Fish Profile

Convict Cichlid Profile: Everything You Need to Know About

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The Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasicata) which also popularly known as the Zebra cichlid is one of the most common cichlid fish kept by hobbyists across the word. The Zebra Cichlid gets its name from the White and black zebra-like pattern throughout its body. The Convict Cichlids are one of my favorite fish among all the cichlid variety due to its behavior and strange character. The Convict Cichlid or the Zebra cichlids are one of the easiest Cichlid fish to breed in captivity.

The convict Cichlids are most commonly of two types. The regular ones are black and white convict cichlid and an albino variant which is popularly known as the pink convict cichlid. These days a new variety of The Convict Cichlid is gaining the attention of many fish keepers.

The short bodied variant of the Convict Cichlid which is known as the Short body convict Cichlids. The short body Convict Cichlids are a result of selective breeding. Here are a few things that you might have to know before getting your first pair of The Convict Cichlids.

Introduction Of The Fish

The Convict Cichlids are one of the best looking blackfish. The lack of color in its body is compensated by its strange patterns and body shape. These active fish strangely look like Zebras so they are termed as the Zebra Cichlid. The convict Cichlids are one of the easiest Cichlid to keep and breed.

Thus, making the Convict Cichlid my favorites among many Cichlid keepers. No Cichlid community tank is complete without a pair of Convict Cichlids.


The Convict Cichlids originates from the Central American waters. However, they were later released to various countries like Canada, Africa, and South America, etc. So the Convict Cichlids are also dominantly found there. But the true place of origin of the Convict cichlids is Central America.

Fish Appearance

The Convict Cichlids are also known as the Zebra Cichlids due to their appearance like Zebra. It has 8-9 stripes of white and black markings throughout its body. The Convict Cichlid is easily one of the most noticeable fish. A male Convict Cichlid will have a larger body with small blue markings along its anal fin. The male Convict Cichlid might also grow a Nuchal Hump.

The female Convict Cichlid appears to be smaller in size. The female Convict Cichlids are more vibrant and have a bright orange coloration in its body. It also doesn’t grow a Nuchal Hump.


The Convict Cichlid is one of the most common cichlid fish. And it is found very easily in all the fish stores around the world. You can also easily find them online. Finding someone who sells convict is also not a problem as every fish breeder will have a stock of quality Convict cichlid.


The price of the Convict Cichlid is fairly low due to its availability. The Convict Cichlid is found is almost every local fish stores so their price is also very reasonable. You can get a pair of Convict Cichlids for about 4-5 $.


The lifespan of any animal or living being is expected to be lower in captivity than in the wild. The average life span of the Convict Cichlids in the wild water of Center America is around 10 – 12 years. Whereas in your aquarium you can expect your Convict Cichlids to survive for up to 6-8 years if you can provide your fish with all the essentials that a fish requires to live a healthy life.

Sexual Difference

The male Convict Cichlids are pretty evident from the female Convict cichlids. Sexing the convict cichlids is pretty easy after the fish reaches their sexual maturity. The male convict cichlids have a larger and broader body. It might also have a “Nuchal hump”, which is a deposition of fat in the head of the fish. The dorsal and the anal fin of the male Convict Cichlids are also longer.

The female convict cichlids are smaller compared to the male convict cichlids. There is a bright orange/yellow coloration in the body of the female convict cichlids. And generally, the size of the female convict cichlids is smaller than the male Convict cichlids.

Social Behavior and Tank Mates

The Convict Cichlids belong to the family Cichlidae, and all of the fish belonging to the Cichlidae family are believed to be aggressive. Though they are aggressive it can be housed along with similar cichlids fish from the same family and of similar size. The Convict Cichlids are usually peaceful but can be territorial during the breeding process.

Once the Convict Cichlids establish their territory they tend to get very feisty. They will not care about other fish even if they are larger than them and won’t stop at anything to defend their territory.

Some of the best fish you can house with the Convict Cichlids are Firemouth Cichlids, Green Terror Cichlids, Jewel Cichlids, Salvini Cichlids, Jack Dempsey Cichlids, etc all of the similar sizes.  Make sure that you provide all your fish with adequate space to swim and hide.

As the Convict Cichlid gets territorial they tend to be more aggressive with each other. You should not add any small fish in the tank at any cost. The Convict Cichlids will eat almost every fish that fits in its mouth.

Fishkeeping Difficulty

The Convict Cichlids are as tough as nails. These are some of the hardiest fish I’ve kept till now. You don’t need to get all the parameters right. The water quality shouldn’t be kept pristine all the time. The Convict Cichlids can bear a wide variety of parameters and does well in almost any kind of water parameters. If you add an aquarium heater, an aquarium heater and do regular water changes to your aquarium. The Convict Cichlids will stay healthy and happy. The Convict Cichlids have a very strong immune system and are very strong.  So the Convict Cichlids are some of the easiest fish to keep in the hobby.

Tank Size

The convict cichlids grow to a quite big size. And it can survive for up to 8 years. You should always be prepared with a bigger tank as its size grows throughout the year. You will need a minimum of 30-gallon sized aquarium. And you can increase the size of the aquarium depending upon the number of fish you are willing to add.

A 20-30 gallon tank will be great for a pair or two of Convict cichlids. You can also use this size of the aquarium for breeding the Convict cichlids.

And if you decide to keep Convict Cichlids with other Central American Cichlids you should at least get a 50 Gallon tank. A 50-gallon tank should be able to house a School of Central American Cichlids. And in this case, a bigger tank is always better for you.


Lighting in the aquarium tank is not as necessary for the fish as you would think it is. Bright lights may stress the fish at times. So I would suggest you go with a gentle light that won’t stress out the fish.

An even better choice for you is a tanning light. An aquarium tanning light replicates the light in their natural habitat. The tanning light gives light to your aquarium making the aquarium bright. And at the same time, the tanning light will enhance and bring out the best colors of your fish. A tanning light will make your fish look more bright and colorful.

Aquarium Substrate and Decoration

The convict cichlids do not require that much of decorations in its tanks. In the natural habitat, the convict cichlids live in small holes and rock caves. You should try and replicate its natural habitat. I would suggest you use a darker shade of sand. It will bring out the bright and vibrant colors of the fish. And for decorations, anything without any sharp edges that might hurt the fish should be used.

The tank should also have small caves made up of stones. You should use a small pot for the fish to hide in when they get stressed. You can also provide a smooth surface for your fish to lay the egg on just in case your fish decides to breed.

Convict Cichlid Diet

The diet of the Convict Cichlids in the wild consists of both plant and animal origin, i.e. they are omnivore. They feed on small insects, small fish, worms and some plants and algae. In captivity, your Convict Cichlid will accept anything you offer to the fish. However, you should feed your fish with a mixed variety of food. I would suggest you feed your Convict Cichlids with food primarily consisting of shrimps/fish. You should also feed your fish with vegetables in a regular interval of time.

Since preparing your food for the fish is not always possible. Some companies make very good quality of fish food for your fish. For the Convict Cichlid foods like “Hikari omnivore” and “Hikari Cichlid Staple,” it has worked wonders for me. And I would suggest you feed a variety of high-quality fish food for successfully raising the Convict Cichlids.

Maintaining Aquarium Water Quality

Maintaining water quality in the Convict Cichlid tank is pretty easy. You will have to do some routine water changes and keep these parameters in mind while doing so.

Water Temperature

The Convict Cichlids originates from the water of Central America. The temperature of the water around Central America is around 26-29°C throughout the year. So you will be well off by setting your tank at around 28°C. Convicts Cichlids can do well in relatively cold temperatures in the wild. But you should always keep an aquarium heater in your fish tank, no matter what.

Water pH

Setting an exact pH is not a requirement for the fish. However, you should balance the pH as it benefits your fish. The pH of the water hold the Convict Cichlids should be around 6.6 to 7.8

Water Filtration

The filtration system in the tank housing the Convict Cichlids should be pretty good. These fish tend to produce a lot of biological waste and pollute the water. The strength of the high current should not be an issue for the fish as they are very strong and can swim through strong currents too. As the tanks housing the convict cichlids are usually larger I would suggest you use strong power filters.

Filters like canister filters, Sump filter, etc will also help you clean the tank. I had been using the “Marineland Magniflow Canister filter”, and it has never let me down. And you can never go wrong with a canister filter as it is easily accessible and very easy to maintain. And a canister filter will also ensure crystal clear water in your aquarium tank.

Water Maintenance

Maintaining the water quality in the tank housing the Convict Cichlid is pretty easy. You should change about 15% of the water every week and then the top of the remaining space with fresh new water. You should vacuum the substrate as it might contain accumulated waste material. Removing the waste from the substrate is very crucial as it might cause problems in the long term. You should clean the filtration media which is present inside the canister filter once every month. If you follow these procedures the water in your aquarium tank should be good to go. And your fish is also going to be healthy.

Fish Disease

Convict Cichlids are one of the hardiest fish that I have ever kept. However, it is not completely immune to all diseases. Many diseases arise in the Convict Cichlid as a result of poor water conditions. The poor water conditions will cause the fish to stress out. The stressed fish has a lowered immunity, thus being prone to many diseases.

Some of the more frequently arising disease in The Convict Cichlids is:

Malawi bloat

Malawi bloat is a common disease among the fish from the family Cichlidae, commonly it affects the Malawi cichlids. But it affects the Convict cichlids too. If your fish is affected by Malawi bloat your fish will have a huge swollen stomach. The Convict Cichldi will also have a decreased appetite for fish food and won’t be active.

Swim bladder disease

Swimbladder disease is a common disease affecting the swim bladder of the fish. The swim bladder is an organ that helps the fish swim in the water. If your fish has the swim bladder disease your fish will remain float in the water surface and lose the tendency to balance itself. The Convict Cichlid might eventually die if not treated properly. The inability of the fish to swim causes the death of the fish.

The swimbladder disease can be a cause of trauma or any accidents that the fish might encounter within the aquarium tank.

White spots or ich

White spot disease or ich is a very common disease in aquarium fish. The Convict Cichlid gets infected due to the poor water conditions. The Convict Cichlids will develop a few white plaque-like spots throughout its body. The development of ich or white spot disease starts from the fins and also can be transferred to other fish. If immediate precaution is not taken your Convict Cichlids might die.

Breeding Convict Cichlid

You can easily breed a pair of Convict cichlids by placing them in a separate tank without anything. However, if you’d like to breed the convict cichlids more efficiently. You can add a pair of convict cichlid in a 20-gallon aquarium tank.

You should add a plate with a smooth surface for the fish to lay an egg. Setting up a breeding tank is pretty easy as you should only add an extra breeding plate for better breeding of the fish. You can also try doing a 50% water change in the breeding tank. And increase the temperature of the breeding tank by a few degrees to encourage the breeding Convict Cichlid pair.

After the breeding tank is setup. The male and the female convict cichlid start cleaning the surface to lay an egg in. After the Convict Cichlid cleans the surface the female fish lay eggs on the surface. Then the male convict cichlid later fertilizes it.

The spawning process for Convict Cichlids takes place for 30 minutes to 1 hour. The eggs adhere to the surface where they had laid the egg.

The eggs hatch after 2 to 3 days after the spawning. The newly hatched fry has a small yolk sac and becomes freely swimming fries after a couple of days. You don’t need to remove the parent fry as they tend to take care of their fry and don’t feed on them.

The Convict cichlids are one of the best parents in the fish species. They also protect the fry from potential threats and raise their fry until the fry are capable to defend and swim away from the dangers on their own.

Caring for The Fry

Caring for the Convict Cichlid fry is very easy. You can raise the fry with the parents in the same tank. You can feed the fish with small-sized foods or crushed fish food that you would feed the parent. For quick growth, you can also feed your fish fry with baby brine shrimps or frozen baby brine shrimps.


The Convict Cichlids are suitable for beginner fish keepers. Convict Cichlids are very strong and very less demanding. So it will be easier for the beginner fish keepers. It is also a good fish for some of the most experienced fish keepers. Many researchers keep Convict Cichlids for study purposes. As they are easy to set and keep the study of their behaviors becomes very easy.

For all of these reasons, I would strongly suggest you at least try keeping Convict Cichlids once throughout your fish keeping journey.

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