How to Breed Convict Cichlids?

Did you know that there are about 300 species of fish bred in captivity?

This number accounts for about 70% of all aquarium marine species. What’s more, only 6% of these species are available commercially. But people still go out of their way to find and keep all kinds of fish, simply because of the benefits.


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How to Breed Convict Cichlids? (sourceCC BY-SA 4.0)

Now, one of the most common fishes you’ll find in today’s aquariums is the Convict Cichlids. And they are quite beneficial to keep considering how easy it is to breed them.

Furthermore, Convict Cichlids are beautiful, quite hardy, and can offer an excellent learning experience for any beginner aquarist.

Here’s a comprehensive guide on breeding this stunning species of fish.

How to Breed Convict Cichlids?

Also known as zebra cichlids, the convict cichlids are a rather small species of the cichlid family. Females grow to a maximum length of 11 cm (6.5 inches), while males can measure up to 17 cm (6.5 inches) long. Even so, both genders will have a weight of about 35 grams in adulthood.

Breeding convict cichlids is as easy as setting up a simple aquarium and successfully getting a breeding pair. Parameters like water temperature, water quality, and tank size aren’t nearly as vital to this type of fish as they are with many other aquarium species. In other words, convicts can breed in almost any reasonable environment.

You can successfully obtain a cichlid breeding pair using one of the following strategies:

Buy a Group of Cichlids

This is one of the most effective methods of getting an excellent breeding pair, and also the most expensive.

By buying six or more cichlids (males and females), you have a 98.5% chance of getting a breeding pair. Still, buying six fish is pricier than going for only two fish. Also, you’ll need to have an extra tank to keep the fish that remain after you find the ideal pair.

It’s important for the breeding pair to remain comfortable at all times, or they won’t spawn. This is why you ought to separate them from the other cichlids. So if you don’t have an extra tank, you’ll have to return the extra fish to the store.

Mind you, most stores don’t offer any sort of refund on returned ornamental fish.

Get Only the Breeding Pair

The success of this strategy depends on whether you can identify the genders of the cichlids on sale.

Of course, if you buy two males (or females), your project is as good as dead. Luckily, it’s easy to determine the sexuality of mature Convict Cichlids. Many males are larger than females and will have bumps on their heads once they mature.

Moreover, mature females will have a bright red stomach when they are ready to mate and reproduce. Take note that males never spot a red belly in their lifetime.

Prepare Your Tank for Breeding Convict Cichlids

Here’s a step by step process of creating an ideal environment for rearing zebra cichlids:

Set up the Breeding Aquarium

With many convicts, it’s best to go for a semi-large fish tank.

A 20- or 30- gallon is ideal when breeding only one pair of convicts. For more pairs, go for a 40-gallon breeder aquarium. It’s advisable not to cram many breeders in a small-sized tank as this prevent aggression between the fish.

Other requirements for the breeding aquarium include:

Adequate Filtration

Since the female may birth newborns throughout the year, your aquarium’s bioload will be under serious pressure.

As such, you ought to incorporate a power filter with the capacity to filter not less than double the volume of your aquarium. For instance, if you have a 20- gallon tank, your filter should be able to clean at least forty gallons per hour.

Water Parameters

Cichlids breed best in clean water conditions.

It’s where they are most healthy because of reduced stress. Therefore, fill your aquarium with clean water and strive to change about 20-25% of it every three days.

Additionally, the water should always have a temperature of between 75 and 79 degrees. If it exceeds 82 degrees, your fish will get harmed. So invest in a thermometer that allows you to know the water temperature at any moment.

After all, most aquariums come with adjustable heating systems that can be set to a specific temperature.

pH level

Cichlids are happiest in an environment with a pH ranging from 6.5 to 8.0.

You can achieve these levels using crushed coral substrate or white limestone rocks. Equally important, the water hardness (relative) should be around 8-12dH.

And how do you test your aquarium’s pH levels? You can do this using paper test strips, which you’ll get in any pet store. Simply dip the test strips into your tank water and compare the resulting colors with those on the provided chart.

Install Visual Barriers and Hiding Places

If anything, hiding areas and visual barriers go a long way to reduce the amount of aggression between the breeding pair.

Yes, most convicts are so aggressive that the female or male can end up dead or injured. The aggression usually heightens after the females deliver the fry, which is why it’s crucial to ensure that the breeding pair won’t be constantly in each other’s field of vision.

Here are several items you can use to create hiding areas and barriers:


You can find driftwood in any wild environment and it’s very easy to set up in a way that breaks your aquarium’s horizontal line of sight.

This means that when one cichlid is swimming around one end of the aquarium, he or she cannot view the other end. Additionally, several large pieces of driftwood can form a perfect shelter for your fish.

River Rocks

Without a doubt, the nooks and crevasses between larger rocks make perfect nesting spots.

Many convicts also love to shelter in these areas, but you shouldn’t incorporate too many rocks as they may become too heavy to deal with. It’s commonplace for tanks to break because of too many rocks.

Broken Clay Pottery

Considering that they are natural products, broken clay pottery pieces can be excellent spawning sites.

Nonetheless, ensure that the pots you select were not previously used for storing harmful chemicals or fertilizers. Because the deadly components can seep into the water, leading to fish health deterioration.

Add Resilient Plants

Other than acting as visual barriers, resilient plants improve your tank’s oxygen content.

They also help in getting rid of the nitrogen and carbon dioxide fish generate. Still, it’s important that you go for hard plants like the Amazonian sword plant and the java fern because convicts can destroy or uproot most other plants.

The best part about adding plants to your tank is it creates a healthier environment as well as assists in reducing filtration strain.

Set up the Nursery Aquarium

You may need to install a separate, but smaller tank to house the fry before they mature.

This way, you’ll protect them from getting eaten by other fish in the main aquarium, including their parents. Go for a mini tank of about five to ten gallons in capacity.

And don’t forget to filter and heat it as well.

Let the Cichlids Spawn

Naturally, the female Convict Cichlid takes the initiative during the mating cycle.

She first chooses a dark spot, then courts the male before laying her eggs on the side of a clay pottery piece or on flat rocks. By all means, feed your Cichlids protein-rich foods because the female will need the extra nutrients to prepare her eggs.

It’s also best to give the breeders some space for the most part.

What if They Don’t Spawn?

There are several measures you can take to give your Convict Cichlids a nudge when they are not mating:

  • Increase the temperature – In their natural habitats, most convicts spawn during the summer season. Therefore, increasing the water temperature can encourage your breeders to spawn. As long as the temperature doesn’t go above 82 degrees.
  • Change 20% of the Water – Since the summer seasons often have massive showers, undertaking a water change will simulate heavy rains and maybe stimulate the Cichlids to breed.
  • Feed heavily – You can also increase your frequency of feeding the fish to make them more comfortable.

Once the eggs get laid, their parents will guard them carefully. This is when their aggressiveness is at the peak level. The eggs will hatch after three to four days.

After hatching, the parent convict will want to stay with her young ones for around fourteen days, after which she will be ready to mate again. That will be the best time to transfer the fry to the nursery tank.

Care for the Convict Fry


Convict Cichlid Fry (sourceCC BY-SA 4.0)

The hatched fry should be able to swim freely after about seven days.

Trust, you’ll be quite amazed by the sight of hundreds of little convicts swimming in your tank.

Introduce them to the normal fish food slowly and set their feeding schedule. This way, you’ll raise the fry to be healthy adult Convict Cichlids.

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