Convict Cichlid – Species Profile & Facts

It’s a Black Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata), to be precise, but no wonder there are many people who call it Zebra Cichlid as well. Its appearance kind of resembles a zebra after all. This species is very popular among fish enthusiasts thanks to its decorative coloration and pattern.

The Convict Cichlid does not only look awesome but it’s also undemanding. That is some really good news for beginners who would like to add something unique to their community tank. Adding some black and white stripes to an already colorful community aquarium makes it even more awesome.

Keeping them at home is not hard at all, yet there are still quite a few things you need to know. We are here to give you some tips on their diet, the ideal tank setup, water conditions and breeding. You will walk away from this article knowing a lot about these beautiful pets.

First off, let’s see where this species comes from exactly.

Convict Cichlid Natural Habitat

The Convict Cichlid comes straight from South America, the area where the most beautiful fish species come from. They are abundant in numerous rivers and streams which are all warm freshwaters. They can be found hiding among rocks and pieces of wood.

They need to hide, because otherwise they might get eaten by predators. Also, there is a lot of food for them to find in rock crevices and other hiding places.

The main spots where people started to collect them are El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. This fish doesn’t like strong currents, as it’s used to weak water flow in the wild. They became so popular among fish keepers that overfishing was about to become a real concern, but it didn’t get to that point.

Fortunately, it can’t be found on the Red List of the IUCN that keeps track of animals that are about to go extinct. The Convict Cichlid is considered one of the hardiest species in the cichlid family. In the South American waters, they are accustomed to endure wide fluctuations in water parameters.

Convict Cichlid Aquarium Requirements

Basically, you will need to mimic the slow, warm waters and the environment the Convict Cichlid lives in out in the wild. First off, you will need to lay down some sandy or small-grained rocky substrate. Since they love to hide behind rocks and wood, you will need to put plenty of rocks and wood decorations in the tank.

They are going to feel stressed if they don’t have a place to hide near them. We can only encourage you to use plenty of plants as well. This way, you can set up a pretty decorative tank that you will be proud to show to your friends.

Convict Cichlids will bump into plants quite a lot, which is why you need to buy the ones that have stronger roots. We can suggest two of them, which are Java Fern and Amazon Sword. Also, their substrate digging habits will make the water rather turbid.

In order to counter this, you should buy a really good filter that will clear the water from all unwanted particles. The minimum tank size for a Convict Cichlid male and female is 30 gallons. By minimum, we mean that you should only put them in such tank if you absolutely have to.

Otherwise, buy a 40-gallon tank or bigger. In case you are interested in breeding them as well, then it would be best to buy a 50-gallon tank. Fish breeding always requires some specific conditions.

Convict Cichlid Water Conditions

In their natural habitat, Convict Cichlids had to get accustomed to wide fluctuations in water conditions. This made them one of the hardiest fish that you can keep at home. Yes, this also means that setting the water parameters won’t require as much of your attention.

Now the South American waters can be quite warm, so you will need to get a heater. Once you have got it, set it to a temperature between 79 to 84 degrees Fahrenheit and your fish is going to be fine. Thanks to their hardiness, their well-being doesn’t depend as much on the water acidity.

Just to give you an idea about how much it should be, it is best to keep it between 6.6 to 7.8 pH.

Convict Cichlid Diet and Feeding

While hiding, Convict Cichlids constantly look for plant debris, insects and mosquito larvae. These are the best foods for them out there. As you can see, this species eats vegetables and meat-based food as well. It is an omnivore, which leaves you with many possibilities when it comes to feeding.

There is a wide range of food you can give them. Now we are going to talk about those that are the healthiest for them. It is important to give them healthy food because it not only makes them thrive but they will also look better.

Their food should be nutritious, full of the vitamins and proteins they need. Fortunately, there are many flakes and pellets available in pet shops that are specifically made for cichlids. If you want to give them a treat from time to time, then you can always feed them some daphnia, bloodworms, brine shrimp or black worms.

These are all full of proteins and they will also bring out their natural hunting instincts. They become excited when they see some live food they need to catch. It can either be fresh live food or you can buy frozen ones, both are really good.

When it comes to vegetables, you can buy a couple of carrots, broccoli or lettuce, chop them up and blanch them. Then they are going to be ready for the fish to consume. The point is to keep your Convict Cichlids on a diverse diet that provides them with all the nutrients they need.

Feeding them 3 times a day is ideal. Just avoid giving them huge portions because you will only end up with a lot of leftover food in the tank at the end. The water will get contaminated quickly and your fish are going to suffer the consequences. If you notice any leftover food, make sure to collect it while you can.

Convict Cichlid Tank Mates

At a first glance, Convict Cichlids certainly don’t look dangerous. However, this can’t be further from the truth. They are, in fact, rather territorial and they have an aggressive temperament in general. They are willing to guard their own territory at all costs.

This might be bad news for you, but this fish is better to keep in a single species tank. The territorial debates and the tension that arises when you keep it in a community tank is simply not worth it. We can only recommend it to experienced fish keepers who know exactly how to do it.

If you consider this a challenge, then we can provide you with some tips. And, of course, you will probably need to do some further research on the subject. So first off, it is a really bad idea to keep them with species that are either smaller or less aggressive than them.

This might sound counterintuitive, but it is what it is. You need to look for species that are bigger and able to defend themselves properly. This leaves you with a short list of recommended species, such as: Giant Danios, Jack Dempseys, Green Terrors, Pictus Catfish, Firemouth and Jewel Cichlids.

Following our advice, you can set up a pretty exciting aquarium at home.

Convict Cichlid Breeding

This is certainly going to be easier than picking tank mates for the Convict Cichlids. They are not only very easy to breed but also make one of the most responsive parents. For breeding, you will need to invest into a fish tank that is at least 50 gallons big.

It doesn’t even take long for them to become fertile. Once they reach 7 months of age, they are ready to breed. All you need to do is set up the tank properly and put a male and a female into it. The female can lay down the eggs several times a year.

They prefer to lay down the eggs in caves or on rocks so it is going to be your job to provide those. The only change you need to make in the water conditions is to heat the water up to 84 degrees Fahrenheit. The male will fertilize the eggs and they both of them are going to guard them.

Once the eggs hatch after 4 days, about 30 Convict Cichlid fry are going to come out. They are good parents but it is best to remove the male 5 days after hatching. There is always a chance that he can get aggressive towards his fry.


The Convict Cichlid is such a beautiful species to keep at home. Except the fact that they are territorial and hard to keep in a community tank, there is really nothing else to worry about. They can endure a wide range of water conditions and breeding them is easy as pie.

If you are looking for a fish that doesn’t require much from you in order to stay healthy, then this is the one you should choose. Their diet is not complicated either, as there are plenty of foods you can give them. Their decorative looks and interesting personality will surely put a smile on your face.

avatar Noah
I’m Noah, chief editor at VIVO Pets and the proud owner of a playful, energetic husky (Max). I’ve been a volunteer at Rex Animal Rescue for over 2 years. I love learning and writing about different animals that can be kept as pets. read more...

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