Convict Cichlid: A Guide to Care, Breeding, Diet & Behavior

Convict Cichlids are one of the most popular species among freshwater aquarists due to their distinct appearance and low maintenance requirements.

Although you do not need to be an expert to care for convict cichlids, there are a few things you should be aware of before purchasing any for your aquarium.

This comprehensive book will tell you everything you need to know about the species, including its origins, habits and temperament, fish tank needs, reproduction, and more.

Convict Cichlid Overview

Convict Cichlid Overview

Family: Cichlidae
Origin: Central America
Temperament: Aggressive
Size: Up to 6 inches
Minimum Tank Size: 30 Gallons
Diet: Omnivore
Care: Intermediate
pH: 6.5 to 8.0
Alkalinity Levels: 9-20 dkH
Temperature: 68 to 77 F (20 to 25 C)

Origin and Habitat

Convict cichlids (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) are found in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, but are endemic to Central America.

Lakes and streams with abundance of boulders and wood provide their natural habitat, which they can utilize as a hideaway.

Behavior & Temperament

Convict cichlids are known for being aggressive and territorial, chasing away any fish that enters their region.

They spend the majority of their time in caves and among vegetation. This information is necessary in order to understand how to build up your tank and which tank mates to pair them with, which we will discuss later in this tutorial.

They spend a lot of time in the middle of the tank, but they also enjoy to roam around and explore their surroundings, as well as burrow in the substrate.

Convict Cichlid Lifespan

A convict cichlid’s average lifespan is 8 to 10 years, with many exceeding this age range. Taking adequate care of them and providing a suitable atmosphere is the greatest approach to ensure they live a longer life.

Colors and Markings

The convict cichlid has a grey to silver body with many black vertical bars. During breeding, female cichlids may have a little red or orange belly.

This breed also comes in albino varieties, which are known as white, pink, or gold prison cichlids.

How Big Do Convict Cichlids Get?

A convict cichlid is about 4-5 inches long on average. Males can reach 6 inches in length, while females reach roughly 4.5 inches.

The convict variation is small in contrast to other cichlid species, which is a benefit because it allows you to keep them in smaller tanks.

How Do You Tell The Difference Between a Male and Female Convict Cichlid?

The distinction between a male and a female convict cichlid is rather easy to make. Males have larger anal and dorsal fins, are longer, and have a more pronounced forehead than females.

To discern the difference between males and females, you’ll have to wait until they’re adults. It’s difficult to tell the difference between males and females while they’re young.

During spawning season, females have a tiny red or orange patch on their belly, which can be used to distinguish them. Females have a more vibrant colouring, with colorful strips and red/yellow dots in general.

Tank Requirements for Convict Cichlids

Because this species has such a diverse natural habitat, they are extremely resilient fish that can thrive in a variety of water conditions.

Having saying that, there are a few things to keep in mind before putting up a prison tank. Let’s look at the tank specifications.

What Size Tank Do Convict Cichlids Need?

For convicts, a 30 gallon tank is the bare minimum. Because they are territorial and aggressive, a 40 gallon tank is preferable because the extra area will make them happier. Aggressive fish’s behavior deteriorates in smaller tanks.

If you want to breed convict cichlids, you’ll need a 50 gallon tank.

Water Parameters

Convict cichlids are tough fish that come from the warm waters of South America. They can survive a wide range of water parameters. This is why they are ideal for novices because they are simple to care for.

However, there are still some ideal parameters to adhere to.

  • Water temperature: 79°F to 84°F
  • pH levels: 6.5 to 8
  • Water hardness: 10 to 15 dH

What Do Convict Cichlids Like In Their Tank?

In order to imitate a convict’s natural surroundings, the tank will require specific items. Let’s have a look at some examples:

  • Substrate: Convict cichlids prefer sandy substrates. Because these fish enjoy digging, you should use a coarse substrate to avoid scratching them.
  • Plants: Inside the aquarium, you should have a range of different plants.
  • Rocks and driftwood: A convict cichlid’s natural environment is littered with rocks and driftwood. This provides them with plenty of hiding spots, as they can be aggressive fish.
  • A powerful filtration system

Diet and Feeding of Convict Cichlids

Cichlids can eat a wide variety of foods because they are natural omnivores who will eat both plant and animal stuff.

However, the majority of their diet should consist of high-quality flake or pellets designed exclusively for cichlids. They feed mosquito larvae, plant debris, and small insects in their natural habitat.

Fresh and frozen live meals such as Daphnia, Black Worms, Brine Shrimp, and Blood Worms can also be fed to them. Broccoli, lettuce, and carrots are examples of vegetables.

It is always preferable to feed in smaller servings, around 2-3 times per day, rather than one large meal. By contaminating the tank, large amounts of food might destabilize the water conditions.

Will Convict cichlids eat other fish?

Convict cichlids are highly aggressive fish that have been known to attack any other fish, including those twice their size. Smaller fish, crabs, insects, and algae are among the foods they will eat if they can fit it in their mouths.

Common Problems and Diseases

Convict cichlids, like many other species, are susceptible to typical freshwater ailments, but the good news is that there are no diseases peculiar to this species.

Ich, fin rot, and a change in behavior are just a few of the possibilities. Keep an eye on them and inspect them periodically for anything out of the ordinary, such as white spots on their bodies.

The best method to avoid common problems and diseases in the first place is to take proper care of them and give them with the ideal environment inside the tank, as well as a nutritious diet.

What fish can you put with convict cichlids?

Due to the violent and territorial nature of prison cichlids, extensive research and planning is essential before evaluating suitable tank mates.

Because they will attack any fish that enters their domain, this species is not suitable for a community tank. We recommend keeping cichlids in their own tank, especially if you are a newbie aquarist.

If you have some experience, you can put them in with other fish, but they must be the same size or larger than cichlids, and they must be able to stand their ground. Some instances are as follows:

  • Jack Dempsey
  • Pictus Catfish
  • Green Terror
  • Silver dollar fish
  • Giant Danio
  • Other South American Cichlids (Jewel and Firemouth)

A male and female cichlid is another wonderful combination. The most important thing to understand is that the more fish you put to a tank, the more troubles you’ll have.


Convict cichlids are exceedingly easy to breed, and they also make excellent parents. If you wish to breed, here are some suggestions:

  • Cichlids reach sexual maturity around the age of seven months and spawn all year.
  • For breeding, a larger, 50 gallon tank is necessary.
  • Inside the aquarium, rocks and caves are required to allow females to lay their eggs, as this is how they do in the wild.
  • Except for the temperature of the water, which should be raised to 84°F, the water parameters can be kept the same as advised previously.

So, what’s next?

  • After around 4 days, the eggs will hatch, resulting in approximately 30 convicts.
  • The parents will provide food and shelter for the children.
  • After another 5 days, they will abandon their yolk sac and begin to swim.


Remember that you don’t need to be an expert to care for a convict cichlid, which is one of the reasons they’re so popular. Just keep in mind that they can be violent and possessive.

Simply couple a male and a female inmate or match them with the appropriate tank mates. Is this a species you have in your tank? Please share your thoughts in the comments box below.