Convict Cichlids: Characteristics, breeding, care and more…

The Convict cichlids or Amatitlania nigrofasciata in scientific terms, are very popular fish belonging to the family Cichlidae which inhabit the Central American rivers


Animalia Kingdom Phylum: Chordata Class: Actinopterygii  Subclass: Neopterygii  Infraclass: Teleostei  Superorder: Acanthopterygii

Order: Perciformes  Family: Cichlidae  Gender: Amatitlania Species: A. nigrofasciata

The Convict Cichlid’s Main Characteristics.

The Convict cichlids have a long body with flattened sides. Their mouth is small provided with width lips and a very strong jaw. However, the white and black stripes along their gray body (around 8-9) represent their most distinctive trait, which gives them the nickname of “Zebra Cichlid”.

Convict cichlids: male specimen


The male Convict cichlid grows up to 6 inches while females hardly reach more than 4.5 inches in length. Such measures makes of them one of the smallest Cichlidae species. We invite you to read our article the anatomy of fish to learn more about such a topic

Sexual Dimorphism.

Males Convict cichlids have large anal and dorsal fins, while females have smaller ones with more coloration. In addition, several localized pigmentations appear during the heat (mainly in the female), in their fins and belly, which range from blue to green.

Here they are!

The Convict Cichlids’ Behavior

These are aggressive and territorial fish, which chase and harass any intruder fish.  Moreover, they spend most of their time near their territory inside caves and plants. Their parenting ability must also be highlighted, so you´ll see them often nurturing their fry.

What do Convict Cichlids Eat?

In their natural habitat, they tend to eat small insects, mosquito larvae, and plant debris. They are natural omnivores that will eat most foods that are placed in the aquarium: both plant and meat matter. However, if you want to have healthy pets, you should provide them with high quality flake or pellet, produced specifically for Cichlids. Blood Worms, Daphnia and Brine Shrimp.

If you can’t  find the fresh variety, then the frozen ones will suffice. In addition to the meat, you can feed them blanched vegetables such as: lettuce, broccoli and carrots.

Breeding Convict Cichlids

Choose the proper tank.

    • Buy a relatively large fish tank of at least 20 gallons. A 30-gallon tank is ideal for a pair of cichlids. If you have enough space, a 40-gallon tank is ideal, especially if you plan on crossing more than one pair of cichlids.
    • Make sure to not include more than one pair of cichlids per 20 gallons of water so you’ll prevent aggression among them.

Install a tank for the fry.

You may have to install a smaller separate tank to place the fry when they start maturing, to prevent their parents from eating them. This tank should  have a capacity between 5 to 10 gallons. Place a sponge filter and an aquarium heater in this tank.

Check the tank to make sure it has the proper filtration.

In the tank will be born fry constantly, so the «Bioburden» (accumulation of fish waste) will start to increase, which is a huge requirement for the tank’s filtration system. You’ll need an electric filter with enough capacity to filter at least twice the volume of the tank.

Decorate the tank:

Since cichlids are aggressive by nature, you must provide them with enough hiding places inside the tank. Add some flat stones and one or two caves (or pots). The cichlids will lay their eggs on the stones and the caves will provide a refuge for the fry after they are born.

Add some resistant plants.

You can add some more resistant plants, like the Java fern, as a decoration and so that the fish feel more comfortable.

    • Adding plants to the tank will also improve the oxygen content and eliminate the carbon dioxide and nitrogen that the fish generate. This helps make the tank a healthier environment for cichlids and reduces the demands on the filtration system.

Decorate the tank with some floating wood.

Floating wood is a great addition to a tank, as it provides shelter for cichlids and blocks the visual field from one end of the tank to the other, which prevents cichlids from fighting and getting hurt.  The floating wood improves also the tank’s appearance and is much healthier for the fish and more attractive than the plastic decorations.

Provide clean water to the fish.

Breeding convicted cichlids requires clean water to ensure a healthy environment in which fish can live and reproduce and also to reduce stress. Change between 20 and 25% of the tank water every 3 days. Increase the Tank’s temperature. To encourage reproduction, increase the tank’s temperature between 24 and 26 ° C.

Be careful not to raise it to more than 28 ° C since high temperatures are dangerous for fish.

    • You can configure most aquarium heaters at a specific temperature. You can also place a thermometer, which will allow you to quickly check the water temperature every time you look at the tank.

Check the pH level.

The pH of the tank should be between 6.5 and 8.0. Although Convict cichlid are resistant fish and can survive in a wide variety of conditions and pH levels, keeping them within this range is ideal for reproductive purposes.

Matching Convict Cichlids

Choose the fish.

The best option is starting with six convict cichlids to allow them to mate naturally.

    • Due to their aggressive temperament, avoid keeping the convict cichlids together with other fish species in the same tank.
    • There are many varieties of colors that you should consider when choosing fish. The black and white cichlids are the easiest to pair-up, but the albino variant (known as the ivory cichlids) and the pink variant are also beautiful options.

Let nature take its course.

The female convict cichlid will take the initiative in mating. After choosing a dark hideout, the female courts the male and then lays her eggs on the flat stones or on the side of a pot.

    • After laying eggs, parents take care of them. This is when the most aggressive behavior of cichlids is observed.

Wait until the babies are born.

Cichlids lay an average of 100 to 200 eggs per litter and these are born after around 3 days. After a few more days, the fry begin to swim around the tank under their parent’s care.

    • The parents will try to take care of the fry during 10 to 14 days, after which they will be ready to reproduce again. By this point, it’s highly recommended to place the fry in a separated tank, since parents sometimes eat the first litter of fingerlings to make space for the second one.

Caring the Convict Cichlid fingerlings

    • Wait a few days after they are born to feed them. During the first 5 to 7 days after they are born, the fry can feed on what is left of the yolk sac. If you feed them with something else during this time, this will only pollute the water since the fry won’t eat the food and it will stay floating in the tank.
    • Give the fry new foods little by little. They can eat nauplii of artemia larvae during the first weeks and then move to the food in ground flakes or the special food for fingerlings. After a few days, they can also eat blood worms or tubifex worms.
    • Establish a feeding schedule. Make sure you feed the fish at least twice a day. Because of their aggressive nature, hungry convict cichlids may try to eat each other if they are not fed at the right time.

Let’s watch them again

Convict Cichlids and Other Fish

Convict Cichlids are extremely territorial and will be very hostile and aggressive, with fish that dare to enter ‘their’ territory. So, they aren’t the most suitable choice for a community tank. However, if you have some experience and are looking to add Convicts to a community tank then there are some tips you should follow.

First, you should ensure that you don’t keep them with any smaller or less aggressive fish. You should only keep them with larger species that can stand their own ground, for example:

    • Green Terror
    • Giant Danio
    • Jack Dempsey
    • Other South American Cichlids (Jewel and Firemouth).

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