Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) Species Guide

Convict Cichlids! From Central America, now it’s spread all over the world. Popular with fish enthusiasts all across the globe. They’re an easy fish to look after and don’t need much maintenance, and, they’re aesthetically pleasing.

Convict Cichlid black and white

Convict cichlids breeding: 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


They come from several countries in Central American region. Guatemala, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras.

They’re a freshwater fish species, usually found in streams and creeks. They seem to prefer a habitat of water bodies with a steady stream of running water.

They prefer habitats with hiding spots and protection. Such as rocks and branches that have fallen into the water.

The origin of the common name is simple. They have black stripes vertically across the body, similar to the uniform prisoners in Britain wore. These people were called convicts.

They’re sometimes known as Zebra Cichlids.

Convict 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 swimming.


Their dark to light gray color skin make them recognizable. Though they’re not vibrant, they’re still an aesthetically pleasing fish.

How Do You Tell The Difference Between A Male And Female Convict Cichlid?

Here are a few pointers on how to tell the difference between a male and female.

Markings and Colours: Although the male and female have the same characteristic stripes, they’re colored differently. A male has grey color scales, and paler black lines.

What’s unusual about this cichlid fish is the female has more colors. When the female is breeding, she has an orange spot on her body.

She has dark stripes and orange to pink coloration on her dorsal fin and belly.

If the fish has spots on their dorsal fin or anal fin, they’re a male.

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

Size and Shape: The males are larger than females. Their fins are more longer and pointer, and often they end in tendrils. When a male matures; he develops a fatty lump on his head.

So, his cranium is bigger than females.

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

(Even after you’ve followed the pointers listed above, and you still can’t tell, ask your local vet or expert.)

The usual coloration is blue-grey with around 8-9 black stripes. There are no differences between males and females until the fish reach maturity.

They aren’t as big as some others. In the wild, they’re much smaller than in the aquarium, the usual range being 1.5-3″ (4-7cm).

In the tank, males usually grow to about 6.5″ (17cm) long. Females are around 4.5″ long (11cm).

Their lifespan is 8-10 years. However, many sources say if they’re well cared for, they may live for much longer..


These fish breed readily, but they’re difficult to manage. This is due to Convict Cichlids behavior becoming very aggressive during the breeding season.

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

It’s crucial to monitor the fish. If you plan on breeding them, it’s best you aren’t a complete beginner.

Before the breeding process, raise the water temperature to 84 °F. Make sure you have flat rocks through the tank. These will be used to lay the eggs.

Have a separate breeding tank or a divider to separate the breeding pair from other fish.

The animal behavior of the males change, and they begin to pair off. (The courtship takes a long time.) Once there’s a pair, take them away from the others.

(Convicts have a different partner each breeding season, but only 1 at a time.) When they have begun breeding, renew ¼ of tank water regularly.

The female will lay her eggs in a spot of her choosing in the aquarium, usually one with a flat surface. The male will fertilize them. The average clutch amount is around 100-200. Then, they split the responsibility.

She looks after the eggs, and he guards her and their unhatched offspring fiercely.

(This is why it’s important to separate them from other fish.)

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. 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. After this time, (it’s quite rare,) the male might become skittish, and could eat the juveniles.

If this happens, separate him from the female and the eggs.

The parents will continue to look after the fry for another 10-14 days. After that, they look after themselves. Once this happens, move the mother back into the usual aquarium.

Introduce the juveniles into the tank over time.

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

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

Looking After Your Convict Cichlids

They are remarkable when it comes to adaptability. In the wild, they live in a variety of habitats and conditions.

When you plan the tank for their care requirements, there are a few things to take into account. First, the layout of the decor. They prefer habitats with spaces they can hide. There should be plenty of hidey-holes.

(Arranging rocks or lying 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 in the substrate, delicate plants can be ripped out.

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

It’s essential to have a powerful, external filter to mantain the water conditions. The constant flow of substrate into the water from the fish digging can make it clogged.

Water Parameters

Temperature – They’re a tropical freshwater fish, from a warm climate. The best temperature range is 79–84 °F (26–29 °C).

PH And Hardness – For the pH 6.6–7.8 is best, and for the hardness, 6-8 dGH.

Convict Cichlid Tank Mates

Convict Cichlids are some of the most aggressive fish. They attack most fish, sometimes for no reason at all. If provoked, they can and will do damage.

They have sharp teeth and could injure the fish they are bullying.

This isn’t the best fish to keep with others, issues can and will arise. However, you can keep them with some, but under specific conditions, and particular species.

The community tank must be large enough for all the fish. You should also introduce your fish to their tank mates as early in their life as possible.

Adults are more aggressive than juveniles. The aggressiveness decreases if you introduce them early.

Make sure the fish you choose are large, as large as you can afford/accommodate. This minimizes the risk of them being attacked.

Keep them in pairs, not groups. If you have an established couple, don’t bother with tank mates.

Here is a list of the best tank mates.

  • More Of Their Species.
  • Other Cichlids. Make sure they are large and have aggressive/semi-aggressive demeanors. Like Firemouth Cichlids, Jewel Cichlids, Blue Acara, the Red Terror, Green Terror, Jack Dempsey and Yellow Lab Cichlids.
  • Flowerhorn Cichlids
  • Other Large Fish. Like 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.

What To Feed Convict Cichlid?

A convict cichlid diet is classified as omnivorous. In the wild, they eat a variety of things. Invertebrates, such as small insects and worms and they eat many types of algae and plant matter.

They aren’t fussy. Some have compared this fish to the Labrador, as it eats nearly everything you give them.

However, put thought and planning into their food. You don’t want a sick fish. These fish need a plentiful and varied diet.

Feeding them twice a day is best. Don’t make the amount too big.

(Also remove any uneaten food within 24 hours from the tank.)

Flake and Pellets: Many aquarists recommend Flake and Pellet Foods. Make sure the foods that you choose are high-quality, and well-rated by users. Remember to make sure it’s designed for this type of fish.

Live Foods: These fulfill the meaty requirements in their diet. Like Tubifex worms, brine shrimp, ghost shrimp, bloodworms, and Daphnia. They enjoy these. However, remember everything in moderation.

Other Options To Consider

Frozen Foods: 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 their diet. If you can, feed them a few live insects every so often. They like Mosquito Larvae.

Things To Avoid

Overfeeding: This could make your fish sick.

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

They’re a single species. However, there a few variants. They look quite different from the original, the black convict, because they’ve been bred with other colors.

Sometimes, there is a mutation in these fish known as “Leucism.” It happens in many animals, not only fish.

When an individual has this, the pigments in their skin and scales are weak. So the animal seems pale. (It’s not to be confused with Albinism, which is a complete lack of pigments.)

The colorations breeders have developed are gold, white and pink

Pink ones are the only variant to have an official classification, it being Convict Cichlid archocentrus nigrofasciatus.

Called: Pink Convict

Also Known As: Zebra Cichlid

Scientific Classification: Archocentrus nigrofasciatus

Convict Cichlids are a staple in the aquarium trade.

Many fish-keepers find them an excellent fish. If you choose to keep them, you won’t be disappointed. They’re are easy to look after.

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

Is there something missing from this article, or do you have a question? Let me know in a comment below.


    • 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.

  1. This was a great read and sure would have helped me escape the numerous trial and error period. I have had convicts for several years and learning as I go has had its ups and downs for sure!

    It took very little time to find out how quickly and easily they breed. I began with 5 babies in a 10-gallon tank. they successfully bred so I transferred them to a larger tank. and kept the 10-gallon tank for pairs that were getting ready to breed, (the signs of these intentions were easy to see when a pair had chased all the other fish into one side of the tank it was obvious they were planning to have a family) so the pairs were transferred to the now split in half with a piece of plastic wedged in the middle smaller tank.

    I had made arrangements to sell the babies to a local fish store but they went out of business just before I was ready to deliver the first batch, so I added another large tank then another!
    I now have 3 overpopulated 50-gallon tanks, and no space to add more.

    I did some research on sexing, and optimal breeding conditions so I could find a way to reduce breeding.

    I began by lowering the water temperature to between 70 and 74 degrees it slowed breeding quite a lot, and also reduced their aggressive activity.

    But with the summer months, the only way to maintain the low temperature is to rotate bottles of frozen water into the tanks.
    So I took on the task of segregating them! I spent several hours going one fish at a time and finally managed to separate them by gender and size, keeping older larger adult males in one tank, younger or smaller males in the second tank, and all the females in the third tank.

    The separation all but eliminated fighting. But then I noticed some sparring in the female tank, it turned out that apparently a few males were mistaken for females and they had already paired up and had babies.

    The problem, in this case, none of the fish have grown very much, I credit this to the crowded conditions, this is especially problematic in the female tank it is impossible to tell males from females even when they pair up, which used to be the perfect time to locate the males and remove them to the other tank, but now there is literally no size difference, and the female trademark colorful belly and fins (which is the sexing method I used for the smaller fish) seem to be the markings on all the fish!

    The smaller males and those mixed in with the females have not grown their fatty bulge yet so it is really frustrating. I have no more room for separation, so in that tank, I am back to floating ice bottles! I also have started using a long wooden spoon to go in and stir up the rocks when it looks like a pair have started a nesting place so they have to start over! With all I have learned over the years I thought I could offer a couple of tips for others.

    POPULATION CONTROL: Because optimal water temperature is an important part of the breeding process, lowering the temperature of the water aides in reducing the breeding instinct, and also seems to calm the number of conflicts that happen.

    CONVICT HOUSING: Convicts like to have their own space, instead of purchasing expensive decorations I have found a way to provide large numbers of “apartments” at little to no cost and my fish love them!
    STEP #1. Take empty medication bottles of various sizes cut the bottom out making it an open-ended tube. the resulting tubes are perfect lengths to allow the individual fish to enter and feel completely concealed yet is not an acceptable location to breed or nest (see step 6 before starting this step)
    step #2. To conceal the fact that they are pill bottles I cover them with that rubbery skid-proof shelf liner using hot glue to connect the seam, I like to use different colors to brighten the look!
    STEP #3. Arrange them in various ways depending on the space available when satisfied with the design go to the next step.
    STEP #4. Where ever bottles touch another, make 2 small holes no more than 1/4 in apart through both bottles (I do this using either a soldering gun or a small screwdriver with a heated tip to melt through the bottle, other methods work but have the potential of cracking the bottle) this is a good time to conceal the glue seams by putting the seams together when connecting the bottles. this also protects the seam from coming loose.
    STEP #5. Using small zip ties threaded through both bottles to connect them together tighten the tie tightly and trim off the excess.
    (I like to add a blob of hot glue to the cut end for added injury protection and assurance that the tie doesn’t come undone!)
    STEP #6. The final step is adding weight, plastic bottles have to be weighted or they will float! I like to use one or two of the bottles in my creation as anchor weights by filling them with rocks and or sand topped with water and hot glue the lid on the bottle. you can also simply stuff a couple of larger rocks into open-ended tubes as weight.
    I have arranged bottles in stacks with weighted bottles at the top and the bottom or shaped them like an arched bridge with weights at both ends. they can be shaped in a circle, square, triangle, or shaped like letters, etc. Design ideas are limited only by the space available!
    BONUS STEP #6 ALTERNATIVE. Using larger bottles alone or connected to a few more cut with large openings in odd shapes and instead of adding weight allowed them to just float in the tank. my fish love these too!

    • Hi Caroline,

      I’m glad to hear the post helped you.

      Thanks so much for all your helpful tips and experience! I’m sure other readers will really appreciate them.

  2. I think I have 2 male cichlids, one is definitely a mature male the other I’m not sure about. The mature male is always bullying the other. What should I do to stop this or is this a mating pair?

  3. I have to laugh about the recommended tank size for breeding Convict Cichlids. I have seen sizes from 20 gallons to 52 gallons (this site). I have consistently bred pairs of convicts for many generations in a 3.5 gallon (for the breeding pair) and a 10 gallon tank for a batch of fry. When the fry are big enough to be removed from mom and dad in the 3.5 gallon, I put them in the 10 gallon until they are big enough to donate/trade to my local fish store.

    My breeding pairs usually produce a batch every 3 months or so and live for years. When something happens or I gift them to a friend, I just let the babies in the 10 gallon pair up and go again.

    My current strain has some pink convict genes in it. My last pair (now donated) were a pink male and gray/black female. Their pink fry and all but about 8 of the gray/black siblings are now donated and the 8 gray/black are starting to pair up and color up. I guess I’m hoping for a minor mutation miracle and end up with half striped/half pink individuals. Ya gotta have a dream! Anyone know of a source for Yellow Convicts?


Leave a Comment