Convict Cichlid: Care, Size, Lifespan, Diet & More

Convict cichlids (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) are small species of cichlid fish that are native to Central America. They get their name from their black and blueish-white stripes, which resemble the stripes on a convict’s uniform. They are also known as Zebra Cichlids by some. 

Convict cichlids are a popular choice of cichlid for those who want to start with a smaller type of cichlid. Despite their small size, these fish are very aggressive so the right care has to be provided for them to prevent aggressive behaviors.

In this article, you’ll learn how to properly care for Convict Cichlids and all the necessary information you might need. So let’s begin!

Species Profile & Overview

Convict Cichlids are native to Central America and are often found in Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Colombia. But there are traces of this fish in Mexico and southern parts of the United States and nearby countries in Central America.

They are adaptable to a wide range of water conditions but prefer waters that are slightly acidic with a moderate flow. Convict Cichlids are also found in natural lakes and ponds. 

Their unique features include their ability to survive in a wide range of water conditions and their bright coloration, which helps them blend in with their surroundings.

Convict Cichlid fish are hardy and can adapt to a wide range of water conditions, making them a good choice for beginner cichlid keepers. Keep in mind that these fish are still a type of cichlid and need specific care. 

Compared to other types of cichlids, they are relatively peaceful. But don’t take it wrong, these fish are very aggressive and territorial when compared to more peaceful fish like mollies and guppies. So it is best to keep them with other cichlids or fish of similar size and behavior.


Convict Cichlid
Convict Cichlid

The convict cichlid is a beautiful fish that is popular in the aquarium hobby. They are known for their bright colors and patterns, which can be quite stunning to look at. Their small size and unique body shape make them an interesting species of cichlid to care for.

Convicts are small species of the Cichlidae family, typically only reaching about four inches in length. They are laterally compressed, meaning that their bodies are flatter from side to side than they are from top to bottom. 

This gives them a somewhat oval shape when viewed from above or from sides. Perhaps the most distinctive feature of the convict cichlid is the black vertical stripes that run down their bodies. These stripes are what gives the fish its name, as they resemble the stripes on a convict’s uniform.

At the same time, the black bars on their body also resemble bars on a zebra. This is why they are known as the Zebra Cichlid by some hobbyists. This makes Convicts a popular aquarium fish that looks very different from other cichlids.

All Convicts usually have the same body shape but patterns can vary from fish to fish. There are some reports that this fish developed long fins but it has not yet been bred commercially. There is definitely potential to develop different shades and fin types in these fish.

The fins may be brightly colored or patterned, or they may be a more subdued color. No matter what the shape or color, all convict cichlids have fins that are well-suited for their active lifestyle. The largest fins on their body are dorsal and tail fins that give them their unique looks.

If you are looking for a cichlid that is both beautiful and unique, then the Convict Cichlid is a great choice for your aquarium. Their stunning patterns and fins can add a splash of color and interest to your tank. In addition, Convict Cichlids are relatively easy to care for, making them a great option for those who want to step up their game and start to keep cichlids.

Adult Size

Convict cichlids are small fish, with males and females typically measuring between 4 and 5 inches in length. There is often very little difference in size between the sexes, although males may be slightly larger than females on average. 

The small size of these fish makes them a good pet for smaller aquariums. They are just about the right size for many; they are not too big and not too small. These fish are also hardy species that can tolerate a wide range of water conditions.


The average lifespan of Convict Cichlid fish is around 8 to 10 years in captivity. Individual species might live shorter or longer depending on the conditions they are kept at. 

Because Convict cichlids are somewhat cheap to buy, some inexperienced fishkeepers purchase them without knowing the proper care requirements of this fish. This unfortunately leads to a lower lifespan in that fish. 

Diet and water quality can significantly affect their lifespan. For example, if the water quality is poor, the fish may only live for a few years or even less.

Genetics can also play an important role in lowering some specimens’ lifespan. Stress and diseases can also affect the lifespan of these tiny cichlids. By providing the right diet and care you can expect your fish to live a long and happy life.

Behavior & Temperament

Convict cichlids are typically very aggressive fish, and they will often attack other fish in their tank. But this often happens when the tank is overcrowded or there is an imbalance in power. If you have other fish in your tank, you will need to make sure that they can defend themselves against the convict cichlid.

Generally, Convicts are not good community aquarium fish because of their cichlid behavior. These fish are territorial and will pick fights with any fish that crosses their territory. However, there are ways to keep these fish in a community aquarium. 

To be able to successfully keep these fish with other fish, you should provide them with a tank that is large enough and has a lot of hiding spots. Their tank mates should be other cichlids or fish that can defend themselves. In such an environment they tend to show very little aggression. 

Convict cichlids usually swim in the middle part of the tank but will also go to the lower and upper parts of the tank. At young ages, they tend to swim together forming a social group. But as soon as they mature they start to become more solidary and pick territories. 

Convict Cichlid Care

Convict cichlids are easy to care for and can make a great addition to any home aquarium. But there are a few things to keep in mind when keeping this species.

These fish are coming from tropical regions of Central America and need a similar environment in a tank. That said, they are also very adaptable and can live in a wide range of tank environments.

In the next few sections, we will cover all the care needs of this small cichlid and will prepare you to be the best owner they have ever had.

Convict Cichlid
Convict Cichlid

Tank Size

A pair of Convict Cichlids needs a minimum tank size of at least 20 gallons. But if you want to have other fish with them you will need to upgrade to 30 to 50 gallon aquariums. Regardless of the number of fish, it’s always best to get the biggest aquarium within your budget.  

A large aquarium provides more space for the Convict cichlids to swim and explore. At the same time, it also allows for more hiding places which will reduce aggression and territorial behavior. 

What To Put In A Convict Cichlid Tank

This is the area where you can express your ideas of what a tank should look like. At the same time, there are a few things you need to keep in mind to ensure your fish lives a happy life. 

To decorate an aquarium for Convict Cichlids, it is best to add different types of decoration to make sure they have enough hiding spots to mark as their tiny territory. Rock, driftwood, and plants are the best decorations you can use for this purpose. 

You can use artificial or natural decorations in their tank, but we always recommend using natural decorations in any aquarium. There are many benefits of using natural decorations like live plants, rocks, and driftwood in an aquarium. 

The most visible benefit is the fact that they can make the tank look more beautiful and natural. But more importantly, the natural decorations will help with keeping the water parameters more stable. This is something that artificial decorations can’t provide. 

Convict Cichlids prefer live plants, but fake plants can also be used. The plants should be placed around the perimeter of the tank. Live plants are a much better option as they will remove the excessive nutrients (fish waste) from the water column making the tank clean for the fish.

Fish waste needs to be removed either by water changes or plants which can otherwise lead to algae growth. Having live plants in the tank can help to remove some of the waste and will help to keep the water quality high.

The substrate is another item in the tank that you need to pick carefully. The substrate provides a place for beneficial bacteria to grow and break down waste products in the aquarium. It also helps the plants to absorb the nutrients that beneficial bacteria process. 

Convict cichlids also like to dig in the substrate and search for food or create their breeding nest. This means the best substrate for these fish is sand. Sand is easy for them to sift through and express their natural behaviors. 

Since sand doesn’t have any nutrients for plants, it’s best to add root tabs for the root-feeding plants so they can grow without any issues. The water column plants are easier to keep in a tank with the sand substrate as they absorb nutrients from the water column. 

Now that we know the importance of plants and what substrate is good to use in a convict tank, it is time to talk about the specific plants that are compatible with this fish. Fortunately, several live plants are compatible with Convict Cichlids.

These plants include Java Ferns, Anubias, Buceplants, Java moss, and Hornwort. These plants are hardy and don’t need substrate to thrive. You can also use floating types of plants to add some diversity to the tank.

Light Requirements

Convict Cichlids look more beautiful under strong aquarium lights that have some blue in them. The blue light will make the scales look more blue and shimmer when the fish is swimming in the tank. 

The best type of light for these fish is a full-spectrum LED light. This type of light will provide the most natural-looking light for your fish and plants. The plants will need this type of light the most as it gives them the right amount to beam to grow. 

It is important to set the light on a timer to turn on and off at specific hours. This will let the fish and plants adjust to a specific day and night schedule. At the same time, it will help you prevent any algae growth in the tank. 

Water Conditions & Parameters

Despite their small size, Convicts are pretty adaptable and hardy fish. They can survive in a wide range of water parameters, but there is a recommended window that you should aim for if you want them to be as healthy as possible.

The natural habitat of Convict Cichlid fish is in freshwater rivers and streams in Central America. The water conditions in their natural habitat are typically clear with a moderate flow. The water parameters are very stable and changes happen gradually. Recreating a similar environment is necessary for these fish when kept in an aquarium.

Considering these, here are the ideal range of parameters for Convict Cichlids in captivity:

  • Temperature: 72 – 82 Degrees Fahrenheit
  • pH: 6.5 – 7.0
  • TDS: 50 – 200 PPM

Consistent water parameters should be your main goal. Regular water changes are the best way to keep the tank parameters consistent and prevent fluctuations. It’s important to do a partial water change (about 10 – 25%) once a week to remove any build-up of toxins in the water. This will keep your cichlids healthy and happy!

Filtration System

These fish need a strong filtration system in their tank to keep the water clean at all times. A filter’s main job is to house nitrifying bacteria to remove harmful fish waste from the water. This is called biological filtration which will ensure the quality of the water for fish. 

Some filters can also remove floating particles from the water column. This kind of filtration is called mechanical filtration which helps the tank to look good but will not necessarily help with biological filtration. 

Because Convict cichlids need a protein-based diet, it’s important to get a filter that provides both biological and mechanical filtration. Fortunately, most modern filters in the market are able to provide both methods of filtration. 

However, we recommend a canister filter for these guys. A canister filter that is rated for the size of your tank or slightly more is ideal. These filters will make your tank clean and healthy for the fish. 

Common Diseases and Prevention

Convict cichlids are hardy species and do not get sick easily. However, diseases spread in a tank can affect these fish, which can lead to a decline in their health or lifespan. 

Some of the more common diseases include bacterial infections, parasites, and fungal infections. These diseases can cause a fish to become inactive, have difficulty breathing, and may even lead to death. 

The best way to prevent disease is to maintain a clean and healthy atmosphere for the fish. This can be done by regular water changes, cleaning the filter, and removing any debris from the tank. 

It is also important to quarantine new fish before adding them to the main tank. New fish are often the main reason a disease starts to spread in a tank.

Diet and Feeding Requirements

Convict cichlids are omnivores, which means that they will eat both protein and plant matter. In the wild, they will primarily feed on small invertebrates, such as insects and crustaceans. If protein is not available, they will also consume plant matter, such as algae. 

Feeding your Convict cichlids a wide variety of foods is essential to ensure optimal health. A good diet for these fish should include live or frozen foods and dry foods like flake or pellet. 

The best live or frozen foods for these fish are brine shrimp, bloodworms, daphnia, and other small foods available in pet stores. These foods will provide your fish with all the nutrition they can get from processed foods. 

Speaking of processed foods, you can feed your fish high-quality cichlid flake and pellet foods. Cichlid foods are often high in protein and more appealing for convicts to eat.  

The only downside is that processed foods are often less nutritious than fresh or frozen foods. This is why it’s best to mix their diet with many different types of foods so your convicts receive all the nutrients they need. 

When feeding high-protein foods, it’s important to not overfeed the fish or leave uneaten fish food in the tank. Overfed fish and leftover foods can easily pollute a tank and break the nitrogen cycle in a tank. This can be fatal for the fish depending on the severity of the incident. 

Breeding Convict Cichlid

Convict Cichlid fish are one of the easiest fish to breed in an aquarium. Breeding these fish is easy and possible with a little patience and knowledge. 

The first thing you need to do is set up a breeding tank that is at least 20 gallons in size and no other fish is available. This tank is only for the parents to do their magic; you will need a large 50 – 60 gallon aquarium to raise the fry once hatched. 

In the breeding tank, the water should be clean and well-filtered. The pH should be slightly lower to encourage the fish to breed, but we have them bred in any pH. Stable pH seems to be the most important aspect of breeding these fish. 

These fish lay their eggs on flat surfaces in a protected area. They usually breed in caves where they can feel safest the most. So you should provide them with a few different caves or terracotta planters to lay their eggs on. 

Once parents are ready to lay eggs, the male will start to clean out his favorite spot and the female will then lay her eggs in the nest. Depending on the water conditions, the eggs usually hatch within 72 hours. 

After the eggs hatch, the fry will be cared for by both parents until they are old enough to fend for themselves. However, you must have another grow-out tank ready for the fry to perform multiple water changes per week. The fry will need food multiple times per day which can easily pollute the tank. 

Convict Cichlids are known to lay anywhere from 100 to 300 eggs each time they breed. So you should be ready to keep and grow that many fry if you decide to breed these fish.

Tank Mates

Convict Cichlid fish are aggressive species and can pick a fight with any fish that crosses their territory. In order to successfully keep other fish with Convicts, you must have a large tank and introduce fish slowly. 

Larger tank sizes usually mean that your cichlids have enough space to mark their territory without crossing with other fish. This will lead to less aggression in your aquarium. At the same time, other fish have to be about the same size and be able to defend themselves when needed. 

Considering these crucial points, here are our top picks of tank mates for these fish:

Convict Cichlid
Convict Cichlid


The Convict Cichlid is one of the easiest types of cichlid you can keep in an aquarium. They are small and beautiful species but are as aggressive as bigger South American cichlids. They are also a great beginner-friendly species of cichlid that are very easy to care for.

The convict cichlid, when threatened with a dimorphic predatory-pair
Courtship in the monogamous convict cichlid
Habitat structure directly affects aggression in convict cichlids