Convict Cichlid Care and Breeding Guide

Convict Cichlid Care and Breeding Guide


Among the least demanding fish is the convict cichlid. It also boasts of an interesting personality. In fact, many hobbyists love to observe how the couples take proper care of their juveniles. That is not all, they do not easily tolerate other types of fish. The couple love to be in their own tank, more so when they have their young ones about.

Its ranking among the cichlids is 3rd after Angel fish and Oscar. The name “convict” stems from the white and black stripes that alternate on its profile. White and black stripes on garments worn by prisoners resemble the fish.

Appearance of Convict Cichlid

Just as earlier described, the fish enjoys colorful black and white stripes on its body. Some people have even nicknamed it the zebra. It has an almost oval, stocky shape. It also spots pointed anal as well as dorsal fins.

The males can reach lengths of up to 13 to 15cm. On the other hand, females are slightly smaller and can reach 8 to 10cm in length. Their varying body sizes make it easy to identify the males and even females.

Even though they are known to spot stripes on their forms, body colors vary. While others are blue gray, some are lavender while others are cream. The dark bands running vertically around the body end somewhere near the head. One last band forms a ‘u’ shape close to the sparkling eyes. The convict fish fins are clear to almost light yellow.

The fish comes in a variety of colors. Some are pink, others white and there is the pseudo albino variety too. Cream convicts are available as well. The male colors are more of a monotone while the females spot a patch of orange on their stomach.

Like all cichlids, the convict has well developed teeth located in its throat. The regular teeth are found in its mouth too. At the back of their pelvic, dorsal, anal and pectoral fins, are spiny rays that help keep predators at bay. The front parts of the fins are soft. They help with free yet effortless movement inside water. They are not fast swimmers.

As opposed to other types of fish, the convict has one nostril on either side of its head. After drawing in water, the fish samples the liquid to test if there are certain smells before finally expelling it. Water can be sampled for longer or shorter periods depending on how weak or strong the smell is.

The cichlid can live for about ten years or more. In the wild, some are known to live to be 20 years.


Scientifically known as Archocentrus nigrofasciatus, the convict cichlid is native to Central America. Countries that harbor the fish include Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama and Atlantic slopes found in the Honduras. In the IUCN Red List, the convict is not featured.

In its wild habitat, the convict cichlid is known to dwell in rocky areas with caves where they hide away from predators. They also hunt for their foods in rock crevices. Other places they dwell in include springs and warm pools. They rarely settle in open areas.

Tank Requirements

They are happier when they are offered larger tank space with plenty of rock crevices to hide in. To keep them healthy, the convict fish can be offered the following tank parameters:

  • need good water movement
  • warm brackish water
  • pH range of about 6.0 and 8.0
  • water gravity of not less than 0.0002
  • moderate to low light
  • salinity of about 10% of normal water

A large sized tank of at least 20 gallons for a juvenile. In case the fish is slightly bigger, the tank should be between 40 and 80 gallons. For two large sized convict cichlids about to breed, the tank should be even bigger.

At the bottom of the tanks, put in some rocks with crevices, driftwood, roots and sand. Have some floating plants to provide a canopy. They love to swim in tanks with subdued lighting conditions. Since they are aggressive, ensure the plants are well anchored.


It is an omnivore that does not have many demands when it comes to feeding. No wonder it is considered an easy fish to keep. The convict eats a variety of foods without a problem. The foods to provide include:

  • worms
  • beef heart
  • frozen foods
  • frozen shrimp
  • cichlid pellets and flakes
  • vegetables like spirulina and blanched lettuce

Feed the fish small amounts of foods at least twice each day. Ensure the food is in small pieces that are easy to digest. Add supplements to help in their overall health. Vitamins should not be forgotten too.


Convict cichlids are referred to as cave spawners. Unlike other types of fish that are difficult to breed in captivity, these ones have very few requirements to actually breed. The pair shake their heads in a fanciful dance before the male positions itself vertically. It turns a darker color. The female dances and then they dig up places in the substrate for the female to lay her eggs.

As soon as 20-30 eggs are laid, the male fertilizes them. This happens a number of times until the eggs are anywhere from 100-300. After the eggs are laid, the male keeps vigil. They are known to be very protective of both eggs and fry.

After 48-72 hours, the eggs hatch. After about a week, the fry are able to swim freely. They can be fed baby brine shrimp and powdered flake. In about 3 weeks, the juveniles are mature and can feed on full flakes.

During these times, the couples protect their young ones and are likely to be aggressive towards the other tankmates. It would be a good idea to keep other fish in another tank during this time.


It is an aggressive fish that can be kept with other big sized fish that are not easily pushed over. Avoid housing it with peaceful fish species.

Fish types that can share a tank with the convict cichlid are green terror, rainbow cichlid and blue Acara.

The convict cichlid is an interesting fish for the aquarium. Keeping it offers a hobbyist the opportunity to observe a rare phenomenon of couples protecting their fry.


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