Thanks for stopping by! This complete, comprehensive guide on convict cichlids care will teach you about their tank parameters, health, diet, behavior, tank pairings, and more!
The Convict Cichlid, or Zebra Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata), is native to Central and South American countries like Guatemala, Panama, and Costa Rica. They can be found in rivers or large streams, where the water is warm and there are lots of rockland dense vegetation to shelter in.
Within the fishkeeping hobby, they are one of the most popular fish from the Cichlidae family, with only Oscars and Angels being more popular. This popularity comes from their ability to tolerate a wider variety of water parameters than other fish and, of course, their visual appeal.
As they are such a common species within the fishkeeping hobby, the availability is generally pretty good. Most reputable local fish stockists will either have them in store or be able to locate them for you fairly quickly. You are looking at paying around £3.50 – £5 or $4 – $6 per fish.
Convict Cichlids Lifespan
Convict Cichlids are a hardy fish and if well cared for, can live as long as 10 years. Maintaining good water quality and feeding them a varied suitable diet will help keep them healthy.
As with many fish species, there can be a small difference between the sexes. Female convicts will grow to around 4 or 4.5 inches (10cm), whereas males can grow up to 6 inches (15cm).
There are two varieties of Convicts: ordinary Convicts and Albino Convicts. The more traditional looking Convicts have a silvery white body with grey or black stripes, hence the name. some strips will be solid, but others can have breaks or be thicker around the belly and thinner towards the spine.
Albino Convicts do not have any stripes and are a ghostly white or silvery color. Thanks to selective breeding, there are pseudo-albinos that will show shades of pink.
Convict Cichlids Tank
Convicts are one of the smallest cichlid species, but that does not mean they need less space. Convicts are territorial and require a tank size that allows them to set up their own territory within the tank. 20 – 25 gallons is the minimum tank size and it should be long rather than tall to provide plenty of swim room.
Convict cichlids require tank water with a pH between 6.5 and 8. You should also test your water regularly using a liquid test kit as they are more accurate than the strip tests. Ideally, your test should show a zero reading for Ammonia and Nitrites. Nitrates should not climb above 20. The lower the reading, the better your fish will be.
Their natural habitat is large streams and rivers with sandy substrates and lots of rocks. As they are diggers, be prepared for the substrate to be displaced or moved, especially if you have a breeding pair.
Plants and Decorations
There are lots of overhanging or fallen branches in a Convict’s natural environment and they use these to hide in and to lay their eggs. You can use pieces of driftwood and well-placed plants to replicate this. You should stick to hardy plants that grow a large root system as Convicts will dig around the substrate.
Java fern is a great option, as is Amazon Sword. You can also try Java moss and attach it to driftwood using fish-safe glue or wire. Limnophila sessiliflora is another good option. This stem plant will grow straight upwards toward the surface with lace-like bushy leaves. You can trim them and plant the trimmings. New roots will form, and you have a whole new plant for free!
Cichlids are a tropical fish species and prefer warmer water, so you will need to invest in an aquarium heater. Convicts have a preferred range of 22-29°C (72-84°F). The heater you need depends on the size of your tank. The general rule of thumb is 2.5 to 5 watts of heat per gallon of water volume. For example, a 25-watt heater is perfect for nano tanks of 30 litres (8 gallons) or smaller. If you are unsure, ask the tank manufacturer or your local fish stockist for advice.
Your tank lighting depends on the fish species and the plants you have in your aquarium. Live plants require blue light rays which penetrate much deeper through water than regular white light. If you cannot afford stronger lighting, choose low demand plants such as mosses or Java fern. You can purchase simple LED bulbs that will clip onto your tank or your can buy specially designed strip lighting that can sit over the top of your tank. If you purchase your tank as complete setup with a tank lid, it will most likely have a bulb fitted into the lid cavity.
All tanks require cleaning, even if it is just a regular weekly water change. It can be harder to maintain stable water parameters on a smaller tank, which is why small, regular water changes of 20% are important.
You will also need to fit a filter onto your fish tank to syphon out the toxins from the water that may make your tank inhabits ill. Some filters require simple filter media and a sponge. You can also purchase specialist sponges that remove carbon or phosphates from the water.
Convict Cichlids Health
Convict cichlids are particularly prone to swim bladder issues. Over feeding or feeding a poor diet are the most common causes of swim bladder problems and cichlids are greedy fish. To avoid this, feed only enough food that they can eat within 2 minutes, without there being any food left floating. You should also have at least one day per week where you do not put any food into your tank.
They are also prone to a condition called Malawi bloat. The symptoms to look out for are abdominal swelling, refusal to eat, reduction in activity and increased breathing rate. Most often, a large water change will solve the problem, but you will need to do this careful to avoid further stress.
Other conditions to look out for a common freshwater diseases like Ich, which is a fungus. This can be treated fairly easily with anti-fungal medication which you can purchase from your local fish stockist. Alternatively, you can try giving a salt bath. If you have more than one sick fish, you will need to dose the whole tank. If only one is showing symptoms, immediately move it to a separate quarantine tank and dose the medication there. You will need to keep the sick fish isolated for at least 2 weeks to be sure the illness has been successfully treated.
Convict Cichlids Food & Diet
Convict cichlids are omnivores. In the wild, they feed primarily on aquatic insects such as mosquito larvae and plant debris or algae. In an aquarium, you can feed brine shrimp, bloodworms, or daphnia as an occasional additional, but their main diet should be a high-quality pellet or flake specifically made for cichlids.
You can also offer blanches veggies such as courgetti/zucchini, broccoli, or lettuce. Remember to feed smaller portions rather than one large portion as any leftover or missed food can pollute the tank and affect your water parameters.
Behavior & Temperament
Convicts are naturally territorial and known to show aggressive behavior. If you want to have a breeding pair of Convict cichlids, they should be the only fish in the tank unless it is more than 200 litres (52 gallons). If they have enough space for a territory and there is still plenty of swim room available for other fish, you can have Convicts in a community tank. Be careful to only choose other cichlids or similar sized fish.
When a Convict feels nervous or threatened, they will hide among plants or under rocks, so be sure to add plenty of planted areas in the tank and at least one hide such as a flowerpot or cave.
If you have a breeding pair, they will lay eggs in dense vegetation or a hide if you provide it. The parents will guard the eggs from other fish and fan them to keep them oxygenated. The female will also dig pits in the substrate to move the newly hatched fry to.
Convict Cichlids Fish Pairing
The most compatible tankmates for Convict cichlids are other cichlids as they generally have a similar temperament. You are also pretty safe with bottom dwelling inhabitants such as loaches, Corydoras or Plecos.
Convict cichlids do not do well with nervous fish and will eat smaller fish. The rule is if it fits in its mouth then it’s food. This includes fish such as small tetras, danios and rasboras. Other fish to avoid are Gouramis as they tend to get bullied by Convict cichlids.
5 Convict Cichlid Tank Mates You Might Not Know!
Convict Cichlids FAQ
- Can I keep a single convict cichlid?
Yes, provided you have been careful when selecting your tankmates. You can also keep a Convict cichlid as the only fish in a tank, but they tend to show more natural behaviors when kept as a pair.
- Can Convict cichlids live with guppies?
It is better not to keep Convicts with guppies. They tend to be aggressive with smaller fish and guppies have long fins which can easily be damaged by a grumpy Convict.
- Can Convict cichlids change gender?
There is some debate as to whether or not certain cichlids can change gender. As yet, this has not been proven. What usually happens is that a submissive male may act like a female to avoid fights with a dominant male. If the dominant male is no longer in the same area, the subordinate male may then feel comfortable to behave normally.
- Do convict cichlids have teeth?
Yes, all cichlids have teeth, but they differ depending on the species’ diet. Algae eaters will have small rows of flat teeth to scrape off algae, whereas omnivores like Convicts will have small sharp teeth to grab prey like worms.
So, are Convict cichlids right for you? If you have a peaceful community tank, then it is not a good idea to introduce a territorial fish. If you are dead set on having a Convict in your community tank, choose one male. They tend to be less aggressive and territorial than the females.
If you are wanting to breed Convicts, then you will not need much besides a tank of at least 60 litres, plenty of planted areas, a hide and good water parameters.