Convict Cichlid: Ultimate Guide (Care, Diet, Breeding & More)

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Written By Matt Stevens

Hi, I'm Matt! I've been obsessed with fishkeeping for over 15 years now and created this site to share my knowledge with others.

Convict Cichlid, sometimes called the Zebra Cichlid, is an aggressive freshwater fish with the iconic black and white stripes all over their bodies. They are one of the most sought-after freshwater Cichlids that have been fundamental to the success of several studies involving fish behavior.

Convict Cichlids exhibit the traits of an ideal aquarium fish; easy to care for, resilient in captivity, and perfect for intermediate and beginner level hobbyists.

However, as a first-time Cichlid keeper, you will have plenty to learn before turning to the Convict Cichlids. Fortunately, this comprehensive guide covers everything from the fish’s lifespan to appearance, diet, behavior, tank mates, breeding, and more.

Species Overview

Convict Cichlid, sometimes known as Amatitlania nigrofasciata, is a special Cichlid variety of the Cichlidae family that’s widespread in the fishkeeping community. They are native to many Central American countries within the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, including Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

Convict Cichlids prefer natural streams, lakes, and other water bodies with moderately flowing current and plenty of vegetation in their ordinary habitat. 

Because some Convict Cichlid varieties have been found in Australia, one could argue these fish are not only endemic to the Central American region. However, that’s often attributed to the existing environmental conditions in the Asian country that almost replicate the fish’s original habitat in Central America.

While Convict Cichlids aren’t recognized as endangered species, there’s a real concern overfishing in their natural habitat could negatively impact their wild population in the long run.

ColorBlack, white
LifespanUp to 8 Years
Care LevelModerate
Behavior & TemperamentAggressive
CompatibilityLimited; aggressive
Food and DietOmnivores
SizeUp to 6 Inches
Tank SetupFreshwater; driftwood and caves
Tank Size (Minimum)30 Gallons


But how long do Convict Cichlids live? Perhaps you may wonder.

A typical Convict Cichlid will live for around 8 to 10 years. Under rare circumstances, these fish may surpass the standard lifespan in captivity. But as usual, everything depends on the level of care and the actual tank water conditions at home.

Assuming you constantly expose them to chronic stress or keep Convict Cichlids in a substandard environment, don’t expect them to reach their full potential in captivity.

Like habitat and environmental conditions, genetics also influence the fish’s average lifespan at home.

Sometimes, Convict Cichlids won’t reach their full potential even with the best possible conditions. That’s why we encourage aquarists to pay close attention to the fish’s general appearance from the start and get their desired species from a reputable seller.


Interestingly, the Convict given name is symbolic and represents the fish’s unique color pattern in maturity. Usually, these fish display beautifully colored black bars running vertically along with their bodies. A single species can have as many as eight such bars at any given time, depending on the genetic composition. 

Naturally, the color intensity will be influenced by a ton of factors, including the type of fish, gender, and age. Now, if you ignore the vertical bars, the rest of Convict Cichlid’s body will have beautiful grayish-blue coloration.

On the other hand, the general body profile assumes the typical Cichlid shape and will resemble the African Cichlid in many ways.

However, these fish possess long, semitransparent dorsal fins that extend towards the caudal peduncle. You may notice the black strips spreading towards the dorsal fin even though this won’t be visible in all species.

Conversely, the pectoral and ventral fins are moderately sized and take on a semitransparent coloration. The anal fins are long enough and extend from the midsection towards the caudal peduncle.

The anal and dorsal fins, in particular, will be captivating as they create a beautiful effect when the fish’s darting from one position inside the tank to another. Just like the rest of the fins, the caudal fin is fairly transparent and large enough to balance the fish’s body during swimming.


So, how big do Convict Cichlids get? Now, this is where it gets interesting. Typically, Convict Cichlids will measure about 4-5 inches in full length, and this won’t be great news to many aquarists looking for a large-sized Cichlid species.

Usually, this fish is classified among the smallest Cichlid species, and rightly so. But as many will agree, the biggest advantage to keeping a small-sized fish species like Convict Cichlids is the fact they readily thrive in small tanks.

The best part? Unlike most freshwater fish species with varying care needs throughout their lives, Convict Cichlids have an ordinary growth rate. They will be happy with a standard tank as long as the other conditions are satisfying.

Convict Cichlid Care

Convict Cichlid care is easy if you understand the fish’s behavior, feeding habits, and ideal tank mates.

Also, this is the perfect time to consider such aspects as tank size and water parameters that could make or break a wholesome fishkeeping adventure.

Many aquarists may have the perfect plan for keeping healthy Convict Cichlids at home. But it gets trickier when it comes to implementation.

Perhaps the most challenging part of keeping healthy Convict Cichlids will be determining suitable tank mates. Or maybe designing the right tank.

So, the following paragraphs will highlight the basics of keeping a flourishing Convict Cichlid community at home.

Tank Size

First things first, Convict Cichlids are amazingly active in captivity and will be distressed if kept in a small tank. Ideally, you should consider a minimum tank size of 30 gallons when setting up the fish’s habitat.

The common claim that these fish do well with a 20-gallon tank is nothing but pure misinformation. You see, the first step to keeping healthy freshwater fish at home is to design a suitable habitat. And normally, this involves the right tank size with enough swimming space and suitable decorations.

It becomes even more essential for an active fish species like Convict Cichlids that can easily show their aggression if kept in a small habitat. Remember, a small tank inhibits the fish’s growth and will take a huge toll on their health and well-being. 

Water Parameters

Convict Cichlids are hardy fish species that can thrive under different conditions in captivity.

Typically, you will have the freedom to tweak the existing tank water conditions to suit your fish, depending on how well you understand their requirements.

But even with fluctuating water conditions, there’s always just the right level to target at any time. And for Convict Cichlids, you will want to stick to the following parameters;

  • Water Temperature: 79°F-84°F
  • Water Hardness: 10-15 dH
  • pH Levels: 6.5-8.0

We might have mentioned that Convict Cichlids are a resilient species both in the wild and in captivity, but this doesn’t eliminate the need to provide the best possible living conditions at home.

So, investing in the right aquarium testing kit would be a smart decision to help you assess the tank water conditions and address major shifts that would negatively impact your beautiful Cichlids.

What to Put in Their Tank?

Like most freshwater fish, Convict Cichlids crave a natural-looking environment with suitable elements that promote healthy living. Of course, this will start with substrate choice.

Convict Cichlids are famous for their digging prowess and will occasionally try to uproot the live plants and other decorative elements.

Besides, a rough substrate like gravel can easily injure your pet fish in captivity. Now, this leaves you with the smooth sandy substrate as the best choice to cover the bottom of the tank.

Aside from that, Convict Cichlids will also do well with the right live plants like the hornwort and Anubias.

In general, you can go with the suitable floating types even though you will have the freedom to customize the entire tank depending on what works best at home. Furthermore, the fish’s erratic digging behavior will also determine the kind of plants you will want to include in the aquarium.

To top off the tank décor, you can introduce driftwood and rocks to the fish’s habitat. Such practices will make your Convict Cichlid more secure and comfortable inside the tank by eliminating aggression and keeping intruders at bay.

In conclusion, don’t forget to provide a moderately flowing water current to minimize the risks of suffering bodily harm.

Common Diseases

As far as Convict Cichlid care goes, you won’t have any species-specific diseases to worry about if you keep a thriving community at home.

However, these Cichlids can be vulnerable to common freshwater diseases, which is why we advocate for the best possible tank water conditions throughout the fish’s lives. Fin rot and Ich are the two most common diseases in a Convict Cichlid community.

As the name suggests, the fin rot disease specifically targets the fish’s sparkling fins and will cause them to either fall off or lose their glistening appearance over time. Usually, this disease has a parasitic origin, and the symptoms may go away with the right medicines.

On the other hand, Ich is a term you will often hear in any freshwater fish community. It also has a parasitic origin with a classic presentation of multiple, visible, white spots all over the fish’s body, including the gills.

By now, you might have known that the leading cause of freshwater diseases like Ich is reduced tank water quality. So, the easiest way to keep a healthy Convict Cichlid community is to create the best possible habitat with suitable tank mates, food, and decorations.

Always pay attention to your fish’s swimming habits and dietary patterns to identify any abnormalities at the right time. By doing so, you will realize that most of these conditions are not a major issue with ideal tank water conditions. However, they can easily worsen if you ignore the fish’s most critical care guidelines.

What Do Convict Cichlids Eat?

And by the way, what do Convict Cichlids eat?

Just like the tank water conditions, it’s important to have a clear picture of Convict Cichlid’s feeding habits at home. These fish are natural omnivores and are fond of a mixture of plant matter and insects to get essential nutrients in the wild.

While they are never selective in captivity, Convict Cichlids will only thrive if you provide high-quality foods with all the key nutrients they need to flourish.

They enjoy a healthy meal of flakes and pellets in captivity. Also, live foods are a valuable option to provide additional nutrients for survival.

Speaking of Convict Cichlid food, these fish will be happy with bloodworms and brine shrimp that you can provide as a one-time snack.

What’s more, Convict Cichlids appreciate a clear feeding plan to eliminate the risks of overfeeding. Usually, we recommend a twice a day plan that can be perfected with small meals in the morning and at night.

The fact these Cichlids can eat almost anything in captivity always puts them at an increased risk of overeating. So, be sure to provide enough food that they can eat within a few minutes to prevent such complications.

Behavior & Temperament

Are Convict Cichlids aggressive? The simple answer is yes!

And we won’t lie to you here. Like many Cichlids, Convict varieties are quite a territorial species, and learning their aggressive tendencies will be the first step to providing quality care in captivity. They are perfect companions for fellow Cichlids as long as the tank size is right.

Usually, the easiest way to eliminate aggression in a Convict Cichlid community is to design the right tank size with enough swimming space.

Also, the selected tank mates will influence Convict Cichlid’s behavior in captivity. As we had already mentioned, Convict Cichlids thrive with plenty of hiding spots in the aquarium, and that’s also one of the easiest ways to control their aggression.

Despite their territorial behavior, Convict Cichlids are a reasonably active species that will want to explore their new habitat at the slightest opportunity they can find.

They might not be true bottom dwellers, but you will occasionally spot them towards the bottom of the tank, examining the substrate or digging the live plants.

Convict Cichlid Tank Mates

So, what fish can live with Convict Cichlids at home? Your guess is as good as ours.

Of course, Convict Cichlid fish won’t fail to show their aggressive tendencies in captivity from time to time. Fortunately, this won’t stop them from coexisting with specific tank mates, provided they are compatible in captivity.

As you will see, the first place to look for Convict Cichlid tank mates is in the same natural habitat.

You can keep Convict Cichlids alone if you are worried about their aggressive temperament and the possibility to engage in endless fights at home. In that case, we would recommend a single species in captivity or one male and female combination.

Remember, keeping more Convict Cichlid fish at home doesn’t necessarily mean building a nice-looking aquarium. Instead, it could only lead to endless fights and even more territorial behavior among the chosen species.

On the same note, we wouldn’t recommend a male and female species as part of a community tank because it never ends well for either of them.

Regarding the possible companions, these are some of the best options you can consider with Convict Cichlids;


Luckily, breeding Convict Cichlids in captivity is easier than many people think. And you could have multiple species within a short period if you keep these fish in an ideal environment.

Usually, the ideal breeding conditions involve the right tank size, diet, and decorations. Give the female species a minimum of 60-gallon tank with enough rocks and caves, and they will instantly get in the mood, ready to pair up with highly energetic male Convict Cichlids.

When breeding begins, you can slowly increase the water temperature as you aim for anything between 80°F-84°F.

Interestingly, Convict Cichlids are the exact opposite of the Goldfish species when caring for their little ones. Protecting the baby fish is very important to Convict Cichlids. They will show their impressive parental instincts by defending their young ones from possible intruders at home.

These fish won’t hesitate to attack any potential aggressor that comes close to their little ones, and that’s the main reason you can never keep them as part of a community tank.

After fertilization, the little fish will first feed on egg sacs for the first seven days of their lives before switching to baby brine shrimp and other fish food. You should consider removing the adult fish from the breeding tank if they show slight aggression towards the little ones.

Final Thoughts

The world of Cichlids is just as mesmerizing as it can get, and if you thought Green Terror Cichlids were the cutest Cichlid variety, you probably haven’t seen Convict Cichlids.

Convict Cichlid is an interesting freshwater fish and rewarding addition to any aquarium. They are one of the most sought-after freshwater Cichlids for a good reason and will add quite some flair to even the most boring aquarium.

Despite their resilience, we believe these fish would be excellent for aquarists with some form of experience in keeping other aggressive or semi-aggressive species.

Also, if you’ve had a fantastic experience keeping Convict Cichlid or any other Cichlid species before, we will be happy to hear your beautiful story.