How To Care For Convict Cichlid Fish: A Complete Fact Sheet, Breeding, Behavior, and Care Guide

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Convict Cichlids make great pet fish for a number of reasons – the main one, however, being their interesting, entertaining personalities. They’re pretty comical little fish, though they can definitely get aggressive with other fish.

So, it’s important to know what you’re dealing with these guys. They’re fun – but they’re particular, even if they are an easy to care for fish.

Black convict cichlid care is easy, as long as you follow the parameters accordingly. And thanks to their spunky personalities, they keep just about anyone entertained for years to come.

A South American Convict Cichlid  aquarium fish protecting her eggs from potential predators

You’ve got some valid questions. What fish can live with convict cichlids? What do convict fish eat? How long do convict cichlids live? How big do convict cichlids get? Are there African convict cichlids?

Let’s take a dive into looking at convict cichlid care by answering all those questions and more.

Quick Intro to Convict Cichlids

FamilyCichlidae
Scientific NameAmatitlania nigrofasciata
Other Common NamesZebra Cichlid, Albino Convict, Pink convict cichlids, Black convict cichlids, Zebra convict cichlids, Banded cichlids
Care LevelEasy

Natural Habitat, Identification, and Where to Buy

Convict Cichlids are found in the wild in Central America, in specific regions. You’ll find them in the Pacific Slope from Rio Sucio, El Salvador to Rio Suchiate.

In Guatemala, you’ll find them in the Atlantic Slope from Rio Patuca, Honduras to Rio Jutiapa in Guatemala. Originally, it was thought that they were native to Panama, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua, as well, but that belief has been dispelled.

Convict cichlids naturally live in slow-moving bodies of water, like ponds and lakes, with rocky bottoms. They can also be found in some slow-moving rivers and streams, though this is less common.

Full grown convict cichlids only reach 4 to 6-inches or in length. But they have a decent lifespan of upward of 10 years, if properly cared for. Some aquarists have reported longer lifespans for the striped convict fish.

They have eight or nine vertical dark stripes that cross their bodies – which is where they get their name from – and the coloring intensity may vary from fish to fish. You’ll find pink convict cichlids as often as yellow convict cichlids.

You may even come across blue convict cichlids. But look to those stripes to identify the species from other cichlids.

Albino Convict Cichlid

Once you’re ready to buy some Convict Cichlids, then check out these online stores for great deals on heathy, happy fish.

Optimal Water Conditions for Convict Cichlids

Temperature75 – 78 degrees Fahrenheit
Water Flow RateSlow/low
pH6.8 to 7.8
Hardness10° to 15° dH

Tank Setup

Minimum Tank Size10 gallons – if careful
Optimal Tank Size35+ gallons, per pair
Optimal Tank ShapeLong or wide – large bottom space
Recommended Filter TypeStandard, HOB filters are sufficient, assuming they meet the needs of the full aquarium.
Tannins recommendationThey do all right with the tannins released from driftwood, which also helps to keep the pH lower. Just do a light cleaning/treatment of driftwood before installing in the aquarium, and be sure to house only fish and other aquatic life and live plants that do all right with tannins and pH at this level.

Convict Cichlids are rather aggressive, so having the right tank shape, size, and décor can make all the difference in helping with their activity in this way.

Make sure they have a tank of at least 20 gallons per pair, though ideally, 35+ gallons per pair is best. And you should avoid housing more than one pair together, anyway.

Creating the Landscape

Convict cichlids are substrate brooders and dig a lot in the sand, as well as nesting there. So, though plants are a good idea, you need to work with floating plants instead of rooted plants that dig into the sand.

Thankfully, Convicts do well with a lot of floating plants, driftwood landscaping, and similar objects. They also love lots of caves and places to hide and play around.

Convicts do well with a lot of floating plants, driftwood landscaping, and similar objects. They also love lots of caves and places to hide and play around.

Ensure that the rocks, caves, and other décor are firmly planted in the aquarium, since the Convicts will nose under them otherwise, and could cause a collapse if stacked improperly.

Best PlantsFloating plants like Java moss, duckweed, water lettuce, water spangles, Amazon frogbit, Normal Salvinia, Hornwort, Riccia Fluitans, Azolla, floating bladderwort, Anubias, Amazon swords
Best LightingAny suitable for the plants and fellow fish
Best DecorationsLoads of caves, driftwood, floating plants, sand and smooth gravel substrate
Decorations to AvoidAnything with sharp edges, especially sharp gravel

Physiological Considerations

Black Convict Cichlid Size MaximumUp to 4 inches
Rate of GrowthSexual maturity is reached between 16 weeks and 6 months
Lifespan8 to 10 years
TemperamentAggressive
Preferred Tank RegionLower and mid-tank

Swimbladder Considerations

Convict Cichlids are prone to swim bladder disorders and diseases.

It’s especially important to make sure their aquariums are kept clean and clear of excess food and waste to help ensure they can safely ward off any issues in this area.

Society

As has been mentioned, Convict Cichlids are aggressive fish, so Convict Cichlid compatibility is limited.

They don’t care if they’re the small fish in the room – they will still chase down other fish and attack, if they feel threatened or like their territory is invaded. This is one of the reasons it’s so important to keep them in a large enough aquarium.

They can get along decently with some larger species of fish, however, as long as their tank requirements are met, they’re fed properly, and they have enough hiding places and the right substrate for relaxing and hiding in.

Convict cichlids should not be housed with peaceful fish species, as they will torment them.

These species work well as Convict Cichlid tankmates:

  • T-bar Cichlids
  • Honduran Red Points
  • Green Terrors
  • Jewel Cichlids
  • Salvini
  • Jack Dempsey
  • Pictus Catfish
  • Giant Danios
  • Clown Loaches
  • Common Plecos
  • Firemouth Cichlids
  • Blue Acara
  • Juvenile Flowerhorn Cichlids
  • African Jewel Cichlids
  • Texas Cichlids
  • Juvenile Red Devil Cichlids
  • Rainbow Cichlids

These guys can be kept as a pair together, though it’s best to keep it to just the two. And if you do keep these two, make sure the convict cichlid tank size is at least 30+ gallons for best results.

a male Convict Cichlid

Gender, Breeding, and Reproductive Considerations

If you’re thinking of breeding some Convict Cichlids, it’s not terribly difficult. But, of course, you have to sex the fish to make sure you’re pairing them properly.

A female convict cichlid can be identified easily from the male convict cichlid by a couple of things. First, the male is usually a little larger than females. And as they mature, males have a bump on their heads that is lacking in females.

Males have longer dorsal fins and anal fins, while females have shorter fins, but are more colorful.

However, the easiest way to sex the two is this: females develop red bellies when they’re mature enough and ready for breeding. Male convict cichlids will never have this red belly. If you’ve got at least one Convict with a red belly, you’re good to go for breeding.

Once you’ve determined you have a breeding pair of Convicts, the tank set up is extremely important for encouraging Convict Cichlid breeding.

The female Convict Cichlid must have a good, safe place to lay her eggs. For some reason, Convicts love flowerpots for breeding grounds, so if possible, introduce one of these into your breeding tank.

Be sure the pot has some plants in it that will provide shielding for the eggs – this will help encourage that they are laid here. Use smooth gravel substrate to fill the pot.

Leave the fish alone as much as possible. This will help them to feel more comfortable and ready to spawn. If they’re nervous, they won’t spawn.

Remember to go protein heavy on the fish food during this period, as well, especially. And increase the feeding levels. As females produce the eggs, they use up the nutrients more quickly than normal.

If you find your Convicts are being a little stubborn in breeding, you can do a few things to add additional encouragement.

Increase the water temperature: Convicts spawn in summer months in the wild, so warmer water will make them think it’s summertime and encourage spawning.

Do a 20% water change: Those summer months also produce a lot of rain and storms. If you have lighting that simulates stormy weather, this won’t hurt, either.

Feed them heavily: Upping the brine shrimp, dried bloodworms, and other live food will improve the chances for breeding.

Once the eggs are laid, it takes about three or four days for them to hatch. During this time, the parents are likely to eat less and spend the majority of their time hovering around the eggs, waiting to deal with convict cichlid fry care.

Once the eggs hatch, the small fry will fall to the bottom of the flowerpot. This convict cichlid fry stage is known as the “wigglers” stage, since the little guys can’t swim yet. They’ll sit on the bottom of the pot for about a week, absorbing their egg sacs and growing in strength from the nutrients from that.

The adults are likely to pick up the wigglers and move them around the aquarium in their mouths. This is perfectly normal and safe for the wigglers.

Unfortunately, though, it may also be normal for the first few spawns to involve the parents eating the babies, as well, since they’re figuring out the whole situation. It’s disappointing when it happens but it shouldn’t alarm you.

Nutritional Needs

Obviously, in captivity, Convict cichlids will eat differently than they would in the wild. After all, they don’t have access to native wild insects, plants, and larvae in your aquarium.

But you can emulate their natural foods with choosing the right, high-quality, low-grain/no-grain convict cichlid food choices, freeze-dried protein sources, and similar options.

You can also feed them worms, beef heart, spirulina, blanched lettuce, frozen shrimp, and insect larvae like bloodworms.

Best Sustenance Food TypeLow-grain or no-grain cichlid pellets or flakes
Additional Food for Optimal HealthBlanched lettuce, zucchini, frozen shrimp, freeze-dried bloodworms, insect larvae, spirulina, algae wafers, beef heart, worms, frozen shrimp
Special Foods and Considerations for Best Color and GrowthSpirulina, Algae Wafers, and Brine Shrimp will help to bring out their natural coloring while encouraging growth.
When and How Often to Feed Fish Based on Life CycleCichlids should eat two or three times a day. They should be fed no more than what they can eat in about one to two minutes’ time.
a male and a female Convict Cichlid

Common Diseases and How to Avoid and Treat Them

Cichlids are susceptible to the same common diseases and illnesses that other freshwater fish tank dwellers contract. They are hardy, but they do definitely have some issues with things like swim bladder disease, ich, and others.

If you notice your Convicts having difficulty staying afloat, you can probably assume there’s something wrong with their swim bladder. The major cause of this condition is poor nutrition.

If you find your fish is having this difficulty, re-examine the food you’re feeding them. Are there grains present? If so, change out for something more like a gel food or no-grain pellet. Also provide them with high-fiber, natural foods – think veggies and algae – to help cleanse their systems.

Malawi bloat is another common issue in cichlids. It looks like abdominal swelling, lethargy, rapid breathing, and loss of appetite. This primarily is treated by significant water changes. Be sure to do this change properly, to avoid causing other issues on top of the bloat.

Gill flukes, cotton wool disease, and Ich all are also common among Convicts. These each manifest visibly with growths, spots, or appearances of “strings” poking out from the fish’s scales.

These must be treated with antifungal medication or a salt bath – cotton wool disease – dosing the tank with salt and raising the water temperature – gill flukes – and a salt bath and cleansing of the aquarium for ich.

Best Antibiotics: Metronidazole, antifungals, salt baths, potassium permanganate, malachite green, acriflavine, marine salt

Treatments to Avoid: Anything not designed for freshwater fish.

Food Recommendations When Sick: Increase fibrous food choices.

Hospital Tank or Isolation Within the Community Tank Specifics: Removing them into a hospital tank is especially vital for anything like Ich, Cotton Wool, or Flukes. This separation can help prevent the entire tank from contracting the nasty diseases.

Convict Cichlid Shoal of fish

3 More Things to Know About Convict Cichlids

  1. There are more than 1700 known species of cichlids.
  2. Convict Cichlids are extremely hardy fish – they can survive in a wide range of water conditions.
  3. Convict Cichlids don’t have super specific needs with the pH, which is handy for housing them with other fish that might have more specific needs.

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