Convict Cichlid: Care, Diet, Tank Size, Tank Mates and Much More

A pair of Convict Cichlid

The Convict Cichlid has now become one of the most popular and commonly kept cichlids despite its aggressive personality.

There are many reasons why that is but the obvious ones are beauty and ease of care.

It’s undeniable that many cichlids are amazingly beautiful, but if you were to make a list of them the convict cichlid will be on that list.

These fish have very unique attention-grabbing black and white stripe which make them stand out in any tank. You can’t mistake them for any other cichlid or any fish for that matter.

Most importantly, they are are incredibly hardy and have a very easy-care requirement which makes them ideal for all hobbyists.

However, it’s still beneficial to point out all the information necessary to successfully keep them. Due to their aggressive tendencies, they need some special requirements if you want to avoid any complications.

This is especially important if you have never kept other similar aggressive and territorial cichlids.

This guide covers everything you need to know to successfully keep the Convict Cichlid from lifespan, maximum size, tank size, water parameters, tank requirements, diet, tank mates and much more.

In the wild, Convict Cichlids (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) inhabit the warm rivers of central America. They can specifically be found in the Pacific slope from Rio Sucio, El Salvador to Rio Suchiate.

They can also be found in the Atlantic slope from Rio Patuca, Honduras to Rio Jutiapa in Guatemala and in some streams situated within these areas.

Convict Cichlids naturally prefer living in slow-moving water bodies such as lakes and ponds with a rocky or sandy bottom. 

In their habitat, they usually stick to areas like underneath tree branches and around rough rocky formations. This will tell you that they are no fan of strong currents. 

They can survive in a varying range of habitats because of their incredible hardiness. 

Convict Cichlid Care Snippet

  • Maximum fish size: 6.0 inch
  • Minimum tank size: 30 gallons
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner – Expert
  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Temperature: 79°F to 84°F
  • PH: 6.5 to 8.0
  • Hardness: 10-15dH
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Care Level: Moderate
  • Ideal tank mates: Jack DempseyGreen Terror, Jewel Cichlid, Plecostomus, Pictus Catfish, Salvini Cichlid, Oscar, Clown Loach, Silver Dollar, et Cetra


If you are thinking that the Convict Cichlid got their name from the series of black stripes that run down their body similar to the popular prison uniforms, then you are right. 

This pattern is why they are also called Zebra Cichlids.

As a result of selective breeding, white, pink and gold varieties have also been created. 

The standard convict cichlid contains about 8 stripes on their body but can be a bit more or less depending on the genetic factors.

These stripes are the most outstanding feature of this fish. In most cases, the black stripes extend slightly into their dorsal fins. 

The fish usually have a greyish-blue background which can slightly vary from specimen to specimen. 

In terms of body shape, Convict Cichlid resembles the African Cichlid more than the rest of the Cichlids. They have a very pronounced dorsal fin which roughly starts around where the pectoral fins start.

The dorsal fin extends to where the caudal peduncle starts.

Their ventral and pectoral fins are moderately sized and slightly transparent. They also have an anal fin which starts around the middle of the body and terminating at the start of the caudal peduncle.

Fascinatingly, their anal and dorsal form a streamlined pattern making the fish appears like a sail when moving in the water. Their caudal fin is semi-transparent and moderately sized.

Sexing any fish is an important aspect of knowing it even for the sake of breeding. 

Convict Cichlid are monomorphic which means you won’t be able to sex them until they are sexually matured.

Luckily they aren’t at all challenging to sex when they reach maturity. 

A pair of Convict Cichlid

Differences between male and female Convict Cichlid.

  • Males are longer and usually have bigger anal and dorsal fins. 
  • Contrary to most fish, male convict cichlids have brighter coloration
  • Females usually develop yellow/red spots on their belly once they become sexually matured. 
  • Females have more striking black stripes.
Albino Convict Cichlid


Luckily, these fish don’t grow quite as large as other popular cichlids like Oscar or Jack Dempsey. This is a very desirable advantage if you don’t want to keep a large tank.

On average, Convict Cichlid will grow to a maximum size of around 4 to 5 inches. In rear cases, the males can grow up to 6 inches while the female stops at 4.5 inches.

Whether or not yours will grow to pass the average will depend on the quality of care given to it and genetic factors. 


With the right care and ideal tank conditions, convict cichlid lifespan is between 8 to 10 years. 

Similar to size, their lifespan could also be affected by genetic factors of the individual fish. 

Although hardy, they may not be able to approach that 8 years’ mark if they are not receiving proper care. 

These fish can live pass 10 years as there were some reports of that happening.

Temperament and general behavior

Like most cichlids, Convict Cichlids are also known for their aggressive and territorial behavior. They usually act by chasing and harassing most fish that horn into their territory.

This is the kind of fish that always wants to feel that it has a territory it controls. This is why it’s incredibly important to provide them with a spacious tank equipped with lots of hiding places. 

Considering their activeness, it’s imperative you house them with only suitable mates. Otherwise, they will continue to harass them and the other fish will have no chance of avoiding them.

While Convict Cichlid spends most of their time in the middle section of the tank they often swim down to the substrate and occasionally do some digging. 

In most cases, they create a lot of mess from that digging. Consequently, it’s important to factor this when choosing the filtration system for their tank.

Tank size and Requirements

For keeping a Convict Cichlid, the recommended minimum tank size is 30 gallons. If you want to keep a pair, it’s more suitable to go for 40 gallons giving their aggressive and territorial behavior.

This will allow you to provide decorations that will make each fish have all it desires to feel at home. 

After selecting the appropriately sized tank, the next important thing to do is equip the tank so that it closely resembles their natural habitat. 

Some key elements are usually used to produce the desired result. These elements include; substrate, plants, filters and decorations.

Amatitlania nigrofasciata


The best substrate to use for the Convict Cichlid tank is sand. This is because of their digging habit and sand will be easier to shift through and will not end up scratching them. 

A coarse substrate will be difficult to shift though and will not easily settle back thereby leading to a formation of small piles and craters in your aquarium. 

Make sure to use a qualitative sandy substrate that will support the plant you intend to use.


Plants are critical part of the Convict Cichlids tanks as their habitat is also enriched with plants. 

Bearing their digging habit in mind is also important here, because any plant attached to the substrate can become quiet vulnerable. 

That’s not to say you can only use floating plants. You can also use rooted plants, as long as they are resilient like Java Fern or Amazon Sword, they will survive.

Anchoring the plants to something stable is a good idea in case you have a more aggressive tank digger. Yes, some Convict Cichlids are more aggressive than others when it comes to the digging. 

Tank decoration

Plants alone will not provide the hiding places the Convict Cichlid requires to feel at home. This is why it’s important to decorate the tank with elements such as driftwood, pieces of rocks and caves. 

These elements will not just make your tank look nicer, they help greatly especially when you have more than one fish in the tank. You will not be able to house a pair of Convict Cichlid if your tank is scantly planted and decorated.

Finally, make sure that any element you put in the tank is firmly placed so that it does not collapse when the soil around it is shifted.


Convict Cichlid produces more waste than your typical nano fish. They can also stir up the water to become turbid in the course of their digging if the tank isn’t fitted with a capable filtration system. 

In light of these facts, it’s highly recommended you at least make use of qualitative hang on back filter for their tank. 

It’s worth reminding that these fish appreciate milder currents, so consider that when setting up the filtration system.

Water Parameters

Convict Cichlid require a temperature range of 79°F to 84°F, a water hardness range of 10 to 15 dH and a pH level of 6.5 to 8.5. These parameters closely resemble the conditions of the warm south American water they originated from.

They can tolerate a varying range of water conditions due to their hardiness. 

That said, you should always strive to achieve and maintain what is ideal. This can not be achieved without performing scheduled tests with qualitative test kits. 

Food and Diet

Convict Cichlids are omnivorous. Insects, crustaceans and plants detritus are what make the most of their diet in the wild. In captivity, they are mostly fed a mix of flakes, pallets and live foods such as brine shrimp and bloodworms. 

Remember that proper diet is one of the key factors that affect health and overall lifespan. 

For this reason, you need to make sure any food you give them is high quality and the diet is as varied as possible. Just like humans, they don’t appreciate consuming the same food day-in day-out.

You should feed them twice, the usual morning and night schedule is alright. One last important thing is, make sure you avoid overfeeding them to avoid many negative consequences.


By happy chance, Convict Cichlids are one of the easiest freshwater fish you can breed in home aquariums. 

To carry out the process you will need a spacious breeding tank, breeding pairs, correct tank layout and conditions. 

For the breeding tank, its recommended you use 50-60 gallons. When it comes to the breeding pairs make sure you can sex the fish so that you can know if you have both male and female in the tank. 

Next, make sure you include some pieces of rocks and caves in the tank so that the female can use them to lay her eggs. 

The water parameters in the breeding tank should be similar to the main tanks. The only difference is the temperature which should be raised to up to 84°F. 

At this stage, you should expect the fertilization and you won’t have to worry about the parents eating the eggs. 

Unlike many egg and fry eaters, Convict Cichlids are good parents and will restlessly protect the eggs.

This is why it’s a terrible idea to breed them in a community aquarium. Any fish that stroll around the eggs will get aggressively attacked by them. 

The eggs will hatch in around 4 days and can give rise to about 30 fries. 

Convict Cichlid parental instinct will continue and they will keep finding the little one foods and shelter, and protect them from any other fish. 

That said, it’s a normal occurrence for the father to become aggressive to the fry at this early stage. The best thing to do to solve this is to remove him and leave the fry with the mother. 

Tank Mates

Owing to their aggressive and territorial behavior, Convict Cichlids are not ideal for community tanks. If you’re are a beginner hobbyist and don’t have experience with aggressive species its best to keep them alone with no other species.

You can keep only one or keep male and female but if you keep more than that, aggression will develop over territory. 

The same goes for if you don’t want the headache of aggression in your tank. The fact is, even if you keep them with their ideal mates there is no guarantee that there won’t be any aggression in the tank. 

On the other hand, if you are an experienced aquarist and want to house your Convict Cichlid with other species there some guidelines you need to follow in selecting the species. 

Firstly, you need to avoid small species. It doesn’t matter if they are aggressive or not because they won’t be able to depend themselves from the convict cichlid. 

That means you cannot keep these fish with any nano fish. Any fish that grows less than 4 inches will not be a good fit.

Secondly, it’s best to not keep them with species with a very passive temperament especially if the species are not very big.

So essentially, the best Convict Cichlid tank mates are fish that can very well depend themselves. Some of these fish include;

Common Diseases

Convict Cichlid is a very hardy and sturdy fish which is why it doesn’t have any species-specific diseases. 

But, like most freshwater fish it doesn’t mean it cannot get affected by common fish diseases like ich and fin rot. 

These fish can become very susceptible to diseases if their water quality drops or if they are not receiving adequate qualitative diet. 

If you haven’t come across ich, it’s a disease caused by a parasite and makes the fish body appear as if its sprinkled with salt. It causes the feeling of itch in which case you will see a fish attempting to rub itself against objects.

Fin rot, however, can either be caused by a bacteria or a fungus. The easiest indicator of this disease is a weakened fin. You will notice the tissue around the fin edge appears infirm. 

Both ich and fin rot are mostly caused by poor water quality. Remember that diseases are generally more curable at an early stage. This is why it pays to develop the habit of observing  your fish occasionally. 

By doing this you will become familiar with the rhythm of their activity. This will in turn help easily spot a problem because you will be able to notice anything out of the ordinary. 

You can lower the chances of your Convict Cichlid getting sick significantly by maintaining top-notch water quality and feeding them a healthy diet. 


I hope you have realized by now that keeping Convict Cichlid isn’t as challenging as most people think. 

It basically entails providing the fish with a minimum of 30-gallons tank equipped with a good amount of aquarium plant and tank decoration.

These things are just to offer the fish the hiding spots they desire and at the same time lower the chances of in fighting if you have more than one fish.

The tank setting and water parameters need to resemble what you find in the fish habitat. After this, you need to make sure you provide them with a qualitative diet that is also varied.

This, plus a well maintained ideal water condition will help lower the chances of diseases affliction. In case you choose to include other species in the tank you need to make sure they can depend themselves.

This pretty much sums up the Convict Cichlid care. If you a beginner hobbyist I recommend you don’t keep them with any other species. In my opinion, aggression is the only challenging aspect of keeping these fish.

I hope this guide has cleared everything for you regarding keeping them. I also hope it helps you make the right call if you are deciding whether to give them a shot or not.

Own a Convict Cichlid? I will appreciate if you share any experience you think can benefit this guide.

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