Convict Cichlid – Profile, Care & Facts


Convict Cichlid Care, Feeding, Breeding, Tank Mates (sourceCC BY-SA 4.0)

The Convict Cichlid is a popular aquarium fish kept by most people in their homes and offices. It is a member of the Cichlidae Family, native in the streams and rivers of Central America.

The Convict Cichlid is also known as Zebra Cichlid because of its vertical white and black stripes. It is a relatively small fish that grows to approximately 6.5 inches for the male and 4.5 inches for the female Convict Cichlid fish.

Convict Cichlid require low maintenance and are easy to keep, which makes them popular among beginners in fish keeping. To help you take care of your Convict Cichlid, we will discuss in this article all you need to know about them, tank conditions, tank mates, dietary needs, breeding, brooding and much more.

Convict Cichlid Tank Conditions

Convict Cichlid Tank Conditions

Convict Cichlid Tank Conditions

Originally and commonly, Convict Cichlid are found in the warm fresh water rivers and streams of Central America from the Costa Rica across to Panama.

Convict Cichlid prefer living in slow moving water that mostly has sunken branches and rocks that they use for shelter and hiding.

The daily temperature for the Convict Cichlid in their natural habitat is around 26–29 °C which is 79–84 °F. However, they have learned over time to survive in a variety of water conditions.

While setting up an aquarium for the Convict Cichlid, you should consider their natural habitat conditions. Therefore, ensure the water temperature is around 26–29 °C.

You do not necessarily need to bother much about the PH level of the water, because the Convict Cichlid is a hard fish that has learned to survive in different water conditions.

However, to be on the safe side you can have the PH level within 6.6-7.8. Ensure the tank has lots of rocks and plants to keep the fish comfortable, and the water current is slow. The tank should also have sand to act as substrate in their natural habitat. The water should be fresh water.

It is important to note that Convict Cichlid are omnivorous. With that said, they may end up eating the aquatic plant in the tank. Therefore, consider using plastic plants for the tank. They are also known to be strong swimmers who have the potential to move and rearrange the tank, therefore, anchor your water plant or use strong plants such as Java Ferns.

A strong water filter for a tank with Convict Cichlid is a must. This is because they have a tendency to dig out the sand or substrate in the tank creating a lot of muddy and messy environment.

Convict Cichlid are very aggressive. If you are planning to keep a pair in your aquarium it should be at a minimum of 30 gallons. If you are keeping them for breeding, then the tank should even be larger, at least a 50 gallons tank.

Convict Cichlid Diet and Feeding

Convict Cichlid are naturally omnivorous, they eat both meat and plant matter. In their natural habitat they mostly eat plant debris, small fish, worms, mosquito larvae and small insects.

They are generally good feeders that will eat anything given to them in the aquarium. However, since your aim is to raise a healthy Convict Cichlid, ensure their food has all the nutrition value they require for their growth. To feed your Convict Cichlid, we recommend the pellet or flakes that are specifically produced for Cichlid.

These flakes and pellets are of high quality, produced to meet the all the nutrition necessities for the Cichlid. In addition to the pellets and flakes, you can add fresh or frozen live foods such as Daphnia, Brine Shrimp, or black and blood worms, and blanched vegetables such as carrots, lettuce or broccoli.

Feeding the Cichlid should be done in small portions throughout the day. You can adopt the standard three meals a day rather than one big sized portion once in a day. The large sized portion are not only a healthy issue for the fish, but it could also cause pollution, causing water destabilization in the tank.

Convict Cichlid Tank Mates

Convict Cichlid are very territorial and aggressive which makes them not fit in a community tank. They show their aggression by biting and swimming towards their target at a very high speed in an attempt to chase them away.

If you are a beginner at fish keeping, then it is advisable to keep the Cichlid in their own tanks. However, if you have the experience in fish keeping, then remember to follow rules before introducing them in a community tank. The first rule is to ensure the Cichlid are not kept in a tank that has smaller or less aggressive fish.

The tank mates should be fish of similar size as the Convict Cichlid, for instance:

  • Pictus Catfish
  • Green Terrors
  • Jack Dempsey
  • Jewel Cichlids
  • Firemouth Cichlids
  • Salvini

Other fast moving fish as Giant Danios can also be put in the same tank with the Convict Cichlid.

If you are keeping the Convict Cichlid for breeding, it is important to note they become very aggressive during the breeding period. The male Convict Cichlid exercises dominance in the tank making it difficult to live with other tank mates.

For optimum space and environment, the tank should be more than 50 gallons. Increased temperatures also causes the Convict Cichlid to be more aggressive. Convict Cichlid are more aggressive at 30°C compared to 26°C. You can keep Convict Cichlid together, but be ready that they will mostly breed.

Breeding Convict Cichlids

Breeding Convict Cichlids

Breeding Convict Cichlids

Convict Cichlid are very easy to breed type of fish. At the age of seven months, they are old enough to start their own families. They are known to be serially monogamous, a male and a female Convict Cichlid form a pair and live in one territory and form a couple of very good parents.

In the wild, the female lays eggs inside caves or rocks. The male Convict Cichlid then fertilizes the eggs and after 4 days, you have over thirty little Convict Cichlid.

For your aquarium, you can use stones or plant pots to make breeding sites for the Convict Cichlid. The Convict Cichlid breed well in normal tank water conditions, but with a raise of temperatures to around 30°C.

Convict Cichlid Life Cycle

Sexually mature female Convict Cichlid lay eggs in caves. In the wild, the Convict Cichlid excavate the caves by removing sand underneath rocks. The eggs are attached on the walls of the caves or rocks. The male Convict Cichlid fertilizes the eggs and after approximately four days the eggs hatch.

During the hatching period, the parents keep off predators from the eggs. The female Convict Cichlid protects the eggs while the male Convict Cichlid guards the general perimeter. The adult Convict Cichlid also fan the eggs, day and night, using their fins to ensure the eggs are well oxygenated.

After 3 days of hatching, the larvae absorb yolk sacs and develop fins, making them free swimming fry.

Convict Cichlid give care to both eggs and free swimming fry. The fry swim during the day in a group and return to the cave for the night. The parents ensure the fry return to the cave just before dark by sucking around three to four fry at a time, and delivering them in the cave.

The parents continue to fan the fry over the night as they protect them from predators or any other danger. Both parents remain active in taking care of the little Convict Cichlid. The parents not only protect the fry, but they also help the fry in feeding behaviours such as moving branches or digging the substrate with their fins.

The brooding lasts for approximately three to four weeks in the wild and breeding occurs only once per season. However, in an aquarium, the female can breed as many times as possible, so long as the conditions are suitable.

Convict Cichlid Parental Roles

Convict Cichlid Parental Roles

Convict Cichlid Parental Roles

Naturally, Convict Cichlid are bi-parental species. They collaborate in nurturing the young Convict Cichlid. Their roles are defined during the brooding period although it is carried out in coordination. The female Convict Cichlid tends to stay nearer the eggs and the fry.

They fan the eggs and protect them from predators. The male Convict Cichlid on the other hand protects and guards the entire area. They chase away potential predators and defend the female and the eggs from intruders.

However, both parents are able to perform all the tasks. If one of the parents is removed, the remaining parent can perform all the task that pertain to taking care of the eggs or the fry. If your Convict Cichlid are living in a community tank, the male Convict Cichlid will get very aggressive during the breeding and brooding cycle.

You can put it in a separate tank after hatching to limit the level of aggression. The female Convict Cichlid will independently perform all the parental roles without any difficulty.

Convict Cichlid have a potential of adopting and giving parental care to unrelated young ones who are of the same species. However, the young ones should be of the same size or smaller otherwise they will be perceived as predators.

Adopting other young fish helps to give the Convict Cichlid the dilution effect advantage. This is when the level of predation is lower than normal because the group size is larger.

How to Tell if Convict Cichlid is Male or Female?


Convict Cichlids Male and Female (sourceCC BY-SA 4.0)

It is very easy and straight forward to tell whether a Convict Cichlid is male or female. However, you will have to wait till there are mature to tell the difference because Convict Cichlid are monomorphic.

An adult Convict Cichlid has around eight or nine white stripes across its grey body. A mature male Convict Cichlid is longer, approximately 6 inches, while the female is around 4.5 inches long. The male also have larger dorsal and anal fins compared to the female Convict Cichlid.

The female Convict Cichlid are brighter in colour, and they develop yellow or red spots on their belly as soon as they become sexually mature. They are have more intense and bright black strips compared to their male counterparts.

Most of the Convict Cichlid are black, but due to selective breeding, there are now Convict Cichlid of different varieties and colours such as gold, white and most commonly pink. The pink Convict Cichlid do not have black vertical stripes.

Convict Cichlid Aggressive Behaviour

Convict Cichlid may appear to have a timid temperate, but looks are deceiving, because they are very aggressive. The aggression is evident through harassing or bitting other fish in the tank. Different conditions may lead to increased level of aggression.

Breeding and increased temperatures are the main causes of aggression for a Convict Cichlid. In addition, stress or unfavourable living conditions can also lead to increased aggression for a Convict Cichlid. They are also very territorial especially during the breeding period. The male Convict Cichlid is most likely to take dominance in a tank.

Convict Cichlid are easy to keep type of fish, they are good feeders, eat a variety of food, adapt well in a variety of water conditions and are easy to breed and known to be great parents. This makes them easy to take care of especially for beginners in fish keeping.

Their exciting colours are suitable for an office or home aquarium for those who love to keep fish. Due to their territorial and aggressive nature, it is advisable to keep them in a separate tank, or pick their tank mates carefully.

With that said, we hope you have enough information about Convict Cichlid and how to take care of them. With this information, you can determine if the Convict Cichlid is suitable for your aquarium.

American Cichlids   Updated: May 11, 2022
avatar Hey, I'm Fabian, chief editor at Aquarium Nexus. I really enjoy the aquarium hobby and love sharing my experience with others. If you have any questions feel free to contact me or leave a comment below.

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