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Convict Cichlid Profile, Care Guide & Breeding Tips

The convict cichlid is an active fish that is mostly found in the warm waters of Central America. The fish may be aggressive, but it is easy to care for, making it ideal for beginner aquarists. Breeding the fish is easy and does not require much attention.

Here, we cover information on convict cichlids, including their habitat, diet, tank requirements, size, and more. After reading this post, you will get all the information you need to know about becoming a responsible fish owner.

Species Overview

Level of CareSimple
AppearanceBlack color stripes and gray-blue body
Life ExpectancyUp to 8 – 10 years
SizeMales up to 6 inches; Females up to 4.5 inches
Tank Size30 Gallons
Water Conditions790F to 840F (250C to 290C); pH 6.6-7.8; dH 10-15
Tank EnvironmentCaves, wood
Tank MatesLimited compatibility due to aggressive nature

The convict cichlids are freshwater fish found in Central America’s rivers, from Costa Rica to Panama. They mostly live in slow-moving waters with rocky and sandy substrates. These are hardy species since they learn to adapt to different types of water conditions.

The black convict cichlid fish is also called the zebra cichlid due to its unique black stripes. The scientific name of the fish is Archocentrus nigrofasciatus, and it belongs to the Cichlidae family.

Despite their small size, they are aggressive due to their territorial nature. They may attack others twice their size. They also have sharp teeth and may injure other fish.



The convict cichlid gets its name from the vertical stripes found on its grayish body. The fish appears similar to the African cichlid but has different patterns and colors.

The fish’s dorsal and pectoral fins start some way back from the mount. The dorsal fin is semi-transparent and has black stripes. The dorsal and anal fins dangle back, similar to a sail.

The fish have about eight bars, but they can be larger or smaller. The bars are one of the first things that most aquarists look for when buying fish. Most prefer cichlids with plenty of well-defined stripes.

The bars are black, but the body is grayish-blue, while the hue is generally consistent with slight variation. Some may look different in the Aquarium, but that is mainly due to the lighting.


Male convict cichlids are bigger than females. They can reach up to 6 inches, while the females can reach up to 4.5 inches.

Female convict cichlids appear more striking than their counterparts due to their striking colors with tints of red, gold, and violet.


Although native convict cichlids are black, you can also find them in gold, white, and pink varieties due to selective breeding.

Interestingly, the pink cichlids do not have vertical stripes and are more common among aquarists.

Gender Differences

Generally, the male fish are longer and larger than females. Females have a bright color with red/yellow dots on the belly. Their black stripes are more prominent than the males.

Behavior & Temperament

Convict cichlids are aggressive, just like other fish in the Cichlidae family. They will strike and injure other fish species, including those that are three times their size.

They are highly territorial fish and may fight other cichlids or chase away any fish that comes near them. They spend most of their time in their territory near plants or a cave inside an aquarium.

They are prolific breeders and attentive parents. They nurture their fry until adulthood. Male and female fish establish bonds and jointly defend their nests. Researchers have found them to be loyal and monogamous partners.

They often become gloomy when separated from their partners. It would help if you made sure that the pairs are kept together to ensure that they remain healthy and happy.


Convict cichlids can live for up to about ten years with proper care. They are also known to have lived even longer.

But you need to ensure the right tank conditions. Always treat them using appropriate treatment options to ensure that they live a long time.

Albino convict cichlid front facing

Tank Mates

Convict cichlids have an aggressive nature, which makes them dangerous to keep with other species. Some of the possible tank mates for the fish include the following.

While you can keep them with other aggressive species, the safest option is to keep them alone.

Consider keeping two to three pairs in a tank. Adding more of them increases the risk of territorial aggression.

Never put a pair in a tank with other fish species as this will increase the chances of other fish getting injured or dying.

Tank Setup

Tank Size

Convict cichlids must be kept in large tanks. Consider buying a tank with a capacity of up to 50 gallons of water. The males are territorial, so it’s best to use plants as natural barriers to keep them from fighting.

Buy an aquarium with a bottom surface area. In other words, the tank width should be high. The tank should be placed in a quiet location so that they don’t become spooked easily. It should be complete with lights to sufficiently illuminate the tank.

Water Parameters

Convict cichlids are hardy fish that can tolerate varied water parameters.

It makes it easy for aquarists to care for them. It also gives more flexibility when it comes to tank mates.

The ideal water parameters for the fish are between 790F to 840F (250C to 290C). The pH level is not that important, but you should keep it between 6.5 and 8. Meanwhile, the water hardiness level should be between 10 and 15 dH.

An important thing to keep in mind is that they tend to be aggressive at higher temperatures. So, you should make sure that the tank temperature is always at the recommended setting.


You can have a gravel bottom with plants and inverted pots to serve as a hiding place for them. Floating plants are also recommended that will act as a cover in the Aquarium.

Plants act as a cover and a food source for these. They are also an ideal spawning site for them. Additionally, plants produce oxygen that convict cichlids need to breathe underwater. They also eliminate nitrates inside aquariums that can be harmful to fish.

Keep in mind that they tend to dig substrates, which can cause a lot of mess inside your fish tank. To avoid the mess, buy a strong water filtration system so that the water inside the tank does not turn murky.

These are strong swimmers and may uproot plants. Therefore, you should buy strong plants, such as Java Ferns and Amazon Swords. It would help if you also anchored the plants to prevent them from re-arranging the plants.

They thrive best in a mellow current. It is not necessary, but it will make them happy and free of stress. Good lighting is also recommended as it stimulates plant growth inside. Moreover, lighting also highlights their striking color patterns and makes them stand out.

Invest in a testing kit to ensure that you get the correct reading. A good testing kit will ensure that the tank conditions are perfect for these fish.

Food & Diet

An understanding of the diet is important to care. Giving it the right food will ensure it lives a long time.

Convict cichlids are omnivores in the wild. They eat a variety of plants and insects to get the required nutrition. They are not picky eaters, giving aquarists lots of flexibility in terms of feeding.

Ideally, it would help if you fed a mixture of flakes and pellets. Live food is also a good option that ensures that the fish will get the necessary nutritional intake to remain healthy. Their favorite live foods include bloodworms and shrimp.

You can also feed small insects, plant debris, mosquito larvae, brine shrimp, and daphnia.

Make sure to feed them as per a regular schedule. The recommended feeding time is in the morning and night. It is better to feed them smaller portions two times a day instead of a single large portion. Feeding them a large portion can change the water parameters and pollute the tank.

Breeding Tips

Breeding Cichlids is extremely easy since they tend to take care of the fry. Aquarists don’t have to do much to take care of the young.

Convicts can breed in home aquariums with lots of plants and up to 50 gallons of water. The fish may reach the breeding age at about seven months. You will have to pair male and female as they breed throughout the year.

Females lay their eggs on rocks and caves. It is important to emulate this condition in the tank so that they feel comfortable laying their eggs. Consider adding flower pots to create caves or use flat stones.

Water temperature should be up to 840F (290C) to create the ideal breeding condition. You don’t have to keep the male and females in different aquariums, as, unlike some other species, they don’t eat their eggs.

A female fish will lay eggs once the male has fertilized it. Afterward, the male will guard the parameter while the female will protect the eggs.

The eggs may hatch after four days, and you can expect to see about 30 young convicts from one pair. During this stage, the parents will take care of their children by bringing them food and keeping other fish away.

The little ones will abandon their yolk and start to swim. At this point, the male will act aggressively toward the young fry. You should take out the male from the aquarium and keep them with their mother.

You won’t have to do much apart from making sure that the tank is conducive to breeding. Ensure that there are rocks and plants in the Aquarium and keep the water at the desired temperature. It is all that is required to encourage the convict cichlid to breed.

After about a week from leaving the eggs, you can start feeding the younger ones. Consider feeding them brine shrimp so that they get the required nutrition.

Convict Cichlid Care

If you take good care of the convict cichlid, it won’t be inflicted with diseases. There aren’t a lot of diseases that can afflict this species. Poor conditions can result in freshwater illnesses that are common among Cichlids, which are discussed below.

White Spot – Ich

A white spot on the body indicates the disease is caused by a protozoan parasite known as Ichthyophthirius multi-fillis.

The disease can appear on the body, fins, or gills. Fish afflicted with the disease also show difficult breathing, loss of appetite, clamped fins, lethargy, and rubbing against the tank. Treatment of the disease includes adding a salt bath, malachite green, potassium permanganate, or acriflavine.

Fin Rot

Fin rot is also common. You can detect the disease if you notice fraying or rotting of the tail or fins.

To treat the condition, you should add one teaspoon of salt per gallon of water to the Aquarium. Just mix the salt in the water before putting the diseased fish in the Aquarium. Replace about 90 percent of the water every day.


Hexamita is a common disease among freshwater fish, including convict cichlids. A depression in the head can identify the disease. Affected fish also show loss of appetite and weight loss.

The lesion along the lateral line will also develop that become larger as the disease progresses.

Most experts suggest that Hexamita is caused due to mineral imbalance and poor quality water. The presence of a parasite known as Hexamita is also a contributing factor to the disease. Treat the tank with antibiotics to remove the parasite from the tank.

It would help if you kept an eye on your fish to ensure that they are healthy. Examine each of them and watch out for out-of-the-ordinary behavior or appearance.

Ill convicts might show more aggressive behavior even against their partners. Moreover, they may be disinterested in eating. You can also identify the disease if you see spots, a bloated stomach, or other unusual appearances.

If you notice that the fish is ill, you should quarantine it by keeping it in a separate aquarium. Quick discovery is important before the disease has time to affect other fish. You may need to treat the ill fish by adding aquarium salt or giving them antibiotics, depending on the disease.

Prevention is better than cure and is particularly true with fish. It would help if you kept the tank clean to avoid parasitic, viral, or bacterial diseases.

Also, it would help if you kept new fish bought from an online store in a separate aquarium. Look for signs of diseases and add them with other fish only if they are healthy.

Feeding them the right diet and keeping the temperature at the required level will prevent stress among the fish. It will also reduce the likelihood of the fish being afflict0ed with a disease. It would help if you also took care that the water in the tank is always kept clean.

Group of convict cichlids in aquarium

Where to Buy?

Finding convict cichlids for sale is not easy. Due to their aggressive nature, most fish stores don’t keep them for sale. You will have to do some research to find them online.

Be prepared to pay a bit higher for them since they are relatively rare. But the price is well worth it as they are a delight to watch in the Aquarium.

Wrapping Up

Convict cichlids are rather a joy to keep in the aquarium if you can ignore their aggressive tendencies.

They are highly territorial, so you need to keep the pairs in solitary confinement.

These are a delight to watch due to their unique striped patterns and active nature. Most aquarists find them entertaining species to keep in the Aquarium.