific strains of Flowerhorn were being sold, with the Pearl-Scaled or Zhen Zhu types being most popular. 

My friend questioned folks about the parentage of the new fishes, and she eventually (“very eventually”!) learned that the most likely candidates were Red-Headed Cichlids, Vieja/Cichlasoma synspila, Red Devils, Amphilophus ladiatum, Trimac Cichlids, A. trimaculatum and Midas Cichlids, A. citrinellum.  Some of the fishes produced from crosses of these 4 species were then paired with Severums, Heros severum and Red Parrots.  Red Parrots, themselves a hybrid, really stirred the genetic pot! 

Flowerhorn Cichlids vary greatly in appearance, with some individuals showing strong traces of one parent species, others of another.  However, nearly all resemble the irascible Red Devil in temperament…they are a quite a handful!

Current Status

Elvis Strain FlowerhornIn time, Texas Cichlids were also bred to Flowerhorns, and it is said that other species were added to the mix as well.  While this has made their colors ever more extravagant, problems have also emerged.  Today, many Flowerhorns sport underdeveloped tails, malformed mouths and other flaws. 

While some folks maintain careful records of the composition of their lines, many have no idea how their fishes will turn out once mature (appearance cannot be predicted before adulthood).  I hope to spend some time speaking with my friend and her contacts about the situation in the future, and will post an update.

There are problems associated with hybrid fishes, especially when they become established in the wild (as is reported in Singapore and Malaysia). Please write in with your thoughts and experiences. 

Thanks, until next time,

Frank Indiviglio

Further Reading

Cichlid Hybrids 

Video: Flowerhorn and Red Devil Breeding

Flowerhorn images referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by InkPassion


  1. avatar

    Dear Frank
    I always try to stay as true as possible to nature, specially in the aquarium vicinity.
    Therefor I am not always interested in hybrids, like parrots and now, as I have learned…flower-horns as well.
    How ever, it does not mean that one should close your eyes to things around and therefor a great thanks to your very interesting article!

    Gert from Namibia

  2. avatar

    …here I am, big mouthed and on the other hand I am trying to promote nishikikoi to Namibia as well……

  3. avatar

    Hello Gert, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks so much for the kind words. I feel the same, there is so much around us to observe – even in the heart of NYC where I grew up, that we need not create new things. But on the other hand, it is an interesting process and in the field of domesticated animals/plants has led to much of value. Problems occur when hybrids escape, of course, but the same is true of any species that is transplanted to a new habitat.

    Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  4. avatar

    Hello Gert, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Nice to hear from you again; thanks very much for the update.

    Very interesting to hear about your idea for promoting koi in Namibia. I imagine summertime temperatures in the north might get a bit warm for koi, but there are ways around that. Please let me know how all goes, I wrote a few chapters of a Koi book some time ago and was fortunate enough to visit some breeders in Japan, so they remain a big interest of mine.

    Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  5. avatar

    Hi Frank,

    very nice post with nice picture.

    best regards


About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.