The ever changing world of Flower Horns

A new and exciting hybrid, the Flower Horn Cichlid, is said to have been first bred in Ipoh, Malaysia, in 1995. This hybrid was evolved from cross-breeding, using several South American cichlids. Cichlasoma synspilum, Herichthys bifasciatus, Herichthys citrinellus, and Herichthys maculicauda are all said to have been used in this process. The Chinese called the resulting first generation “Flower Horn” cichlids Qing Jin Hu and Jin Gang Ying Wu. Enthusiastic Malaysian breeders have produced many variations of the fish. Because the “Flower Horn” cichlid is said to bring its owner good luck and fortune they have become very popular in the Far East, where many households now own one or more of these special fishes. They are sometimes referred to as Feng Shui fish.
The origins of this popularity rests with a story that the breeders who developed the present strains made a lot of money from them by reading what they saw to be Chinese numbers in the markings on their bodies, which gave them the information to construct winning numbers in the lottery! The news media made capital from the story and gave it a great deal of publicity, dramatically increasing the demand for the “Flower Horn” cichlid. By now there is estimated to be some 2000 breeders of these hybrid cichlids in Malaysia alone, creating an industry that continues to expand. Other species of fish that had formerly commanded a leading place in the Oriental hobby fish market, like the Arowana (“Dragon fish”) and Discus fish now play “second fiddle” to these impressive newcomers. So much so, that the Discus fish breeders in Panang are changing their breeding programmes to produce these new exciting fish instead, resulting in a present day scarcity of Discus fish!

The challenge facing the breeders now is to produce ever better coloured and spectacularly marked fish, with enlarged cranial growth to develop large heads, and different body shapes. The Goldfish Bowl has purchased fish from the famous Meng Aquarium Centre in Subang Jaya. Some of the special varieties available from their stock are : Absolute Wonder, Quantum Grace, Coronation Link, Exotic Marvel, Golden Charm, Deer Hunter, Royal Degree, Scarlet Passion, Desert Kingdom, Marble Head, Hibiscus, Creative Measure, Tornado Effect, and Fame Monkey Face. These creative names are designed to express the beauty of these amazing fish.

The noted breeder, Mr. Terrence Jiam, embarked on the commercial production of these fish with his associate, Mr. Ng Chee Chai, but they encountered many difficulties in their attempts to create their desired strains. But they had similar problems and developed experience from their former successes breeding Golden Arowanas and Malaysian Blue Back Arowanas, and were undeterred in their persistence. By today the colour varieties of their “Flower Horn” and “Lou-Han” cichlids has made them one of the premier producers of these fish world-wide. They explain that their creations are named “The Flower Horn” because it rhymes with the Chinese Idiom Hua Luo Han. The pigmented colours are also thought to resemble a flower. The “Flower Horn” is also compared to the well-known Malaysian bird, the Hornbill. This comparison is linked to the hump or horn which is such a prominent feature of the bird’s bill, similar to the cranial growth of a mature “Flower Horn”.

During my recent visit to Malaysia I was lucky to be able to visit two Flower Horn Exhibitions and competitions held in November. One at Plaza Metro in Kajang showed over 2000 fish and more than 10,000 visitors attended the exhibition. The value placed on the fish at the show was more than two million Ringgit (about £333,334), and cash prizes were worth more than Forty thousand Ringgit (about £6,667), to be awarded to winners of groups for the best body shape, most bulbous head, and largest fish. The other exhibition, called Aquatex ’02 Malaysia Flower Horn Competition, was held at the famous Malaysian World Trade Centre in the capital, Kuala Lumpur. There were fish valued as high as more than £5000 each!

The “Flower Horn” might be an ornamental fish costing many thousands of Ringgit each, but they have also become an oriental culinary delight in the Far East. But only the poorly marked and not so pretty fish are bred in a fish farm at Tanjung Tualang, where they quickly multiplied until there were too many fish in the ponds, so the local people tried cooking them, and they were pleasantly surprised at the result. The fish is usually steamed and fried with onions, ginger, and soya sauce, garnished with parsley and chopped carrots. The flesh is quite firm but delicious, sweeter than other similar species of fish.
“Flower Horn and the “Pearl Luo-Han” are distinguished as follows: The “Flower Horn” has a stout body, a wide tail, and the eyes are red, white, or yellow. The markings on the head are less obvious. This is the first generation. The “Pearl Luo-Han” is the second generation. The Chinese call this Qing Ji Hut Hua He Shang and this was bred from the Qing Jin Hu and Hang Chai Sou. It has a longer body, larger space between the dorsal and tail fins, and between the anal and tail fins. The caudal (tail) fin is curved, and the eyes are normally red. The black marking on the head is quite prominent.

A new variety of the “Lo Han” is being further developed by inter-breeding with the Giant Blood Parrot cichlid, Cichlasoma carpintis, Aequidens rivulatus, Herichthys festae, Herichthys labiatus, Herichthys meeki. Other pure strain wild fish may be used in time to develop colour variations further, and species such as Herichthys salvini, Herichthys octofasciatus, and Herichthys managuense, are in line for this work. Breeding to “Lo Han” is relatively easy, but choosing the few top quality fish for growing on is the skill required. When making that choice the overall impression the fish creates is what is important, as there are no sure guide-lines for assessing beauty in the fish. But a very important feature to look for is the potential development of the head’s cranial growth, the most striking feature. The head should be rounded, with a high protrusion. However, not every “Lo Han” strain is developed to have a protruding forehead, but depends on the species it has been crossed with.

Pearl spots on the fish have become increasingly popular, and they should be evenly distributed across the body, except on the belly region, which should be devoid of any spot markings. Some fish have red spots covering the “cheeks” and head, and this is considered a good feature. The fins vary considerably, depending on the variety. Normally a good feature is to have elongated tips to the dorsal and anal fins, but should be in proportion to the rest of the body. Markings on the fins should be beautifully coloured, and the markings should be fan shaped. Drooping tails are to be avoided, as they make the fish appear unbalanced. The most sought after colour among their keepers is red, of a good quality. But other colours may be silver, orange, yellow, green, blue, or black. The colours and markings should be balanced and the same on both sides of the body, but not necessarily all over the body. The important area to be marked is the forward part of the body. The eyes are normally red, because Malaysian-Chinese traditionally believe that fire-red eyes can ward off evil.

Body size of a mature fully grown fish rarely exceeds twelve inches (30 cms), but more particularly attention is paid to the good proportioning of the body. Normally the male fish has the large, protruding forehead. The female’s dorsal fin has an obvious black line on the front edge in about 80% of the fish.

An aquarium for a “Lo Han” cichlid should be at least 36 inches (c. 92 cms) long, and only one fish may be safely accommodated in this aquarium. If more than one fish is required to be raised it is suggested that you use a separating panel, as two fish will Most often fight very aggressively, leading to death of one or even both fish. The tank should be bare of any décor, as the fish will shift any sand or gravel, making the aquarium untidy. The preferred temperature should be kept at 27 degree Centigrade, and a pH value of 7. The water should be soft. The filter system must be very efficient as the fish are messy feeders. An external power filter is recommended. Lighting should be twelve hours each day, reflecting the natural light exposure of the tropics where they are raised. A spectrum which enhances red and blue colours give a spectacular effect. Frequent water changes are necessary, and it is suggested that at least 20% of the aquarium water should be changed at least once every week. Feeding should be carefully thought out. When the fish have settled down their appetite is insatiable, and a tendency to overfeed must be avoided. Overfeeding will create conditions making the fish susceptible to disease. Young fish may be fed up to four times a day, and as the fish mature the feeding should be reduced progressively to become one feed a day. Favourite foods include Bloodworm, Krill, and colour-enhancing pellets.

I hope this information will help you to enjoy the wonderful world of the ever-changing “Flower Horn” and “Lo Han”, and we all wait with excitement to see the new varieties being bred by the dedicated breeders of these fish in Malaysia.

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