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Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata)

Convict Cichlids are a popular choice among aquarium enthusiasts due to their distinctive appearance and intriguing behavior. Originating from the waters of Central America, these fish are known for their resilience and ease of care, making them suitable for both beginners and experienced aquarists. This comprehensive guide will cover everything you need to know about Convict Cichlids, from their profile and coloring to their aquarium setup, breeding, diet, feeding habits, and compatibility with other fish.

Convict Cichlid Facts

Fact Category Details
Scientific Name Amatitlania nigrofasciata
Common Names Convict Cichlid, Zebra Cichlid
Average Size 4-5 inches (10-12.5 cm)
Lifespan Approximately 10 years
Origin Central America
Tank Size Minimum 30 gallons
Water Temperature 79-84°F (26-29°C)
Water pH 6.5 to 8.0
Diet Omnivorous
Behavior Social; can be territorial during breeding
Compatibility Best with similar sized and tempered fish

Convict Cichlid Profile

The Convict Cichlid, scientifically known as Amatitlania nigrofasciata, is a small to medium-sized fish that typically grows up to 4-5 inches in length. They are known for their robust body shape and distinctive black stripes, which resemble a convict’s uniform, hence their name. These fish are hardy and adapt well to a variety of water conditions, making them a popular choice for both novice and experienced fish keepers.

Convict Cichlid Coloring

One of the most striking features of the Zebra Cichlid is its vibrant coloring. Males typically have a bluish-gray body with dark black stripes, while females are generally lighter with more prominent stripes. During the breeding season, females often develop a reddish hue on their belly, adding to their visual appeal.

Convict Cichlid Habitat

The Convict Cichlid, native to the streams and rivers of Central America, thrives in environments with abundant rocks and submerged branches. These provide essential hiding spots and breeding grounds. Preferring warm, slightly alkaline water, they adapt well to various conditions, making them a resilient species for both wild habitats and home aquariums. Their natural environment is characterized by a mix of still and flowing waters, rich in diversity.

Convict Cichlid Aquarium Setup

Setting up the right environment is crucial for the health and well-being of Nigrofasciatus cichlid.

Tank Size and Water Conditions

  • Tank Size: Convict Cichlids require a minimum tank size of 30 gallons. A larger tank is beneficial for multiple individuals, as it provides adequate space for swimming and territory establishment.
  • Water Conditions: Ideal water conditions include a temperature range of 79-84°F (26-29°C) and a pH level between 6.5 and 8.0. Regular water changes are crucial to maintain these conditions and ensure the health of the fish.

Substrate and Decoration

  • Substrate: A substrate of fine sand or small gravel mimics the natural habitat of Convict Cichlids and is suitable for their digging behavior.
  • Decoration: The aquarium should be decorated with rocks, driftwood, and caves to provide hiding spots and breeding areas. Plants can be included but may be uprooted due to the fish’s digging habits.

Filtration and Lighting

  • Filtration: A high-quality filtration system is essential to keep the water clean and well-oxygenated. Convict Cichlids produce a significant amount of waste, so efficient filtration helps in maintaining a healthy environment.
  • Lighting: Standard aquarium lighting is sufficient. If live plants are included, ensure the lighting supports their growth without causing excessive algae.

Social Environment

  • Tank Mates: Convict Cichlids can be kept with other fish of similar size and temperament. Avoid overly aggressive or much smaller species.
  • Single or Groups: These fish can be kept alone or in groups, but be aware of territorial behavior, especially during breeding.

Additional Considerations

  • Water Movement: Moderate water movement, replicating their natural stream habitats, is beneficial.
  • Regular Maintenance: Regular tank maintenance, including checking water parameters and cleaning, is vital for the well-being of Convict Cichlids.

Convict Cichlid Breeding

Zebra Cichlids are known for their ease of breeding and parental care. They are egg-layers and often choose flat surfaces like rocks or the aquarium glass to lay their eggs. Both parents actively protect and care for the eggs and fry, exhibiting fascinating parental behavior.

Breeding Environment

  • Tank Requirements: A separate breeding tank of at least 20 gallons is recommended. This allows for better control of conditions and reduces stress on the breeding pair.
  • Water Conditions: Maintain a slightly higher temperature, around 80-84°F (27-29°C), with a pH close to neutral (7.0). Consistent water quality is key, so regular water changes and filtration are important.
  • Decorations: Provide flat surfaces like rocks or slate for egg laying. Caves and hiding places are essential to make the breeding pair feel secure and protect them from disturbances.

Pair Formation and Courtship

  • Choosing a Mate: Convict Cichlids often choose their mates. Watch for a pair that shows mutual interest and isolates themselves from the group.
  • Courtship Behavior: The male typically displays brighter colors and engages in a dance-like behavior to attract the female. The pair will clean the chosen spawning site together.

Spawning Process

  • Egg Laying: The female lays eggs on the prepared surface, which can range from a few dozen to over a hundred.
  • Fertilization: The male then fertilizes the eggs. Both parents exhibit strong parental instincts, taking turns to guard and fan the eggs.
  • Hatching: Eggs usually hatch within 72-96 hours. The fry are initially immobile and adhere to the spawning surface.

Fry Care

  • First Days: For the first few days, the fry feed on their yolk sacs. Parents continue to guard them zealously.
  • Feeding the Fry: Once the fry start swimming freely, they can be fed with finely crushed flake food or specially formulated fry food. Live food like brine shrimp larvae can also be introduced.
  • Parental Behavior: Both parents are involved in guiding and protecting the fry. It’s not uncommon for them to move the fry to different locations within the tank.

Post-Breeding Care

  • Monitoring: Keep a close eye on the water quality, as the increased feeding for fry can lead to a build-up of waste.
  • Separation: If the parents start to show aggressive behavior towards the fry as they mature, it may be necessary to separate them into a different tank.

Convict Cichlid Diet & Feeding

A balanced diet is essential for maintaining the health of Zebra Cichlids. They are omnivores and require a mix of plant-based and protein-rich foods. High-quality cichlid pellets, flake foods, along with occasional treats like brine shrimp, daphnia, and bloodworms, ensure a nutritious diet. It’s important to feed them in small quantities multiple times a day to avoid overfeeding and maintain water quality.

Convict Cichlid Compatibility

While Convict Cichlids are generally peaceful, they can be territorial, especially during breeding. They do best with fish of similar size and temperament. Suitable tank mates include other cichlids, larger tetras, and catfish. They are compatible with Clown Loach, Silver Dollar Fish, Oscar fish, Giant Danio, Jack Dempsey, Green Terror, and Red Devil. It’s advisable to avoid housing them with small, timid, or aggressive fish to prevent conflicts.

Convict Cichlid Common Diseases

Nigrofasciatus cichlids are generally hardy but can be prone to common freshwater fish diseases. Ichthyophthirius multifiliis, commonly known as “Ich” or white spot disease, is a frequent ailment, marked by white spots on the skin and fins. They may also suffer from skin flukes and bacterial infections, often indicated by abnormal swimming, loss of appetite, or discoloration. Maintaining clean, well-filtered water and a balanced diet helps prevent these diseases and keeps Convict Cichlids healthy.


Convict Cichlids are a fascinating and rewarding species to keep in home aquariums. Their unique appearance, interesting behavior, and relatively easy care make them a great choice for both beginner and experienced aquarists. By understanding their needs in terms of habitat, diet, and social interactions, you can ensure a healthy and vibrant environment for your Zebra Cichlids.