Convict Cichlid Fish – The Care, Feeding and Breeding of Convict Cichlids

convict cichlidQuick Stats

Minimum Tank Size: 20 Gallons (29 Gallons recommended)
Care Level: Easy
Water Conditions: PH 6-8 and Soft to Neutral
Temperature: 68-80 F (20-27 C)
Maximum Size: 6 inches (15.2 cm) for males, and 4 for females (10.2 cm)

The convict cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) is found throughout Central America, inhabiting a wide array of habitats. It is commonly found in streams and rivers, but it is also known to live in ponds and lakes with thick plant cover. With that being said, it tends to prefers moving water, and is often found sheltering in submerged branches and rock formations.

The male convict cichlid grows up to 6 inches (15.2 cm) in length, while the female grows to an average length of 4 inches (10.2cm). When the females reach breeding maturity, the belly of the fish will take on red hue, making sexing quite easy in mature convict cichlid fish.


Convict cichlids can be a messy fish, and should generally be housed in a spacious, species only tank. The minimum tank size for a non-breeding pair should be a 20 gallon (75 litre) tank , though the ideal size is closer to 29 gallons (100 litres).

If a person is planning to breed convict cichlids, or hopes (and I stress the word hopes) to keep them in a community tank, then they should be kept in at least a 55 gallon (208 litre) fish tank. A pair of breeding convicts will terrorize any tank that they are housed in, and will viciously attack anything that comes near their nest. It’s not unusual to see a breeding pair of cichlids take on a much larger fish, and some have been known to attack fish nearly twice their size.

Since convict cichlids constantly dig and rearrange their tank, their aquarium should be over-filtered with a strong HOB (hang-on-back) filter, or in ideal circumstances, a canister filter. For extra biological filtration, a second filter or a sponge filter can be added to the tank, which helps keep the water sparkling clean. This is especially useful if a person is planning to breed convict cichlids, as the fry need pristine water quality.

If choosing an HOB filter, I would strongly recommend choosing an Aquaclear Power Filter for a convict cichlid tank. This filter combines excellent filtration with a durable design, and it will keep your tank sparkling clear for years to come. You can also read the Aquarium Tidings Aquaclear Filter Review here.


In the wild, convict cichlids primarily feed on small insects, worms, plant matter and algae. In the home aquarium, they will greedily eat nearly anything offered to them. But a healthy diet should be made up of a high quality fish food, with occasional frozen foods added for treats. I prefer to feed my convicts New Life Spectrum Cichlid Formula and have had great success with this high quality food.

When it comes to frozen foods, their favorites are blood worms, daphnia and brine shrimp. They will especially appreciate any live food that can cultured or caught – with mosquito larvae and live black worms being particular favorites.

convict cichlidsBreeding

Convict cichlids are among the easiest tropical aquarium fish to breed. Unlike many other cichlids, they don’t selectively pair off, and any male and female in placed in an aquarium will usually breed within a matter of weeks.

Since convict cichlids prefer to lay eggs on rocky overhangs in the wild, the easiest way to simulate their natural habitat in the home aquarium is to provide them with overturned clay pots. Stacks of rocks will also work, and they have also been known to lay eggs in PVC pipe “caves”, but nothing seems to beat the simple clay pots.

Once an egg laying surface has been provided, the male and female will begin clearing the area around their breeding site. Any plants will be removed and the substrate will likely be excavated and moved around to their liking.

During this time, the convict cichlid breed pair will viciously attack any other fish in their tank, and few fish – even the armored pleco, can take this abuse for long. Needless to say, any breeding convicts should be kept in a tank without any other fish present.

Once their territory has been staked out, the female will deposit her eggs on a clay pot, and the male will fertilize them. The parents will diligently guard the eggs, with the male chasing away anything that comes close to the nest, while the female stays close to the eggs.

The fry will begin to hatch in a few days, and after about a week, the convict cichlid parents will begin to herd the tiny fry around the tank. At this point infusoria, and baby brine shrimp should be fed to the fry three times a day. If someone doesn’t want to go to the trouble of hatching brine shrimp or culturing infusoria, then there are a few commercial products available for feeding fry.

One of the most interesting aspects of owning convict cichlids is watching the level of parental care that they give to their offspring. While guppies and many other fish will make a quick snack of their offspring, convict cichlids are extremely caring parents.  They will dig paths through plants for their fry, stir up the substrate to uncover food, and quickly get the fry to safety anytime they feel threatened. Even in a tank with equal sized predator fish, it’s exceedingly rare to even lose even one convict cichlid fry.


  1. maritzpd says

    hi all I am new to this so please excuse me.
    I just bought 2 males and 2 females convicts
    I have a 40l tank with all 4 of them in there
    there is a lot of caves/breeding nests
    the one male is in one of the caves constantly and chases the other 3 around like mad
    any reason for that?

    • says

      That’s totally normal. Convict cichlids become incredibly protective during mating. Have any of the females bellies colored up yet? As soon as one of the females becomes fertile, she should pair off with the male and start protecting the cave together.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *