Convict Cichlid Care Guide: Tank Size, Mates, Breeding & More

Convict cichlids are beautiful fish but are known for their aggression, so are best suited for experienced fish keepers. Educate yourself on everything there is to know about these fish in our helpful guide.

Convict Cichlid – Quick Facts

In a rush? Check out the quick facts about Convict Cichlids below.

Fish Info

Scientific NameAmatitlania nigrofasciata
Common NamesConvict cichlid, zebra cichlid
AppearanceIt appears oval-shaped, with pointed dorsal and anal fins; one of the smallest cichlids from Central America; The base color of the fish is a blue-grey with vertical black stripes all along its body.
DifficultyThe difficulty in caring for a convict cichlid is that it is aggressive.
DistributionThe convict cichlid is found in Central America in both the Pacific and Atlantic drainages. In Guatemala, it is found in the Rio Suchiate to the Rio Grande de Taracoles. In Costa Rica, it is found in the northwest in the Rio Aguan to the Rio Guarumo in Panama.
LifespanThe lifespan of a convict cichlid is 8-10 years.
ShoalingYes, the convict cichlid is a shoaling fish.
TemperamentThe convict cichlid is an aggressive and territorial fish that is known for its dynamic behavior.
Keep in Groups of1-6, be very careful of tank requirements for larger groups.
Tank MatesWe recommend keeping these fish in their own tank or pairing them with larger Central American cichlids that can defend themselves, as long as they are in a very large tank.
DietThe convict cichlid is an omnivorous fish that will eat anything it can fit in its mouth. Therefore, we recommend a varied diet, including both meat and vegetables.
LengthThe length of a convict cichlid can reach up to 15 cm
Sexual DimorphismMales are larger when mature; females are more colorful.
Breeding DifficultyConvict cichlids are among the easiest tropical aquarium fish to breed. Parents care greatly for their eggs but can be aggressive toward their offspring once they hatch. We recommend separating the kids from the parents as soon as possible

Water/Tank Recommendations

Water TypeFreshwater
Water TemperatureThe ideal water temperature for convict cichlid is 79-84°F (26-28 °C).
Water pHThe ideal water pH for convict cichlid is 6.0-8.0.
Water HardnessThe ideal water hardness for convict cichlid is 5-25 dH.
Tank sizeThe minimum tank size for convict cichlid is 30 gallons, and the recommended tank size is 40 gallons.


The Convict Cichlid is a beautiful freshwater fish that can add some much-needed color to your tank. They’re also very easy to care for, making them an excellent option if you don’t have any experience with aquariums!

In this guide, we cover everything you need to know about Convict Cichlid care. These fish are hardy and will do well in almost any environmental conditions (as long as they aren’t too cold). However, if you want them to live their fullest life, there isn’t a lot of wiggle room when it comes to the recommended parameters below.

About Convict Cichlid

Convict cichlids are fish many people want to keep in their aquariums. They have an interesting look and can be very hardy, making them great for new aquarists looking to get into the hobby.

The convict cichlid comes from Central America, where it lives in rivers near the coast. Because of this, they’re used to warm water with low currents. These conditions have led to some interesting adaptations on their part!


The convict cichlid has a base color of blue-grey with vertical black stripes all along its body. This pattern makes them very easy to identify, and explains where they get their moniker from.

The fins are the same color as the rest of the body except for a small portion at the tips (which is white). The dorsal fin starts in front of and extends beyond its eyes but does not connect to the caudal peduncle like other types of cichlids.

Their Length

The average convict cichlid length is between 10 and 15 centimeters. This makes them one of the smaller species in the Cichlidae family, which includes over 700 different types of fish!

Note: It’s worth noting that this length can vary depending on genetics and how well they are cared for (just like any other freshwater fish).


On average, a convict cichlid will live for 8-10 years. This makes this species one of the longest-living freshwater fish you can get for your aquarium. However, while they are long-lived, it’s important to note that this life expectancy is only possible under excellent conditions and with proper care.

If convict cichlids are kept in a poorly maintained tank, they can experience stress and disease. This can shorten their lifespan significantly.

To help your convict cichlid live as long as possible, you’ll need to stay on top of water conditions and perform routine maintenance on the tank.

Sexual Dimorphism

Males are larger when mature, and females are more colorful.


Convict cichlids are omnivorous fish that live in coastal areas of southeastern Mexico and as far south as Honduras. These fish will hide under rocks and driftwood, waiting for small prey to pass.

When setting up their tank, include plenty of hiding spots so they feel comfortable and can get some rest between active periods! You can use rocks or caves to replicate this shelter. Also, consider adding plants like Java ferns or Anubias barteri.

Caring for Convict Cichlid

The most important thing to remember when caring for convict cichlids is that they need a lot of room to swim.

These fish are very active and spend time at the bottom, middle, and top of your aquarium. So when setting up their tank, make sure it’s big enough to accommodate this behavior!

Here are other tips for keeping these fish healthy:

  • Always keep the tank water clean and well-maintained. We recommend performing partial water changes every one to two weeks. Use a gravel vacuum to ensure there’s no waste or uneaten food hiding in the substrate.
  • Don’t overcrowd the aquarium with too many other fish species. The convict cichlid needs plenty of space for itself! It will become aggressive if it feels cramped.


Convict cichlids are omnivores and will eat anything you offer them. However, their natural diet consists primarily of crustaceans, other invertebrates, and algae.

You can provide regular fish food like flakes or pellets, but it’s best to stick with live or frozen foods that resemble their natural diet. Brine shrimp, bloodworms, crickets (live or freeze-dried), earthworms, krill, insects, and plankton are all great options for convict cichlids.

If you choose to feed your convict fish live or frozen food, it’s important to monitor how much they are eating. This is because these foods sometimes have more nutrients than flakes, so the fish can get fat! If you notice your fish getting a little plump, then cut back on the amount of live/frozen food you give them.

How Often & How Much to Feed Them

Convict cichlids are active and hungry fish! They’ll search the tank for food regularly. When they find something, they will be persistent in their attempts to get it or anything similar that you might throw into the aquarium.

It is not uncommon to see these fish open up everything from snail shells to clam shells with great determination (and often success). Some even like eating live plants!

Feed your convict cichlid twice a day with quality foods. We recommend sinking pellets as well as small live foods like brine shrimp and daphnia.

Possible Diseases

Convict cichlids can get the same diseases as other tropical and cold-water fish. Some common ailments include Ich (white spot disease), fin rot, fungal infections, bacterial infections, and others.

Before you purchase a convict cichlid, make sure you have tested the water and deemed it safe. If your fish gets sick, quarantine them to ensure that the disease doesn’t spread to other species in your tank.

Tank Setup

A well-designed tank setup is essential to convict cichlid care. This fish requires plenty of open space, caves, and hiding areas for a healthy lifestyle.

The best substrate you can use is sand or fine gravel. Sand mimics the bottom of their natural habitat in rivers, lakes, and streams around Central America. Gravel works too, because it gives them places to dig if they get bored (and believe us, they will).

You should also integrate some live plants into the aquarium as well. Plants offer shelter from other aggressive fish as well as somewhere for your convict cichlids to hide when they feel threatened by others in the tank. In addition, these fish enjoy feasting on algae that grow on leaves!

In terms of equipment: heaters are an important piece of gear you’ll need if your room isn’t naturally warm enough for this species at all times during the year (this varies depending on where you live).

Aquarium Size

For the minimum tank size of 30 gallons, you’ll need to consider how many convict cichlids you want in your aquarium. These are shoaling fish that like company and will become stressed if they don’t have enough space to swim around with others.

Convict cichlids can live together with other types of Central American cichlids as long as there is plenty of room for all of them! If you plan on having a small group, then a 30-gallon tank should be considered the minimum amount needed.

Water Conditions

When setting up a tank for convict cichlids, it’s important to mimic the fish’s natural habitat as closely as possible. This will help them feel more comfortable and less stressed.

Convict cichlids are native to lowland rivers in Central America, where the waters are warm (around 80 degrees). The water is also on the soft side with moderate hardness levels. We recommend making sure your pH levels fall somewhere between 7.0-7.5 since this can prevent potential health issues from occurring.


The water pH should be between 6.0 and 8.0 to ensure that the convict cichlid is comfortable in its environment. However, as stated above, we recommend a PH level of around 7.0-7.5 for the best results.

Since this fish originates from a tropical region, it’s best to stick with these ranges when maintaining levels in your tank.


The ideal water temperature for convict cichlid is 79-84°F (26-28 °C). If you live in a colder area and your aquarium lacks a heater, you’ll need to remedy that immediately!

Convict cichlids are native to streams in Central America, and the surrounding areas have relatively consistent temperatures year-round. As long as your tank replicates these conditions, they should do just fine.

However, be aware that these fish might show signs of stress if the temperature fluctuates in your tank. Fish can become lethargic and stop eating when this happens.


Hardness is the measurement of dissolved minerals in the water. It’s measured as degrees dH (decimal hardness). Fish have varying tolerance levels for hard water, and convict cichlids are best kept in waters with a lower degree of hardness.

The recommended level for convict cichlid fish is between 5 and 25 dH. Anything higher than that may lead to health issues such as scale loss.

There’s no way to adjust the hardness level of your tank without a water change. So make sure you add enough dechlorinator when adding new water to avoid harming any fish.


The best way to keep the water quality in your convict cichlid tank at optimal levels is by using a powerful filter. The exact type of filter you use will depend on the size of your tank and how many fish are living in it, but any reliable hang-on or canister system will do just fine.

Be sure this system has the capacity to cycle all the water through once per hour (this might be more than you need if you have only one or two fish) and also remove waste efficiently.

Aquarium Plants

Want to add some plant life into the mix?

There are several great options for convict cichlid tank plants. You can go with floating or rooted, but you need to choose wisely! This is because these fish have a habit of eating soft leaves and pulling up roots that they consider edible (this includes plastic ones too).

The best plan for this species is to use fast-growing hardy plants like pennywort, Amazon sword, water wisteria, Anacharis, hornwort, dwarf hairgrass and Java fern.

Make sure there’s plenty of room in the aquarium, so your fish aren’t overcrowded.

Behavior and Compatibility

Convict cichlids are highly active fish. They’re always on the move and often get into trouble, which can lead to problems with other species of fish.

These fish are known for their nipping behavior, so you must be careful where they interact with other delicate species (such as discus). Their constant movement may also put them at risk of being attacked or eaten by more aggressive species as well. You should keep this in mind when planning your tank setup as well.

How Many to Keep Together

The recommended number of convict cichlids to keep together is usually 6 or 7. When you’re keeping more than this, we recommend a tank that’s at least 40 gallons.

The reason for this is simple: these fish need room to swim and explore their habitat. Keeping too many in one tank can result in aggressive behavior from the fish towards each other.

Note: Another important thing to remember is that convict cichlids are shoaling fish. This means they will feel more comfortable in a larger group than when on their own.


As we mentioned earlier, convict cichlids are known for their dynamic behavior. They’re considered to be shoaling fish as a result of this activity (they like being in groups).

Overall, these are pretty aggressive fish that need plenty of space and swimming room to feel comfortable.

If you’re thinking about keeping one of these fish in a small tank, don’t do it! They will be too aggressive for their own good and can easily injure another fish cohabiting in the same space.

Tank Mates

Tank mates of this species are hard to come by, given their aggressive nature. The best tank mates for convict cichlids are other convict cichlids that can fend off potential trouble from others.

They have also been known to get along with large Central American fish such as Angelfish and Discus. Though it’s not without its problems, it’s probably the safest bet when planning a community tank environment.

Never place them in tanks with small or smaller-sized fish that don’t defend themselves against aggression (such as neon tetras). This will only cause more issues and put your entire aquarium at risk.


Convict cichlids are easy to breed as long as you have a separate breeding tank. The females will lay up to 300 eggs at one time!

These fish make excellent parents in the early stages and can be found caring for their eggs. However, they do become aggressive toward their fry after they have hatched. To avoid this issue entirely, place fry in a separate tank shortly after hatching.

Are Convict Cichlid Fish a Good Choice For Your Tank?

As you can see, convict cichlid care requires a bit of experience and knowledge before the process becomes second nature.

However, it’s not impossible to provide these fish with excellent tank conditions. It just means you have to be extra vigilant about maintaining their habitat!

As always, if you need help or have any concerns, don’t hesitate to contact us through our website page (we love hearing from our readers). We highly encourage owners of all levels to get in touch.


There are several pros when it comes to convict cichlids. These fish:

  • They are easy to breed in captivity and have a very high fertility rate, making them an ideal choice for beginners and advanced aquarists alike.
  • Have fairly low water requirements, which is great if you’re on the fence about getting another aquarium setup.
  • Are great at controlling algae and keeping your tank clean (this can be viewed as a good or bad thing depending on who you ask).


There are a few cons to owning convict cichlids that you need to be aware of.

The most important is their aggression towards other fish in the tank. Their territorial nature can get them into trouble and cause some serious damage if they aren’t kept in small enough groups or tanks (more about that below).


We hope this guide has illustrated the significance of understanding each fish species before bringing them into your home.

Convicts are lovely fish with a unique look, but they’re not for everyone! However, if you have room in your tank and don’t mind some occasional aggression from time to time, then we think they might be perfect for you.

If there are any other freshwater aquarium fish that you would like us to cover in the future, let us know!

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