Convict Cichlid | A to Z Guide – Care, Tank Mates, Size, and Diet

Known for its zebra-like bars, convict cichlids are a surefire way to create a unique approach in your tank. There aren’t complications in caring for and keeping convict cichlids, as their care requirements are pretty straightforward.


The convict cichlid (Archocentrus nigrofasciatus)  belongs to the novel genus Amatitlania. They are mostly found in Central America and across the Pacific Slope drainages of Guatemala, El Salvador, Northwestern Costa Rica, Honduras, and Rio Guaramo in Panama.

These cichlids are also known as zebra cichlids, owing to their vertical bars throughout the body. They are considered substrate brooders, meaning they deposit eggs on crevices and small caves’ surfaces. Convict cichlids have aggressive and territorial nature, which is common among the many varieties of cichlids.

Moreover, zebra or convict cichlids are monogamous (we’ll dig into this breeding topic), unlike male peacock cichlids polygamous. It’s currently one of the most sought-after fish species in the industry today with its unique appearance and easy-to-keep characteristics. Convict cichlids are a must-have addition to your home tank.


Convict cichlids got the name “convict” because of the black vertical bars that run down their bodies. It’s the standard convict cichlid variation, but their colors may vary according to their age, gender, and type.

A mature convict cichlid fish can have 8 to 9 black stripes across its grayish-blue body. However, the number of stripes depends on a fish’s genetic component. It encompasses the classic cichlid body but with varied color and pattern that separates them from its relatives.

For instance, convict cichlids have long dorsal fins, average-sized see-through ventral and pectoral fins, and transparent caudal fins. Male cichlids have larger anal and dorsal fins, whereas females have a smaller body and more coloration; the latter sports a pink or orange tint to their belly region.

Although the Cichlidae family is recognized as large-bodied fish species, they only grow to an average of 6 inches (for a male convict cichlid) and 4.5 inches (for a female convict cichlid).

Behavior and Temperament

(Credits to Jennyan)

Are convict cichlids aggressive?

Like other members of the Cichlidae family, convict cichlids display aggressive behaviors. They are likely to have territorial attitudes, especially when breeding. Convict cichlids protect their place and themselves against other fishes. Besides, they are categorized as “hardy.” They can easily adapt to a wide range of water parameters.

There’s nothing to worry about keeping convict cichlids in a tank as long as the right environment and space are considered. Several factors that affect their behavior include the tank’s space (whether it’s large enough for them), tank mates, and hiding spots.

The hiding spots play a crucial role in a cichlid’s temperament. They love privacy and spend most of their time near their territory (insides of the caves or plant matters). Thus, they’re less aggressive when placed in a larger tank with plenty of space to hunk down.

Convict cichlids are strong swimmers, generally more active in the middle of the tank. They tend to check the substrates and do some digging. They’re surely up to something, which you’ll never get bored of when watching them.


How long do convict cichlids live?

The average lifespan of convict cichlids is roughly between 8 to 10 years. As per some fishkeepers, they may live slightly longer, provided that proper care and treatment are considered.

Common diseases

Despite being hardy, convict cichlids aren’t an exception to the common freshwater aquarium disease. They are vulnerable to pathogens and diseases, such as:

  • Swim bladder disease. If you suspect a convict cichlid fish are having difficulties staying afloat, it suffers from a swim bladder disease. Among the major causes of this disease are poor water quality and food nutrition.
  • Malawi bloat. Perhaps the most common among cichlids, the Malawi bloat refers to a condition wherein a cichlid fish has a swollen abdomen, rapid breathing, and appetite loss. If not treated immediately, a zebra cichlid might experience severe liver and kidney damage. Poor water quality and protozoa existence are the possible causes of the disease. 
  • Cotton wool disease. Another condition typical in the Cichlidae family is the cotton wool disease. It is primarily caused by a fungus, leading to rotting and spotting fins.
  • Gill flukes. When a parasitic flatworm infects a convict cichlid’s gills, it causes “sliming,” resulting in breathing difficulties.
  • White spot or ich. You can easily notice this disease if a cichlid develops white spots on the fins, body, or gills. Treating the entire tank would be ideal once this disease is identified.

To keep your convict cichlids safe from any disease, ensure to create a clean water parameter in your tank. Keep the pH level between 6.6 and 7.8. Furthermore, isolating an infected cichlid in a separate tank is preferable not to infect another cichlid fish in the main tank.


How big do convict cichlids get?

Male and female cichlids differ in size. A male convict cichlid fish grows up to 6 inches (15 cm.), whereas a female convict cichlid is smaller, averaging about 4.5 inches (11 cm.) Convict cichlids grow at a normal rate, so there’s no need for special treatment. Yet, you won’t be able to identify a cichlid’s gender until they’re mature (we’ll talk about this later).

How many convict cichlids can be kept in a tank?

Convict cichlids exhibit aggressive and territorial behaviors; thus, it’s important to cater to a larger tank to accommodate their needs. It’s also worth noting that these cichlids are generally more active in the middle of the tank.

On average, it’s recommended to put one cichlid fish for every 7-10 gallons. For a 50-gallon tank, you can keep between 5 to 6 convict cichlids.

Larger tanks are preferable when fishkeeping cichlids. For a 100-gallon tank, you can fit around 10 to 13 cichlids.

Convict Cichlid Care

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Tank Size

The suggested tank size for keeping convict cichlids is no smaller than 30 gallons. You should consider their aggressive behavior and territorial attributes when investing in a tank. But if you’re into breeding species, at least a 50-gallon tank must be used.

Tank Setup

Tank setup is pretty easy and straightforward, especially when you’re encouraging convict cichlids breeding. As much as possible, try to mimic cichlids’ natural habitat. They particularly have a wilder habitat, so creating one as close to their origin keeps them good.

Similar to relatives, convict cichlids love digging and rooting around the substrate. Here are the other components you need when decorating your cichlids’ home tank:

  • Substrates. As mentioned, a convict cichlid fish does its best with a sandy substrate, as they tend to dig and root around. Opt for a finer substrate since coarse ones can cause scratches on their bodies.
  • Strong plants. Convict cichlids are active and strong swimmers, likely “rearranging” the tank’s setup. Make sure that the plants used are anchored and can withstand any pressure caused by a cichlid fish. A great plant option would be hornwort.
  • Rocks and driftwood. Cichlids are native to Guatemala and South America, which have rocky surfaces and driftwood. They also love privacy, so including driftwood would help lessen territorial issues and initiate breeding safely.
  • Mellow current. This element keeps the food from being distributed too much. Nevertheless, convict cichlids will surely appreciate having one.
  • Filtration. Install a strong and good filtration system to prevent the water tank from getting murky.
  • Heater. This is beneficial during the colder months, ensuring the cichlids’ environment is warm.
  • Air pump. Also known as the bubbler system, stimulates a slower water movement in the tank.

Water conditions

It’s important to keep fish happy and free from stress. Give them the right environment by accommodating these water parameters: temperature, pH range, and hardness (dH):

  • Temperature. Convict cichlids are used in South America’s warm water. Thus, maintain the tank’s temperature between 79° to 84° Fahrenheit (26° to 28° Celsius).
  • pH range. As for the pH level, cichlids aren’t finicky. Yet, keep the pH level between 6.6 and 7.8 to make water parameters consistent.
  • Hardness (dH). Convict cichlids are “hardy” fish species. Therefore, maintain a hardness level between 10 to 15 dH. Their being active should not cause any trouble in your home water tank.

As far as the water conditions are considered, remember to replace the water regularly unless you want your cichlids to become more vulnerable to the diseases outlined above.

Diet and Feeding

What do convict cichlids eat?

Convict cichlids aren’t fussy about what you feed them. Yet, it’s important to note that giving them proper food and nutrition is required to keep them healthy. Besides, they aren’t bottom-dwellers (so consider giving them pellets or foods that tend to float).

Moreover, convict cichlids are naturally omnivores; you can feed them meat, plants, and other fish foods with nutritional value. They are considered “opportunistic” in the warm rivers of Central America. As such, they feed on anything, be it mosquito larvae, plant debris, or small insects. They also eat live foods, including and not limited to worms and brine shrimps.

Here are some of the foods you can try feeding your convict cichlids:

  • High-quality and floating pellets
  • Blanched vegetables (lettuce, spinach, and broccoli)
  • Daphnia
  • Carrots
  • Algae wafers
  • Spirulina
  • Low-grain flakes
  • Insects and larvae

How often should I feed my convict cichlids?

Some fishkeepers tend to feed cichlids once a day in large portions, which is a leading cause of tank and water pollution. Creating a regular feeding schedule for convict cichlids is recommended. Nonetheless, these fishes should eat twice or thrice a day in small portions.

How long can convict cichlids go without food?

Like its relatives, fully grown convict cichlids can survive at least 7 to 10 days without food. Meanwhile, baby cichlids should be fed every other day.

Tank Mates

Unlike peacock cichlids that are “disciplined,” convict cichlids are aggressive and territorial. The safest way you can keep and breed cichlids is to keep that specific community in one tank alone.

If you still want to mix varied species, you’ll need fish species that venture a different water layer from what convict cichlids prefer. In this way, you’ll observe minimal territorial issues in the tank. You can only do this if you’re an experienced fishkeeper. Otherwise, keep the tank for convict cichlids alone.

Further, convict cichlids’ possible tank mates include:

  • Blue acara
  • Oscar fish
  • Giant danio
  • Clown Loach
  • Green terrors
  • Pics catfish
  • Silver dollar fish
  • Firemouth cichlids
  • Jewel cichlids

Other species not mentioned in the list could cause a fuss inside the tank. Never combine convict cichlids with active, hardy swimmers.


You’ll never identify a convict cichlid’s gender until it reaches full maturity (about seven or eight months). Regardless, these cichlids are serially monogamous. In fact, they’re one of the freshwater cichlids that are easy to breed. A pair of male and female convict cichlid is all you need to spawn a community all year round.

Female convict cichlids are the ones who make the first move in the mating cycle. After successful mating, females lay eggs in their chosen dark spot inside the tank. 

In this case, make sure to have enough room in your tank and install some rocks or caves where females can safely lay their eggs. Raising the water’s temperature is recommended to create a more comfortable environment for the female cichlid. Consider separating the breeding pair from others that aren’t.

Parent cichlids protect and guard the eggs until they hatched. They continue to care for the young fries for an extended period (this is where their most aggressive behaviors are displayed). 

Take note: you shouldn’t be feeding the fry with food. It generally takes 3 days for them to absorb their yolk sacs and develop their fins to swim. Doing so will only pollute your tank.

What’s more, parents tend to be more aggressive once they start and prepare to breed again. At this stage, it’s better to separate the baby cichlids in a different tank before their parents eat them.


Despite the convict cichlids’ aggressive and territorial behavior, they aren’t that hard to keep and breed. Further, understanding their behaviors and temperament is the key to making your journey easy-peasy.

Their unique patterns and active nature make them a great collection that can entertain you when you’re bored. 

To sum it up, convict cichlids are best for:

  • Those who are experienced with cichlids’ aggressiveness
  • Those who are into fish breeding
  • Those who have a tank dedicated to convicting cichlids community

Meanwhile, convict cichlids aren’t suitable for:

  • Those who don’t know how to identify signs of fish aggression
  • Those who have a tank inhabited by different fish species

Enjoy keeping convict cichlids and have happy breeding!