Pinstriped Fish That Packs A Punch – Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) – Complete Species Guide

Convict Cichlids! An instantly recognizable fish, and a widespread species for many years. A species that started in Central America. It now has spread all over the world, living in many people’s tanks and aquariums. Cared for and liked by fish enthusiasts all across the globe.

You may be wondering what all the fuss is about.
First, they’re an easy fish to look after and don’t need much maintenance and care. Second, they have a look that is aesthetically pleasing. In short, they’re popular for a reason. 🙂

Convict Cichlid black and white

If you’re thinking of having a Convict Cichlid, (or a few) as a pet. Or, you have one and are looking for more information, or you’re curious, you’ve come to the right place! We have everything on the Convict Cichlids right here, so read on.

Table Of Contents:

Convict cichlids breeding: Eggs hatching and taking care of the new born fry

Basic Facts

Name: Convict Cichlid

Scientific Name: Amatitlania nigrofasciata

Group: Freshwater

Size Of The Fish: Small/Medium

Temperament: Aggressive and Territorial

Aquarium Size Required: Medium

Where It Swims: All Areas

Care Difficulty Rating: Easy

Good Paired With: Convict Cichlids, Other Aggressive/Semi-Aggressive Cichlid Species


Convict Cichlids come from several countries in Central America. (Like many other species in the Cichlidae family.) These include Guatemala, Panama, Costa-Rica, Nicaragua, and Honduras.

The fish are freshwater, and they will usually be found in streams, creeks and similar bodies of water. They seem to prefer water bodies that have a steady stream of running water. They aren’t present in slow-moving water.

Convict Cichlids also seem to prefer habitats that provide hiding spots and protection. Usually, this protection is in the form of rocks and branches that have fallen into the water.

Determining the origin of the common name is quite simple. They have black stripes that go vertically across the body. These stripes have been compared to the uniform that prisoners in Britain used to wear. Before they were known as prisoners, they were called convicts. Hence the name.

The stripes have stemmed another comparison. That is one to the lines on a Zebra. So, they are sometimes known as Zebra Cichlids.

Convict Cichlid swimming taken by @catfishriver on Instagram - Here we share everything you need to know about Convict Cichlids. Find out how to keep your Convict Cichlids happy and healthy. | Contented Fish
Thanks to @catfishriver on Instagram for this Photo of this Convict Cichlid swimming.



Convict Cichlids have a distinctive appearance, that’s for sure. Their stripes and dark to light gray skin make them recognizable. Though they are not vibrantly colored. They are still quite an aesthetically pleasing fish.

An important factor in keeping fish is knowing the sex of your fish. It determines many factors, from how breeding will play out, to whether the Convict Cichlids will have a quiet existence.

As with many species, all across the animal kingdom, it can be difficult to determine the sex of the individual, but here are a few pointers to help you.

Markings and Colours: Males and females, although they share the same characteristic stripes. They are colored differently. A male has grey skin, and the black lines are paler than the females.

What’s unusual about these species of Cichlids is that the female has more colors, not the other way around. Strange, isn’t it. When the female is breeding, she usually has an orange spot on her body. Males don’t possess this feature. She also has very dark stripes and orange to pink coloration on her dorsal fin and belly.

Another method is to look closely at their dorsal and anal fins, though you will have to handle the fish to do this. If the individual fish has spots on them, they’re a male. Females don’t have any of these.

Small Convict Cichlid swimming among plants taken by @funtimefishkeeping
A great photo of a small Convict Cichlid by @funtimefishkeeping

Size and Shape: As usual, the males are larger than females. All their fins are more extended and pointer, and often they end in tendrils. Another dead giveaway is when a male matures; he develops a fatty lump on his head. So, his cranium looks much more significant than that of his female counterparts.

Behavior: Males are much more aggressive and territorial in the breeding season.

(Even if after you’ve followed all the pointers listed above, and you still can’t tell, ask your local vet or expert. That should clear up the problem.)

The usual coloration of the Convict Cichlid is blue-grey. This, along with the characteristic black stripes. The average number of these is 8-9. As with many fish, there are no differences between the sexes until the fish reach maturity.

Convict Cichlids aren’t as big as some other Cichlid Species. These can be a good pick if you are pushing for space. In the wild, they are much smaller than in the aquarium, the usual range being 1.5-3″ (4-7cm).

In the tank, they are bigger. Males usually grow to about the size of 6.5″ (17cm) long. Females are around 4.5″ long (11cm).

Their lifespan is 8-10 years, the average for a Cichlid. However, many sources say if they are well cared for, they may live for much longer than their usual lifespan.


These fish breed readily. But they are difficult to maintain during the breeding season. This is primarily due to the problems it causes with other inhabitants of the aquarium.

Most Cichlids become aggressive during the breeding season, (mostly the males.) However, Convict Cichlids take it to a whole other level. It can be quite a dangerous time for the fish.

A small convict cichlid swimming taken by @gillock1980
Another great photo by @gillock1980 – A small convict cichlid swimming.

We can’t stress how important is to monitor the fish. If you do, you can prevent any problems from happening. Remember, prevention is better than the cure.

If you are planning on breeding Convict Cichlids, it’s best that you aren’t a complete beginner. Here we explain the process they go through to reproduce, and how to prepare the conditions of the tank for them.

Before the breeding season, raise the water temperature to 84 °F. Make sure you have flat rocks through the tank. These will be used to lay the eggs. Also, have a separate breeding tank or a divider to separate the couple from the rest of the fish.

The process starts the same way it does for many fish. The behavior of the males change, and they begin to pair off. (You must be patent at this stage, the courtship takes a long time.) Once you have established that there is a pair, make sure to take them away from the others.

(Convicts have a different partner each breeding season, but only one at a time.)

When they have begun to breed, make sure to renew ¼ of tank water regularly.

The female will lay her eggs in a spot of her choosing, usually one with a flat surface. The male will fertilize the eggs. The average clutch size is around 100-200. Then, they split the responsibility. She looks after the eggs, and he guards her and their unhatched offspring fiercely.

(Again, this is why it’s important to separate them.)

Here we share everything you needed to know about Convict Cichlids. This Convict Cichlid is courtesy of fishy_wishes on Instagram.
Thanks to @fishy_wishes_ on Instagram for sharing this photo of a convict cichlid

Like other cichlid species, these fish are attentive parents. They cater to the fry’s every need. The eggs hatch in around three days. The hatchlings can’t swim for another 2-3 days until they are freed from the yolk. When this happens, they become free-swimming.

During this period, they are guarded by their parents, who will attack any fish that comes too close. After this time, (it’s quite rare,) the male might become skittish, and could eat the juveniles. If this happens, put the male back in the other tank, and leave the female.

The parents will continue to look after their offspring for another 10-14 days. After that, they can look after themselves. Once this happens, it’s safe to move the mother back into the usual tank. Introduce the juveniles into the tank over time.

Once the fry have established themselves, start feeding them. You should feed them with milled live food and dry flakes and pellets. You should also renew the water twice a week, to keep them healthy.

Male Convict Cichlid with beautiful fins taken by @catfishriver on Instagram
Thanks to @catfishriver on Instagram for this pic of a male Convict Cichlid with beautiful fins


Looking After Your Convict Cichlids

As we mention in the Feeding section, they aren’t fussy when it comes to food options. Likewise, this also applies to water conditions and environment. They are remarkable when it comes to adaptability. In the wild, they live in a variety of habitats and conditions.

When you are planning the tank, there are a few things you should take into account. First, the layout of the decor. As we mentioned earlier, in the Origins section. They prefer habitats with spaces they can hide. There should be plenty of hidey-holes.

(You can make these with arranging rocks, lying down on-the-side flower pots is a good idea.)

Other essential items in decor include plants and flat stones. (This is for the females to lay their eggs on if you choose to breed them.) Make sure the plants are tough and hardy. These fish like to dig, and so delicate plants could be ripped out in the process.

They aren’t demanding when it comes to decor. So include the items mentioned above, and you’ll be right to go.

Second, is the size of the tank. 52 gallons, (200 L) is an excellent place to start, for a pair. If you have a group or more fish, you’ll need to go bigger.

It’s also essential that you have a powerful, external filter. The digging from the fish could mess with the filter. Also, the constant flow of substrate into the water can make it clogged, so your filter needs to be powerful.

Conditions Of The Tank

Read on to find out how to make the ideal conditions for your Convict Cichlids to thrive.


Convict Cichlids are a tropical freshwater fish, from a warm climate. So, the best temperature range is one that is warm. We recommend 79–84 °F (26–29 °C).

PH And Hardness

The Convict Cichlid is quite flexible when it comes to water conditions. In the wild, it can and does live in all sorts of environments and situations. However, keeping the pH and hardness constant and unchanging is vital in the home aquarium. For the pH 6.6–7.8 is best, and for the hardness, 6-8 dGH.

Suitable Tank Mates

Convict Cichlids are some of the most aggressive fish out there. They will attack most fish, even those twice their size. If provoked, they can and will do damage; sometimes they attack for no reason at all. On top of that, they have a set of sharp teeth and could injure the fish they are bullying.

To put things into perspective, think of the aquarium as a school playground. The adult convict cichlid is like the feared bully, the one that no-one wants to get on the wrong side of.

So, this isn’t the best fish to keep with other fish. However, and we say but, you can keep it with other fish. However! They must be held under specific conditions, with particular species.

First, we’ll list the conditions you should have the Convict Cichlids under. This is in preparation for the tank mates. Then we’ll list the best Convict Cichlid Tank Mates.

The aquarium you have must be large enough for all the fish. This is critical. You should also introduce your fish to their tank mates as early in their life as possible. That will help them get used to them. Because adults are more aggressive than juveniles. The aggressiveness will decrease if you introduce them early.

Make sure the fish you are choosing are large fish, as large as you can afford/accommodate. This will minimize the risk of them being attacked, by a small amount.

Keep the Convict Cichlids in pairs, not groups. If you have a couple, don’t bother with tank mates.

Here is a list of the best tank mates.

More Convict Cichlids. They work quite well with their species.

Other Cichlid Species. Make sure they are large and have aggressive/semi-aggressive demeanors. Examples would include, Firemouth Cichlids, Jewel Cichlids, and the Blue Acara. Also, the Red Terror, Green Terror, Jack Dempsey and Yellow Lab Cichlids.

Flowerhorn Fish. These are larger, tough fish, ones that Convict Cichlids don’t usually pick a bone with.

Other Large Fish. Similar to the Flowerhorn, these fish are large and sturdy. Examples would include, Tinfoils, Plecos, Irridescent Shark and Clarias.

Small Female Convict Cichlid taken by @a.e_aquatics On Instagram
Thanks to @a.e_aquatics on Instagram for this pic of a small female Convict cichlid



Convict Cichlids eat all sorts of food sources, so they are classified as omnivorous. In the wild, they eat a variety of things. These include invertebrates, such as small insects and worms. In the plant department, they eat many types of algae and plant matter.

Convict Cichlids are not fussy eaters. In fact, far from it. Some have compared this fish to the Labrador, as it eats nearly everything you choose to give them. 🙂

However, in saying this, don’t feed them whatever! They may accept practically everything. However, don’t feed them whatever. You must put thought and planning into their food. You don’t want a sick fish.

These fish need a plentiful and varied diet, without it, they’re not going to survive for long.

If you are wondering about the feeding frequency for Convict Cichlids, we have the answer. Feeding them twice a day is best. Don’t make the amount of feed too big.

(Also, make sure you remove any uneaten food within 24 hours from the tank. However, this only applies if you don’t have fish that feed on the bottom.)

When planning to keep them as pets, there are a few foods to consider.

Flake and Pellets: Many aquarists recommend Flake and Pellet Foods. These should make up the most of the food that you feed Convict Cichlids. Make sure the foods that you choose are high-quality, and well-rated by users. Another pointer to remember is to make sure it’s designed for Cichlids.

Live Foods: These fulfill the meaty requirements in their diet. Recommended foods to feed them would be Tubifex worms, brine shrimp bloodworms, and Daphnia. They enjoy these types of foods and will eat them with gusto. However, remember everything in moderation.

Other Options To Consider

Frozen Foods: If you don’t have access to live foods, or they are out of your budget range, frozen foods are a good idea. Feeding them the same foods (Tubifex worms, brine shrimp blood worms, Daphnia,) just frozen, is an easy and convenient alternative.

Insects & Invertebrates: As we mentioned earlier, an integral part of Convict Cichlids’ diet. So, if you can, feeding them a few live insects now and then is great. They also like Mosquito Larvae, throwing them in the tank will keep them busy for a while.

Things To Avoid

Overfeeding: As with all other fish, if not all animals, stuffing them is a definite no-no! This could make your fish sick, and mess with their digestive system.

Meaty Foods: Don’t feed them any meats that humans eat, (lamb, chicken, beef, pork,). This is because it’s bad for their digestive systems.

Popular Types Of Convict Cichlids
Convict Cichlids have been in the aquarium trade for quite a while now. They are well-known among fish-keepers. Unlike Peacock Cichlids, which are a genus and include 22 individual species. Convict Cichlids are a single species.

However, and saying this, there a few variants of Convict Cichlids. They look quite different from the original. This is because they have been bred to display specific colors. Sometimes, there is a mutation in these fish that is known as “Leucism.” It happens in many animals, not only fish.

When an individual has this, the pigments in their skin and scales don’t appear or are weak. So the animal seems paler, without most pigmentation. (It’s not to be confused with Albinism, which is a complete lack of pigments.)

The colorations that breeders have developed are Gold and White. There is also a third, that is the more commonly known, pink.

Pink Convict Cichlids are the only color variant to have an official classification. That of which, we have listed here.

Name: Convict Cichlid

Scientific name: Amatitlania nigrofasciata

Other name: Zebra Cichlid

Name: Pink Convict

Scientific name: Archocentrus nigrofasciatus


Convict Cichlids are one of the staples in the aquarium trade. They have been on the market for many years, and have every intention of staying. Many fish-keepers find them a delight to bring home, and if you choose to do the same, you won’t be disappointed. In short, Convict Cichlids are easy to keep.

Do you have a Convict Cichlid, or are planning on getting one? Let us know.

If you found this helpful, then excellent! You can help other people find this resource by sharing it on social media, and telling your friends. If you have any tips, recommendations or suggestions that somehow weren’t mentioned in this list, please, by all means, share them in the comments. Thank you for reading.

4 thoughts on “Pinstriped Fish That Packs A Punch – Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) – Complete Species Guide”

    • Hi James, thanks for your question. Since the recommended size for two convict cichlids is 52 gallons, the amount you have is a bit more than half. It would be best to only have one adult in this tank size, but convict cichlids fare better when they live in pairs.


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