Convict Cichlid Care, Tank Setup, Size, Mates & Breeding

Convict Cichlid is one of the aggressive Central American cichlid species that comes from the Cichlidae family. The name is derived from the striking black bars across their bodies.

Convict Cichlid’s care level is moderate. They are suitable for intermediate hobbyists who have a background in Cichlids. Because of their aggressive nature, they’re not suitable for community tanks.

The black convict, often referred to as the zebrafish, is among the most well-known species in the cichlid family.

It’s an extremely hardy fish. Convict Cichlid care is easy, which makes it ideal for novice fish keepers.

In this post, we’ll discuss everything you should be aware of when keeping fish, including diet requirements, the best tankmates, configuration, pink and white color varieties, ways to manage its aggressiveness, and much more.

Convict Cichlid Facts & Overview

Convict Cichlid Care Level:Moderate
Color:White, black
Lifespan:Over 8 years
Convict Cichlid Max Size:up to 6 inches
Minimum Tank Size:30 gallons
Tank Setup:Freshwater: caves and driftwood
Compatibility:Limited: aggressive
pH6.5 to 8.0
Temperature68 to 77 F (20 to 25 C)
Hardness9 to 20 dkH

A black convict-cichlid (Archocentrus nigrofasciatus) often referred to as the zebra cichlid is an aquatic fish native to the warm waters that flow through South America.

It is usually located in larger waterways and in rivers securing itself in the rocks or sunken branches.

The convict cichlid is among the most well-known species of the Cichlidae family next to the Oscars and angelfish. They are a favorite among the fishkeeping world due to their durability, their low maintenance requirements, and vivid color. They are also fantastic beginner breeder fish because of their receptiveness towards mating.

Males can grow to 6 inches long and females can reach 4.5 inches. These are tiny fish that require little space in the tank. The minimum size recommended is 30 gallons.

In general, novices should not be kept in tanks together with other convicts because of their aggressive or territorial nature.

Typical Behaviour

The convict cichlid is a lively fish, well-known for its aggressive and territorial behavior. This behavior is typical among numerous species of cichlids.

If a fish invades its territory the fish can defend itself by chasing and hounding other fish.

They spend the majority of their time close to their habitat in caves or vegetation.

Being prolific breeders, they are fantastic parents so their ability to parent is another characteristic you’ll see. They are very attentive to their children and you can see them caring for their young.

Convict cichlids can be described as a biparental species, meaning that parents typically cooperate in completing tasks that are specific to their respective parenting roles while rearing their offspring. This is normal in the cichlid fish. Studies have revealed coordination between males and females.

The female prefers to stay within the brood and engage in activities that involve the brood fanning eggs, while males tend to patrol the area in pursuit of invaders and protect them from predators.

Each Convict Cichlid parent is capable of carrying out all parental care tasks, to a certain degree. But, since parents are biparentally custodial, each sex will be focusing on a group of behavior and is prone to alter during each brood cycle.

In fact, it’s noticed that when any of them are taken away, one parent can still rear the offspring independently and have the ability to perform all parental actions.

When the young offspring develop and turn into free-swimming, fry activities are shared more evenly between parents. This seems to be a normal pattern in different species of cichlids too.

Are Convict Cichlid Fish Aggressive?

Yes, they’re aggressive and highly territorial as many other species of the Cichlidae family.

Convict cichlids are thought to be extremely aggressive and territorial when breeding and possess various complex behaviors and adaptations. They are believed to be a result of the environment as well as individual development and trait variations.

Because of their aggressive nature, they are frequently investigated to find out the factors that could trigger their behavior.

Convict cichlids typically display their aggressive behavior by chasing and biting, which entails bursts of speed that are directed at the intruder and also demonstrating their aggression through the size of their bodies.

It has been proven that environmental factors such as changes in temperature or previous residence can influence the behavior of cichlids. territorial aggression. Cichlids from convicts are more aggressive at temperatures of 30 °C rather than 26 °C. This could be due to the fact that convict cichlids prefer to build breeding areas and spawn at temperatures of 30 degrees Celsius.


Convict cichlids take their name due to their appearance, which is both black and white stripes. They are also known as the Zebra the cichlid.

As they grow older, they’ll be able to see 8/9 and black stripes across their grey bodies. Males tend to sport larger anal and dorsal fins, while females will be smaller with more colors.

Although the majority are black, because of selective breeding, you are able to discover white, pink, and gold varieties.

Pink Convict Cichlids are increasingly widespread and feature the body color of yellow/pink with no vertical stripes.

Incredibly, the majority of convict Cichlids can be monomorphic which means you’ll have to wait until they’re sexually mature to know the distinction between females and males.

While most members of the Cichlidae family are large fish, the Convict is the smallest of the bunch, males averaging 6 inches and females to 4.5 inches.

Size of Convict Cichlid Fish

A male Convict Cichlid can grow up to 6 inches, whilst the females will reach around 4.5 inches.

How Do You Know The Gender of a Convict Cichlid?

If they’re young and not keen on breeding It is difficult to distinguish males from females Convict Cichlids. In the spawning season, the females are seen to have a yellow patch on their bellies. Males might begin to show an even more prominent forehead in reality, which is a hormone-directed coalescence from fat.

The difference between a female and a male Convict is easy.

Males tend to be larger and typically have larger anal and dorsal fins.

As is the norm for fish, females are more vibrant in color with yellow/red areas on their belly after they reach sexual maturity. Additionally, she will have more vibrant black stripes as opposed to her male counterparts.

Habitat and Tank Requirements

Convict Cichlids naturally reside in these warm river systems that flow through Central America, ranging from Costa Rica across to Panama.

Alongside rivers, they are located in streams as well. They prefer slow-moving water and prefer sandy and rock substrates. They may be seen hiding under fallen branches as well as sporadic patterns of rocks.

Because of their extensive natural habitat, they’ve learned to adapt to a range of water conditions. due to this, they are hardy fish.

In building your aquarium, you are able to use rocks and plenty of plants. They also like a slower current. For substrate, you ought to make use of sand. You can also utilize driftwood.

Convicts are extremely strong swimmers and tend to rearrange tanks, therefore, make sure to employ sturdy plant species (Amazon swords, or Java Ferns) and anchor them.

They’ve even been known to tear up the substrate and leave a lot of debris!

This is why it is essential to be able to set a solid filtration system up to prevent the water from becoming murky. A quality hanger that is sturdy and secure on the back is the only thing you need to make use of.

Convict Cichlid Tank Setup

Since they’re accustomed to the warm waters of South America, you should ensure that you keep the temperature of your water between 79 and 84° F. Because of their toughness it is not necessary to worry about pH levels, but you should try to maintain the pH within 6.6-7.8.

What Size Tank Do Convict Cichlids Need?

If you’re looking to keep two Convicts The smallest suitable size tank is 30 gallons. But, because of their ferocity, we’d suggest the use of a larger tank that is 40 gallons.

If you intend to breed them, you need at minimum a 50-gallon tank.

Tank Care

The aquarium must be decorated in a manner that mimics the natural habitat and should include rocks as well as artificial caves to breed. The majority of experts are of the opinion that a pair of convicts must be kept in a 20-gallon aquarium or more.

It has been described as one of the unfussy omnivores and most types of prepared fish food are easily accepted. They also eat aquatic plants. Therefore, plastic plants or sturdy plants like java and water sprite are highly recommended.

Convict cichlids tend to be territorial during breeding and pairs should be kept in a separate aquarium. Care for the Convict Cichlid brood is reduced in strains of aquariums. Because of the species’ propensity to dig externally, external filtration is superior to gravel filter systems.

Its tiny dimensions, and easy breeding and keeping it the ideal cichlid to introduce beginners as well as advanced aquarists keen to observe bonding between couples along with brood care.


In its natural habitat within the warm rivers of Central America, Convicts are known to eat insects, mosquito larvae, and plant waste.

They are omnivores that naturally exist and don’t have a problem with fussy eating; they will consume almost everything which is in aquariums.

Omnivore is the term used to describe a person who will consume both meat and plants.

While Cichlids can survive on many different kinds of food, your goal should be to keep healthy Cichlids. So, you need to ensure that their diet is in line with their nutritional needs.

As with all our recommendations, the primary ingredient in their diet is an excellent Flake or Pellet. It is important to ensure that the pellet is made specifically for Cichlids.

Alongside their flakes or pellets, you can give them live foods like Blood Worms, Black Worms, Daphnia, and Brine Shrimp.

If you’re unable to locate the fresh ones, then the frozen ones are sufficient. Alongside being a meat source, also feed them blanched vegetables like broccoli, lettuce, and carrots.

When feeding them, be sure to give them small portions over the course of the day, not one big portion. a large amount of food can degrade the tank and cause destabilization of the water’s condition. It is recommended for feeding the fish 2-3 times per day instead.

Tank Mates

If you’ve been around Convict Cichlids before, you might be excused from thinking that they have timid behavior.

However, they are very territorial and could be aggressive and aggressive when fish venture into their territories. They generally are not a great option for a tank that is a community.

The ideal Convict Cichlid tank mates should be strong, similar-sized fish. The fish that are suitable include T-Bar Cichlids, Honduran red points, Green Terrors, Jewel cichlids, Salvini, Jack Dempsey, the plecostomus, pictus catfish, and other convicts (Keep in mind as Dempseys get bigger than convicts, territorial problems will be an issue).

Other fish that move quickly, like Giant Danios, can be used as Dither fish.

Remember, If you own a couple that breeds Convicts in tanks of 40-gallon or less, you will probably not be able to keep them together in the tank with their tank co-mates.

However, if your Convict Cichlid tank mates have established any kind of dominance, they’ll have breeding and living with each other.

If you’re new to the sport, we suggest keeping Cichlids inside their tank, with no other species. This is the most effective method of avoiding any issues caused by other fish.

If you do have some experience and are planning to include Convicts in an existing community tank, there are some guidelines you should adhere to.

The first thing to do is ensure that you don’t share them with small or aggressive fish.

It is best to keep them in larger species that are able to be able to defend their territory like,

  • Green Terror
  • Jack Dempsey
  • Pictus Catfish
  • Giant Danio
  • Other South American Cichlids (Jewel and Firemouth).

Keeping Convict Cichlids Together

Convicts are able to be kept in a group but you must be ready to allow them to breed.

It is also not recommended to keep breeding pairs within a community tank because you’re inviting conflict and trouble. If you’ve read the behavior review above, you’ll be aware that they’re territorial in the best of times. However, during breeding periods, aggression can get more intense.

Each Convict is unique, so it is difficult to come up with generalizations However, generally speaking, there will be males dominating the entire tank, if the aquarium is too small for them, therefore, make sure to use it at minimum a 50-gallon tank.

Convict Cichlid Breeding

Breeding of Convict Cichlid can be as easy as having a male and female tank, with enough water quality and adequate food. There isn’t any special equipment needed.

Because of the prolific breeding, they have in the wild, there is extremely little need for Convict fry. In fact, one is likely to find their tank overflowing with an inbreeding number of Convicts with no avenues to adopt them.

One area where Convicts excel at is breeding. They can be extremely simple to breed and can make excellent parents.

Many species don’t reproduce in your aquarium. Convicts are a notable exception. Make sure you have a sufficient aquarium (50 gallons) with the right layout. Then, your fry will soon be on its way!

The sexual maturity stage is reached around 7 months old so they are ready to breed after 7 months. It is essential to have a pair of males and females (read the description section below for more details on this) and they’ll spawn almost all the time.

In nature, females lay eggs in caves or on rocks, so it is important to replicate the natural environment in your breeder tank as closely as you can. You can make use of flat stones or flower pots, to build caves, but they don’t need much, so almost anything can suffice.

For water, the parameters are based on the guidelines in the previous paragraph (in the Tank and Habitat Requirements Section) however, there is one change: heating the water to 84degF.

After the male fertilizes the eggs the female will protect the eggs while the male will protect the perimeter.

In the next 4 days, you can expect the eggs to hatch, and you’ll have approximately 30 little Convicts! This is when you’ll notice the great parents they are since they’ll seek shelter, food, and food and also keep any other fish away from them.

After another 5 days, you should expect them to leave their yolk sac and start to swim.

In addition, It is a good moment when the father may be aggressive to the youngster. To prevent this from happening, take him out of the tank and then leave the fry at home with the mother.

Is the Convict Cichlid Fish Perfect for Your Aquarium?

I hope that you now know enough to determine whether the Black Convict Cichlid is the best fish to put in your aquarium.

Their robust nature, ease to care for and vivid colors make them perfect for anyone who is just starting out. They are ideal for those who want to learn about breeding fish.

Because of the territorial nature, it’s not recommended to keep them in a tank alongside other species. Instead, it is best to keep them in their own tank.

Have you kept Convict Cichlids? Tell us about your experiences with them in the comment in the section to follow…


Dibyajyoti Bordoloi is the creator and author of, a third-generation experienced fish keeper and owner of a successful pet breeding farm. He is also a member of the Center for Wildlife Rehabilitation And Conservation (Assam), the Marine Aquarium Societies of North East India, and the Kaziranga Nature Conservancy of Assam.

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