Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata): Ultimate Care Guide

Convict Cichlids are a common aquarium fish that can be a very easy fish to keep for the right owner. Convict Cichlids are Central American Cichlids that can be 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, which essentially means 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, when 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.

How to Care for Convict Cichlids

Due to the fact that 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 for their water temperature to be within the range of 79 to 84 degrees Fahrenheit.

Water pH

They are rather flexible when it comes to the pH of the water that they can tolerate as they fall within a range of 6.6-7.8. This is a rather neutral pH and should provide some flexibility if other members of the tank 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.

Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata)
Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata)

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

Due to the fact that Convicts are known to be aggressive, they need a rather large tank considering their small size. For a pair that you aren’t planning to breed, a minimum of thirty gallons is recommended. For a pair that you are intending to breed, a fifty-gallon tank should be provided. Touching on their aggression again, if you are planning on breeding them, it’s best that they are the only fish in the tank, for the safety of the other potential tank members.

Tank Setup

Convicts prefer slow-moving water, so it may prove to 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 their natural habitat as possible, you might notice that they appreciate plants and driftwood. These things make up the home that they create for themselves to return to. Although they are not typically shy fish, if something spooks them or they would like to retreat, they’ll have somewhere to go. They will become very protective of these homes that 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 a young 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 make sure 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 go out seeking 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 around the time that 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 to sex Convicts. Males are generally larger in size 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 which is 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 when it comes to 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.

Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata)
Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata)


Although there are no diseases that 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

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 in reality it is bacterial. It is imperative to be able 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 prove to 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 very 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 as well as lethargy. In order to treat cotton wool disease, you will need to isolate the sick fish and potentially consult a vet in order to determine which strain the fish has so that the proper antibiotics can be determined for treatment.

Ich Disease

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 can 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 once one fish in your aquarium has it, they all do. 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 which will hopefully get 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 can include formalin, potassium permanganate, methylene blue, copper sulfate, and malachite green.

Gill flukes

Gill flukes are another common disease for cichlids that is caused by a parasitic flatworm. As expressed in the name, the gills of the fish 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, similar to 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 potentially be 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 start to notice the following symptoms: loss of appetite, the skin is covered in white blotches, fins that are 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. This can be caused by a mineral imbalance, a parasite called Hexamita being introduced, or simply by poor water quality. In order to treat hole in the head in your fish, you must improve the quality of both the water and the fish’s diet. In some cases, an 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. A lot 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 as well as keep in mind the tank mates whom they can peacefully coexist with. They value their privacy which is why it’s important for them to have a great number of places to hide and call their own. They have been reported to be less aggressive when they are in a large tank and have places where they can 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 to not 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 be keeping to themselves and staying out of each other’s hair. So long as they are each provided with an ample amount of their own territory as well as a variety of hiding spots and boundaries aren’t crossed on either side, they can peacefully coexist.

A little 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 would deem manageable. Another difference between common and Bristlenose plecos to note 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 do permanent damage to their bristles.

Convict Cichlid and Flowerhorn

Due to the abundantly aggressive nature of the Flowerhorn, there are very few tank mates that 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 not compatible with tetras and the two should not be kept in the same tank. Convicts will go after and/or eat fish that are too small, especially if they roam into the Convict’s territory.

Convict Cichlid and Rainbow Shark

Rainbow sharks are also considered to be suitable tank mates for Convicts as they are also a species that becomes 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 Cichlid 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 altogether. 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 even 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 cichlids 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, there has been selective breeding that has created multiple variations. Today, you can also find pink, white, and gold Convicts. Interestingly enough, some of these variations that are less common may not even be recognized as Convicts without a closer look due to the fact that they lack the signature stripes. These stripes are generally 8 or 9 bars that are evenly spread throughout the body. Without these signature stripes, it can be hard to pinpoint exactly which species you are looking at.