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.

    • says

      In my experience, convicts don’t always get it right the first time. Sometimes they will eat the babies for the first few times, but they eventually get it right. It helps it you make sure that they are properly fed, and don’t stress them out unduly. Is the tank in a high traffic area of your place? If so, you might want to consider leaving them alone at first. Also, do they have any aggressive tankmates? Stress from that can also often cause problems for new convict parents.

      With that being said, if you just leave them to their business, they are convicts and they will eventually get it right.

  2. Dottiet says

    Thanks for this article, I am a beginner ornamental fish breeder in kenya ( Africa) and this article helped me a lot. I have my 5 convicts in an outdoor pond of 3ft x 6ft x 2.5ft with lots of rocks.

  3. Todd Stewart says

    My convicts laid eggs the other day and i was wondering if i do a water change will it mess up the eggs?

    • says

      No it won’t hurt the eggs. There is the off chance you could spook the convicts and they may abandon them, but its important to have the best water possible after they hatch. So just keep the gravel vac away from the eggs and you should be fine.

  4. says

    A friend gave me three Convict Cichlids. I have been my homework on them, so i can give them the best care, and to learn all i can about them. I had them in a tank for about two months in a tank at least 100gl. I cleaned it very good and put a shell flower pot in the tank to give the fish somewhere to hide. I did this before I did the homework on them, and about a week or two goes by and they had fry’s. It was great. When I did the homework on them, I have learned more but, i need to know if one of the males need to come out because I have found that there is two males and one female. Two of the Convict’s have paired up, but the other male gets chased off. The males seem to be attacking each other. With all this said what can I do to make the tank less stressful on the fish? I would love to know more about these wonderful fish.

    • says

      Just design your tank in such a way that there are a lot of breaks in the line of sight. This can be done with plants (which convicts maul) or decorations. This is especially important with convicts who get aggressive during breeding, though with a tank that large it should never get that serious. The loser will always have places to retreat.

  5. Todd Stewart says

    HI I have two pairs of convicts that Have babies and they are old enough to swim around… I was wondering if I should leave them with the parents or separate them.. each pair is on opposite sides of the tank. If I separate them can they live on their own at this point?

    • says

      It generally takes the eggs about 48-72 hours to hatch, and then the fry will take about another 48-72 hours before they become free-swimming. Keep in mind that it can sometimes take longer, but it usually falls somewhere in that time frame.

  6. Joanna Farrugia says

    I have a problem!! I have a 5 foot tank and many different species of fish, I had no idea the female convict was pregnant! Anyway the eggs are hatched and there are several babies, I have had to section a part of the tank so the other fish don’t eat them, is there any way I can remove the convicts and their babies from the large tank into a tank of their own? without harming them as I feel sorry for the other fish , they don’t have enough room now to swim, the babies are still quite small and have many more weeks, perhaps months of growing!!

    • says

      The convict fry might actually be safe in your tank even without the partition. Convicts are some of the best parents around , and they will rabidly defend their fry. Unless you have very aggressive and large fish with them, most of their fry should survive. However, your other fish might get beat up a little if they go near the convicts, so a partition might be best to keep the other fish safe.

      But if you decide to remove the fry, then you need a fully cycled tank to place them in. Fry are extremely sensitive to the water quality, and most will quickly die if you place them in anything but a fully cycled tank. Also, they can be injured if you use a net, so it’s best to use something like a turkey baster or a cup to capture them with. And it’s extremely important to acclimatize them to the new tank conditions, since even slight differences in water pH can be deadly for them. Take your time getting them used to the new tank, and the drip method is probably one of the best ways to acclimatize them to the new water.

  7. Dottie says

    Hi am Dottiesalim from Kenya. As I had said earlier, I put my convicts in an outdoor pond with rocks and all. I noticed some fry swimming near two adults. How many babies do convicts have per breeding session? I intend to leave them alone. However I added some water in the pond since I had noticed the pond water had evaporated Afew inches. Is that ok to have added the water through drip. Thank you and all your answers will be appreciated.

    • says

      My understanding is that convicts will lay up to 200 eggs, and usually about 25% of those survive to adulthood in the home aquarium. The numbers can vary though, depending on predators, water quality, feeding, and the experience of the parents. They will breed every few months if the conditions are right, so expect your pond to soon be overrun by convicts if there are no predators around.

      As for the pond, it is fine to add more water to top it up. Just make sure that the water is close to the same temperature, and that you treat it to remove any chlorine in it.

      I hope this helps.

  8. says

    I have got a breeding pair of Convicts, the female is cloured as well and I can see the egg laying tube. I got them in this state and they are well settled in the PVC pool I prepared with substrate on one side and thin layer of it and gave almost identical setup where they were kept already and they are hidinga nd feeding well. When can I expect to see the eggs and frys? and also how will i know if they have delivered or not, I am not touching the tank at all in this fear.

    • says

      They usually hatch after 3-4 days, and will stay in the spawning cave for a few days after that. Usually at around the 7 day mark after spawning, you will see the parents starting to herd the fry around the tank.

    • says

      I’ve kept them in the past, though I don’t have any currently. I’m going to do an article on them when I get the time. I have a huge list of articles that I’m planning to do in the near future.

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