Convict Cichlids are common aquarium fish that can be very easy for the right owner to keep. Convict Cichlids are Central American Cichlids found in lakes and streams of Costa Rica to Panama. Although there are many different types of convict cichlids, their general scientific name is Amatitlania nigrofasciata, meaning a black-striped cichlid. Another name that they may go by is Zebra cichlid. This is due to their white body with black stripes throughout.
They get their name Convict cichlid from their black and white stripes, which have been compared to prisoner uniforms. Compared to other cichlids, Convicts are on the smaller side of the scale. Also, compared to other cichlids, Convicts are extremely protective of their young, whereas some other cichlids could be a little more lenient. If the keeper is looking for a fish that would be easy to breed, this could be the fish for them, as Convicts breed very easily, sometimes even without trying.
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How to Care for Convict Cichlids
Because Convicts come from Central American lakes and streams, it is safe to say that they are fond of warmer water than other fish may be. Generally, they like their water temperature to be between 79 to 84 degrees Fahrenheit.
They are rather flexible regarding the pH of the water they can tolerate, as they fall within a range of 6.6-7.8. This is a rather neutral pH and should provide flexibility if other tank members have more specific needs.
Convict Cichlid Size
As previously mentioned, Convicts fall on the smaller side of the scale when it comes to cichlids. Generally, males can grow to a maximum of six inches, while females can grow to around four and a half inches.
Food & Diet
Convicts are omnivores which makes the life of the keeper easier as Convicts will generally eat just about anything. In the wild, they have been known to eat a variety of food, including but not limited to plant debris, insects, and mosquito larvae, but in the aquarium, they will eat almost anything that is offered to them. That being said, your usual cichlid food will suffice.
Convict Cichlid Lifespan
As is the case with all fish and life in general, the expected lifespan can vary based on the treatment throughout the life of the said living creature. The same can be said for Convicts. Their expected lifespan is usually an average of 8-10 years, but there have been reports in the past of them living longer than that.
Convict Cichlid Tank Size
Because Convicts are known to be aggressive, they need a rather large tank considering their small size. For a pair you aren’t planning to breed, a minimum of thirty gallons is recommended. A fifty-gallon tank should be provided for a pair you intend to breed. Touching on their aggression again, if you plan on breeding them, it’s best that they are the only fish in the tank for the safety of the other potential tank members.
Convicts prefer slow-moving water, so it may be beneficial to ease the pressure of your filter and avoid excessive flow pumps. When it comes to a substrate, they prefer either rocks or sand. To try to make the aquarium as close to its natural habitat as possible, you might notice that they appreciate plants and driftwood. These things make up the home they create to return to.
Although they are not typically shy fish, they’ll have somewhere to go if something spooks them or they want to retreat. They will become very protective of these homes they create and claim as their own.
Convict Cichlid Breeding
Convicts are known for how easy they are to breed as they reach sexual maturity at 7 months old and will spawn year-round. If your goal is to breed your fish, it’s helpful to note that in the wild, the females prefer to lay their eggs in caves or on a flat rock as they generally favor flat surfaces. That being said, it may be helpful for you to simulate this in your tank. This simulation can be achieved by placing clay flowerpots in the tank and increasing the water temperature to 80 degrees.
Convict Cichlid Eggs
After the male’s fertilization, both the male and the female instantly become protective of the eggs. The female takes her position guarding the eggs while the male will ensures that he is guarding the perimeter and keeping any potential intruders or danger away. The eggs only take about 4 days to hatch. Once the eggs hatch, the parents will seek food to bring back for their young.
Convict Cichlid Fry
Five additional days after the eggs hatch, you can expect the babies to abandon their yolk and start to swim. This is when the male will become aggressive towards the babies. This aggression could escalate to him trying to eat them.
Convict Cichlid Male or Female
It is considered to be relatively easy for sex Convicts. Males are generally larger overall, but they also have larger anal and dorsal fins. Many male cichlids may also be sexed by noting the sizable hump on their head called a nuchal hump. Although it is more common for a male to have a nuchal hump, there is a chance that females may have one too, so it’s important to continue on with other telltale signs of gender.
Females, on the other hand, will have more pronounced coloring in their black stripes. This is unusual because most fish species are the other way around, where the male has bolder and more pronounced coloring, and the female’s coloring is more on the dull side.
Although no diseases specifically target Convict cichlids, they are still prone to common cichlid diseases, which can include swim bladder disease, cotton wool disease, ich, gill flukes, tuberculosis, and hole in the head.
Swim bladder disease
Swim bladder disease can happen to most fish regardless of their species. Their swim bladder ensures that they stay balanced, and when something happens to it, and it is damaged in some way, it can affect their balance, and they may start to swim any way aside from upright. This can be caused by poor water quality or poor food selection. They can usually flip themselves back to upright, but if they stop resisting, they may end up upside down. Although there are home remedies that can potentially help manage the issue, there is no known cure, and there’s a chance that the fish may eventually die due to this disease.
Cotton wool disease
The cotton wool disease can lead to the spotting and rotting of fins. This is caused by bacteria that can come from poor water quality. Many people think this is a fungal issue when it is actually bacterial. It is imperative to distinguish the difference between a bacterial infection and a fungal infection, as the two have different treatments. This disease primarily targets fish with weak immune systems and can be highly infectious and even deadly if not properly handled.
Cotton wool can be quick and potentially kill its victim within 48 hours, giving the keeper little time to notice any changes or signs of illness. However, there is also a chance that your fish may have a strain that makes itself known as it is a slower process. In this case, the signs and symptoms will be more noticeable to the keeper. These symptoms can include the fish having difficulty swimming, a sudden change in appetite, pale gills, splotches and/or patches of discoloration on their skin, and lethargy.
To treat cotton wool disease, you will need to isolate the sick fish and consult a vet to determine which strain the fish has so that the proper antibiotics can be determined for treatment.
Ich, also known as white spot disease, appears in the form of white spots on the body, fins, and gills. Other symptoms to look out for include lethargy, a loss of appetite, and the fish rubbing against other objects in the tank. It is also highly contagious, so it is safe to assume that they all do once one fish in your aquarium has it. That being said, when it comes time to treat the fish, you are better off treating the entire tank rather than isolating the fish as you might do with other diseases or illnesses.
Treatment includes raising the temperature of the water. This can help speed up the lifecycle of the parasite that has infected your fish and your tank, hopefully getting your fish closer to recovery. If you’re going to try the method of raising the temperature of your tank, keep your fish in mind and make sure that they can handle the increased temperatures. You should also be sure to treat the water with chemicals. Helpful chemicals include formalin, potassium permanganate, methylene blue, copper sulfate, and malachite green.
Gill flukes are another common disease for cichlids caused by a parasitic flatworm. As expressed in the name, the fish’s gills are attacked down to the gill membranes. This can cause the gills to develop a thick coat of slime that alters the fish’s ability to breathe. This can result in the fish gulping for air or, like ich, rubbing its body on other objects in the tank. The color of the fish can also fade due to this disease. Most people treat gill flukes by adding aquarium salt to the tank and raising the temperature slightly.
Tuberculosis has proven to be potentially fatal. It can also be transmitted to the keeper if they come in contact with an open wound or broken skin. Your fish may have tuberculosis if you notice the following symptoms: loss of appetite, the skin covered in white blotches, fins that frayed, a sunken stomach, and possibly even behavioral changes altogether. Common treatment includes isolating the infected fish and treating the tank with melafix, and thoroughly sanitizing the original tank where the fish was infected.
Hole in the head
Hole in the head is rather self-explanatory and can be identified by an indent in the head. Common symptoms include a sudden loss of appetite and, therefore, a loss of weight. A mineral imbalance can cause this, a parasite called Hexamita being introduced, or simply poor water quality. To treat hole in the head of your fish, you must improve the quality of the water and the fish’s diet. In some cases, antibiotic treatment will also be necessary.
As you can see, there are a lot of overlapping symptoms among the common diseases that cichlids may be forced to face if they become infected. Many of these diseases are also highly preventable so long as the quality of the fish’s water and diet is quality. For a more advanced keeper, it can be easier to distinguish between the illnesses, but sometimes a second opinion may be necessary.
Convict Cichlid Tank Mates
Convicts are known to be highly aggressive, but this can be maintained and managed if they are provided with the right care and a sufficient environment. It is very important for them to be given a sufficient amount of space and keep in mind the tank mates with whom they can peacefully coexist. They value their privacy, so it’s important for them to have many places to hide and call their own. They have been reported to be less aggressive when in a large tank and have places to hide and keep to themselves.
How many Convict Cichlids should be kept together?
If you’re looking to keep a larger number of Convicts, the suggested maximum is two breeding pairs per 40 gallons. It’s best not to surpass that, as high levels of aggression will most likely emerge as each pair has less space to themselves.
Convict Cichlid and Blood Parrot
If you’re looking to keep both convict cichlids and blood parrots, there is a chance that they will be suitable tank mates, but it’s important to watch out for signs of aggression, especially if spawning is happening.
Convict Cichlid and Oscar
Oscar fish are noted as being one of the best tank mates that a convict cichlid can be with. In many ways, such as size and behaviors, Convicts and Oscars are very similar, which means that there will be minimal aggression as both species will be too busy defending and protecting what’s theirs rather than encroaching on one another’s territory.
Convict Cichlid and Angelfish
Angelfish and Convicts are not considered to be an ideal pair because of the Convict’s known aggression. Some sources state that if the tank is big enough, there shouldn’t be a problem, but others state that, especially if there is a pair of Convicts, the Angelfish’s fins will likely be attacked, eventually shredded, and in the worst-case scenario, the pair will eventually kill the Angelfish. Needless to say, it’s best these two be kept separately.
Convict Cichlid and Pleco
Although you should note that a common pleco grows to what could be considered an unmanageable size, requiring a minimum of 100 gallons, they would make great tank mates for Convicts. The common pleco grows to be more aggressive the older they get. Comparable to the situation with Oscars, this would make for an amicable relationship with Convicts since both species will most likely keep to themselves and stay out of each other’s hair. So long as they are each provided with an ample amount of their own territory, and a variety of hiding spots and boundaries aren’t crossed on either side, they can peacefully coexist.
More specifically, the Bristlenose pleco would also be a great tank mate for Convicts. The main difference between these and the common pleco is that the Bristlenose grows to a size that more people deem manageable. Another difference between common and Bristlenose plecos is that Bristlenose plecos are generally more on the timid side and need places to hide.
These hiding places prove to be of more importance when the Bristlenose plecos are young because they will be more vulnerable, to the point that Convicts can damage their bristles permanently.
Convict Cichlid and Flowerhorn
Due to the abundant aggressive nature of the Flowerhorn, there are very few tank mates they are compatible with. Unfortunately, Convicts are not on the list, and these two should also be kept separately.
Convict Cichlid and Tetras
Convicts are incompatible with tetras, and the two should not be kept in the same tank. Convicts will go after and/or eat too small fish, especially if they roam into the Convict’s territory.
Convict Cichlid and Rainbow Shark
Rainbow sharks are also considered suitable tank mates for Convicts as they also become territorial and aggressive when their space is invaded. These similar behaviors should keep the two from getting into altercations as they focus on guarding their territory rather than expanding into another area that could possibly interfere with another’s territory.
Convict Cichlids and Guppies
Similar to tetras, guppies are not suitable tank mates for Convicts as they run the risk of being attacked or killed if they happen to wander into the claimed territory of a Convict. Fish that are too small and easy for the Convicts to attack should be kept out of the situation. On the other end of the spectrum, fish that are too big will intimidate the Convicts and stress them out, so it is typically better to keep Convicts with tank mates that are around the same size as them.
Where can I find Convict Cichlids for sale?
While there is a chance that you will be able to find and purchase Convict cichlids at your local pet store, there are also multiple sources online that sell live fish and can ship them to you overnight.
Convict Cichlid Price
In some areas where there is an abundance of Convicts, there’s a chance that they will be highly inexpensive if people are willing to buy them. Even if they aren’t abundant in the area, they are relatively inexpensive fish and will only cost a couple of dollars each.
Convict Cichlid Types
The most commonly known variation of the Convict cichlid is the one that has been named Zebra cichlid. Although it is a common misconception that these fish are black and white, they have more of a blue-gray base and black stripes. Generally, when Convicts are mentioned, this is the variation that most people will picture. However, similar to many other fish species, selective breeding has created multiple variations.
Today, you can also find pink, white, and gold Convicts. Interestingly enough, some of these less common variations may not even be recognized as Convicts without a closer look since they lack the signature stripes. These stripes are generally 8 or 9 bars evenly spread throughout the body. Without these signature stripes, it can be hard to pinpoint which species you are looking at.