Convict Cichlid Care: Best Detailed Guide (April 2023)

By: Martin McAdam
Updated: January 21, 2022

Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) is a small cichlid that is widely available in pet stores. It is an ideal fish for the freshwater aquarium because it has attractive colors, peaceful nature, and is easy to care for. Convict Cichlids are also called 'Convict Fish' or 'Zebra Cichlid.'

Convict Cichlid

They live in the freshwaters of Mexico and Central America. Their natural habitat consists of coastal floodplains, river basins, backwaters, swamps, and ponds.

The convict cichlid is a freshwater fish native to the Amazon River basin in South America. The two most common types are white-barred and red-barred, but there are also yellow convict cichlids.

Characteristics Of Convict Cichlid

Given below are some interesting characteristics of convict cichlid:

Color Of Convict Cichlid

Convict cichlids are mostly black or dark blue. Their colorful name comes from red or white vertical bar-like markings on their midsections.

Convict Cichlid

These fish can grow up to nine inches long. Convict cichlids receive their names because the bars on their bodies resemble old prison uniforms, which were mostly black and white.

How Do Convict Cichlid Look Like?

Convict Cichlid gets their name from the convict-like marking on their bodies. They are mostly black, with a yellow stripe running from the head to the caudal peduncle.

There is also a dark spot at the base of each scale, giving it a "convict" appearance. Two large, bright white patches flank either side of the body near its tail and right below its dorsal fin. Its mouth is small but powerful.

Convict Cichlid

They have large heads with stout bodies. The upper part of the body is yellowish-brown to greenish, while the lower parts are silvery to white, hence why they are also called "butterfly" cichlids.

The male looks different from the female as it is slimmer with a bigger dorsal fin and has orange or red-orange edges on its fins. Females are fuller but have little or no coloration on their fins. They also have bluish spots at the base of the dorsal fin, which vary in number between individuals.

Convict cichlids are sometimes confused with lemon peel cichlid (and vice versa), but these two species can be easily differentiated.

The convict has a dark line that goes through its eye, a dark bar at the base of its tail fin, and vertical stripes along its body. The lemon peel cichlid has no stripe on its body and usually one horizontal line running through the eye.

Growth And Size Of Convict Cichlid

Convict cichlids are peaceful, easy to breed, and have attractive markings, which makes them a great choice for beginning aquarists. They can grow up to nine inches long.

Male convicts are smaller than females and usually have brighter colors. They can live up to five years with proper care and diet.

Temperament Of Convict Cichlid

Convict Cichlids are active, peaceful, and somewhat shy toward other fish. When they are first introduced into an aquarium, they will be timid, but once acclimated, they can be very outgoing. They will establish a territory where the male will defend his harem of females.

Convict Cichlid

They should not be kept with aggressive species because they are easily beaten up. They can also be kept with larger species but only in a large aquarium because they are quite active.

Convict Cichlids are not aggressive, but when it comes to feeding, they will eat anything that is smaller than them. Their main diet consists of plants and algae scraped off the rocks on the bottom, so take care not to overfeed them. They may also eat leftover fish food and even dead plants.

Convict cichlids swim in a vertical posture, so they should be provided with plenty of rocks for hiding places since their natural habitat consists mostly of rocks.

Caves made from rock should be arranged along the sides of the tank to create a labyrinth of small spaces. For a peaceful community tank, 15 gallons will be enough to accommodate approximately 10-12 convicts.

Habitat Of Convict Cichlid

Convict Fish is native to Mexico. It lives in slow-moving rivers, creeks, marshes, and flooded forests. They are found in muddy ponds with a soft substrate, over which they often dig burrows to accommodate themselves during the dry season.

A pair of convicts use the same burrow for laying eggs and rearing their young ones.

They like their habitat to have sand, fine gravel, or very fine smooth pebbles as the substrate. The sand provides natural filtration for their environment.

Breeding Of Convict Cichlid

The male is responsible for building the "nest" or bubble nest where he will care for his fry before they are free-swimming. This bubble nest is made of air bubbles with saliva on the inside.

The male will care for this nest until the fry become free-swimming then the female will help him care for them.

Convict Cichlid

Convict fish are egg-layers that are spawned by both sexes without any courtship or pre-spawning activity. The only trigger is warm water temperature accompanied by good water quality.

They are not bred in pairs but in groups with at least three females to one male. Convict Cichlids usually breed during the spring and summer seasons.

The female convict digs out a deep hole before she lays eggs. The male then fertilizes them right after laying of eggs. Both parents, male and female, take care of the eggs.

The hole is usually dug in the sand bed or under a rock near plants. Convicts become aggressive during their breeding period adding aggression to the already aggressive nature of convict cichlids.

After spawning, the female leaves the nest area to feed, leaving all of the parenting duties to the male. After about 6-7 days, the fry becomes free swimming and are removed by siphoning or separating them from their parents.

Convict Cichlid Detailed Care Guide

Convict cichlids are popular for their dark body color and distinct vertical stripes, which make them look like striped convict uniforms.

Convict Cichlid Feeding

Convict Cichlids are omnivores and will eat algae and plants in your aquarium. Since these fish like to graze, you should feed them a wide variety of food such as flake foods, pellets, bloodworms, brine shrimp, and frozen foods.

In the wild, they feed on algae, small invertebrates, and small fish, while in captivity, they feed on algae wafers, flake foods, pellets, bloodworms, brine shrimp, and frozen food.

Their balanced diet consists of living, frozen, and flake foods which include brine shrimp, tubifex, bloodworms, blackworms, beef heart, chopped krill, white worms, mosquito larvae, minced garlic.

They also enjoy green veggies such as romaine lettuce and blanched zucchini. They can be trained to eat pellets, but this should not be the only food they eat.

Anubias nana, Java fern, java moss are types of plants that are good for this type of fish account for these fish being algae eating fish. These plants are not too demanding when it comes to lighting or nutrients. They are decorative plants that can be used in the aquarium.

Tank Requirements

Convict cichlids require a tank with the size of at least 10 gallons.

Mud substrate, which is ideal for this type of fish, should be deep in order to accommodate their burrowing habit. They need caves in the tank since they like to make nests under them.

Aquarium plants can be used as hiding places where convict cichlids may hide.

The tank should be decorated with rocks and caves to create suitable conditions for breeding. Also, the tank should be set up with soft water having a hardness of 4-10 dGH. Convict Cichlids are omnivores and will eat algae that are present in your aquarium.

The tank must have plenty of surface area for oxygen. It should also have a good filtration system that can maintain water quality.

Water Condition and Lighting

Convict Cichlids are not fussy with regards to water conditions, but they prefer harder water that is neutral or slightly acidic. They will adapt to the average home aquarium.

A good filtration system is also needed since these fish produce a lot of waste and produce toxins.

Water parameters should be within the range of pH 6.5-7.5, gH 5-12, and temperature of 70-74 degrees F.

Lighting should be bright but not strong since these fish are more active during cloudy days or at night when it is dark. Lighting should be bright enough for viewing the tank and for the growth of plants.

What Equipment Do I Need To Keep Convict Cichlid?

You must have a good filtration system. It should be able to provide a good quality of water, which is necessary for fish's health. Convict Cichlid tank should have a heater at the minimum temperature of 70 degrees F or 21 degrees Celsius.

You must have a good filter system. The filter should be able to maintain the water quality and keep it clean all the time. There should be a heater for the minimum temperature of 70 F or 21C.

Convict Cichlid Tankmates

Convict cichlids are aggressive, territorial fish. The best tankmates for this type of fish are other cichlids. They like their tank mates to be much bigger than themselves. They shouldn't be kept with smaller fish, such as tetras, guppies, and angelfish.

Their tank mates can be other cichlids like Texas cichlids and other types of convicts.

Common Possible Diseases and Cure

The common diseases are tank poisoning, hole in the head, and ick.

1. Hole in the head: It is caused by an infestation of worms on the fish's body. The first sign would be red spots around the eyes or on other parts of its body, which eventually lead to the appearance of ulcers on its body.

Convict Cichlid disease

They may stop eating and stay at the bottom of the tank. You need to provide a pelleted food or brine shrimp as their diet for at least two weeks to help them recover from this disease.

2. Tank poisoning: It is caused by a lack of cleanliness in your aquarium, which can make your fish sick. These symptoms include loss of appetite, swelling of the body, and discoloration.

You need to clean your tank immediately if you see these signs.

3. Ick: It is caused by an infestation of white spots on their skin or fins, which can lead to loss of scales or ick ball where it can't swim properly anymore due to fewer scales on its body.

To cure this disease, you need to perform a partial water change and provide the right food for the fish, which is usually brine shrimp with added vitamins.

How Can I Prevent Common Diseases?

For a hole in head disease, you should avoid overcrowding and poor quality of water. Make sure that there's enough space between each convict cichlid, and you need to give them high-quality food.

For tank poisoning, make sure that your aquarium is clean, and you need to avoid overcrowding in your fish tank. You also need to provide high-quality food for your convict cichlids.

In order for ick disease not to occur, keep the water temperature around 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and it is very important that you perform partial water changes to remove any excess waste.

Aquascaping For Convict Cichlid

For convicts, a naturalistic environment is a lot better to create a tank with driftwood and rocks. Sand should not be used because it could irritate their skin if dug in it. Rocks can be heavy, so make sure that they do not tear the filtration system.

Convict cichlids feel more secure when there are plants to serve as hiding places.

The female convict must be provided with enough space for digging a pit before she decides to lay eggs.

Do Convict Cichlid Eat Live Plants?

Convict cichlids will feed on both dead and living tank plants, which can't be good for your aquarium. They will dig the sand and uproot the plant roots as well as destroy it to make their nests.

To prevent this, place the plants outside the tank or put them in a jar temporarily until you see that they have laid their eggs.

You need to know that they will feed on any living and dead plant, which is not good for your aquarium. They will dig the sand and uproot the plant roots as well as destroy it to make their nests. In order to prevent this, you can put the plants on a jar temporarily until they have laid their eggs.

Do Convict Cichlid Have Any Special Features?

Convict Cichlids are generally identified by three dark vertical bars on each side of the fish's body which is bordered with yellow. They have an oblique mouth which is why they are often referred to as " oblique mouthbrooders."

Their breeding colors are emphasized during the spawning period. The yellow coloration becomes more pronounced while their fins become edged with red, blue, or green.

The presence of vertical bars can be seen more clearly because of this, especially on the lower half of their body.

They are well known for their strong parental instincts, which they pass on to their young. They protect their young ones until the latter becomes big enough to fend for themselves.

This, however, does not mean that they do not eat their own young ones; It's quite the opposite, in fact! Convicts are notorious cannibals, even eating their own eggs.

Their reproduction would interest people who are interested in breeding convict cichlids because it is a relatively easy process.

The male and the female simply choose a flat surface for spawning, which may include the aquarium's glass or wall.

Once they have decided on a spawning site, one can see the male swimming around with his fins flared and closely followed by the female. She releases her eggs one at a time, and the male fertilizes them as they are laid.

Are Convict Cichlid Dangerous?

Convict cichlids are not dangerous, but they will eat any living thing that they can fit in their mouths. They will also destroy plants and dig holes in the sand to make nests for their young ones, so it is necessary to keep them away from these areas.

These fish might have a bad reputation because of what people think of them, but they are not dangerous.

They do more good than harm in the fish tank because of what I explained above. Just make sure to keep them far away from any living creatures, including other types of fish and plants.


The Convict Cichlid is a beautiful fish with a striking color pattern, easy to keep and breed in captivity, and has distinct behavior.

It is suited for beginning aquarists due to its relatively small size and its hardiness in a wide range of water conditions. These characteristics make it a great choice for the fish beginner.

However, due to their personality and dietary needs, they are not recommended for the community tank. It is important to know that this fish has a bad reputation in the fishkeeping hobby because of its aggressive behavior towards other fish.

We hope that this article can help you better understand this fish, and it will aid you in keeping them safe.

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