Want to know more about the Convict Cichlid, also known as Amatitlania nigrofasciata?

Convicts make amazing pets for many reasons. Sure, they can be aggressive! But after reading this article, I bet you’ll view them in a different way.

Convict Cichlid Stats

Species: Amatitlania (Archocentrus) nigrofasciata
Common Name: Convict Cichlid
Size: 4 in (10 cm)
Habitat: CENTRAL AMERICA: streams and rivers and Lakes.
Min Tank Size: 20 gallon or larger for a pair.
Diet: Carnivorous, but accepts most prepared foods.
Behavior: Typical cichlid
Water: Temperature 68-96°F (20-36°C), ph 7.0 to 8.0, dH: 9-20
Care: Easy
Communities: No small fish.
Suitability: Good, will breed anywhere.

Quick stats:

Listed tank sizes are the minimum
Size: 5-6 inches (15cm) full grown males; females an inch or two smaller
Tank: At least 20 gallons, 25 per mated pair (24 inches)
Strata: Lower middle
PH: 6.0 to 8.0 (very wide range tolerated if kept stable)
Hardness: Soft to neutral
Temperature: 68°- 80°F (20° to 27° C) (wide range tolerated if kept stable)


Order: Perciformes
Family: Cichlidae
Genera: Amatitlania (Archocentrus)
Species: nigrofaciata

Distribution and Original Habitat

The Convict Cichlid is a freshwater species that hails from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. These cichlids dwell in fast-flowing streams and rivers across the entire length and breadth of Central America. Their natural habitat offers plenty of driftwood, rocks, and roughage where they can hide to rest. Several populations also exist in ponds and lakes with dense vegetation, although these hardy species prefer moving water.


Due to their alluring looks, Convict Cichlids have been incredibly popular in the aquarium scene for many years.


The Convict Cichlid is the runt of the Cichlidae family. While many cichlids can easily reach a length of 24 inches (60 cm) or more, a full-grown Convict Cichlid male maxes at 5 inches (12.7 cm) and 4 inches (10.2 cm) in females.

Colors and Patterns

Yup! You guessed it right. This black and white cichlid got its name “Convict” because the stripes along its body resemble old prison uniforms. These stripes are also the reason why the fish earned the nickname “Zebra Cichlid.” While the number of stripes may vary, adults will usually have 8 stripes or more. The more stripes, the better-looking the fish!

Now, how do you tell a male and female Convict Cichlid apart?

When the females are ready to breed, they develop an orange to red coloration towards the back of their abdomen, thus bringing more color to this already gorgeous species. The males, on the other hand, will grow a small nuchal hump (big head) as they reach sexual maturity. Adult males also have larger anal and dorsal fins than females.

Having said that, this should make sexing a cinch, but Convict Cichlids are monomorphic. Thus, you’ll have to wait until the cichlids are sexually matured before you can distinguish the males from the females.

What’s more interesting is that there are a few varieties of Convicts. Due to selective breeding, you’ll find White, Pink, and Gold Convicts. All of these varieties possess a recessive gene.


The average Convict Cichlid lifespan ranges between 8 to 10 years. But in some cases, these fish can live longer, especially when they are provided optimal care.

Behavior and Temperament

The striped cichlid may not boast lively color combinations, but its species are valued for their behavior, intelligence, and personality. If you’re on the fence, here are a few reasons to get Convict Cichlids.

Big Personalities

Convicts don’t pop your tank with color or synchronized swimming patterns, but they do display a lot more personality than most of their tankmates. What’s more, they seem to be more cognizant of their surroundings both in and out of the tank.

Convicts aren’t afraid to wander around the aquarium inquisitively. They would check out the decor, do some digging, and gaze at their tankmates, among other things. It’s like these cichlids are analyzing their surroundings and evaluating their companions!

Are Convict Cichlids Aggressive?

Yes, they are. Their temperament is why you should add elements of privacy for your cichlids. Convicts are less aggressive when they have plenty of hiding spots to hunker down. As juveniles, they start off as schooling fish. But once a male pair off with a female, the two would choose their lair and injure other Convicts that may invade their privacy.

Size Doesn’t Matter

Size matters in the fish kingdom. Any fish small enough to fit in another fish’s mouth will become dinner, and the most aggressive male in the aquarium is the “Tank Boss.” However, Convict Cichlids are one of those fish that have little regard for this rule.

The opposing cichlids couldn’t care less about the social hierarchy with other species. These fish will dilly dally around their own business. If needed, they will take on a dominant fish bigger than themselves. As a matter of fact, I’ve seen a single Convict can defend its home from a prying turtle and retaliate against a 7-inch Jack Dempsey cichlid.

A Convict Cichlid is a Mini Flowerhorn

The best thing about Convict Cichlids is that they can hold their own in a predator tank. At 4 to 5 inches, these cichlids are big enough that they can’t be eaten by much bigger, more aggressive predatory fish. To make a long story short, Convicts are like mini Flowerhorns.

Flowerhorns are amongst the most popular aquarium fish due to their striking patterns and vibrant coloration, which is believed to bring good luck according to Chinese beliefs.

Unfortunately, this fish requires a considerably large tank for a fish that is often kept alone.
While the Convict Cichlid isn’t as colorful as the Flowerhorn, the males grow nuchal humps, as well. You can also train these little guys to greet you whenever you pass by. And if you don’t like hybrids because you are a “purist aquarist,” the Convict Cichlid is a fantastic alternative to the Flowerhorn.

Tank Mates

As a group, Convict Cichlids are not suitable for a community aquarium because they threaten other fish that may stray into their quarters. On the contrary, they make terrific tank members in a predator-exclusive tank, as they divert the aggression from other fish.

Best Tank Mates for Convict Cichlids

Can Convict Cichlids live with African Cichlids? Unfortunately, no. On the bright side, the feisty Convicts can fit right in with a lot of Central and South American cichlids. So, what fish can be kept with Convict Cichlids?

In terms of tank mates, the best ones would be the following:

  • Јack Dempsey
  • Green Terror
  • Salvini
  • Texas Cichlid
  • Fire Mouth
  • Electric Blue Acaras
  • Severum
  • Geophagus
  • Rubber or Bristlenose Pleco

Consider getting at least one or two small groups of dither fish.

Great examples include:

  • Giant Danios
  • Picture Catfish
  • Clown Loaches
  • Tiger Barbs

A good dither fish will dissipate some of the aggression for Convicts. What’s more, they bring life to the upper columns of the tank. Predators usually hang out at the bottom.

How Many Convict Cichlids Can You Keep?

While these fish are best kept in pairs, groups may also work if you have a sizable tank.

Aggression kicks in when a breeding pair forms, but you can keep unpleasant behaviors at bay by putting them in a large tank furnished with plenty of decorations. Doing so will prevent other cichlids from getting in the way of others’ business.

Another excellent strategy is to maintain a male-to-female ratio of 1:3. You would rather have more females than males, as they cause trouble.

Can I Keep a Single Convict Cichlid?

Yes, you can! Unlike other species, Convict Cichlids don’t fall into fish depression if they live solitarily. Likewise, they are bold enough to investigate their habitat on their own despite having bigger threats around. Surprisingly, the snappy Convict will also do just fine in a community aquarium when kept singly, although it may come with an element of risk.


Convict Cichlids are legendary breeders in the hobby. They are one of the easiest aquarium fish to breed, and they possess incredible paternal instincts to boot. To encourage natural breeding habits, you’ll need to warm up the tank between 80° to 84° F (27° to 29° C), along with adding shelters where the female can lay her eggs.

A breeding pair is inseparable, as both parents would protect their eggs at all costs. That’s why they should not keep them in a community tank when you are about to breed them.

Equally important, devise a plan for what to do with the fry. A female Convict can lay up to 300 eggs at a time. Imagine how crowded your aquarium will be once they grow!

Convict Cichlids Care Guide

So, how do you take care of a Convict Cichlid? It may surprise you, but taking care of these guys is a breeze.


Moving on, let’s talk about their diet. Convict Cichlids are omnivores, which means you may feed them flakes or pellets once in a while. It is also a good idea to feed them live/frozen brine shrimp, Tubifex worms, and bloodworms as a treat. Convicts will eat these meaty bits with gusto, but keep the flakes or pellets as their staple food.

As with any fish, high-quality food equates to good health. So, choose wisely which brand to buy. In terms of the feeding frequency, you may feed them once or twice a day. Don’t overfeed your fish. Doing so will only compromise your water parameters.

Water Conditions

Convicts can live in hard water with a pH level between 6.5 and 8. They are not coldwater fish, so you’ll need to install a heater for these guys. The ideal water temperature is between 79° and 84° F. Even though they are hardy fish and can withstand levels slightly outside these ranges, it is important to provide them with the best possible environment for them to truly thrive and look their best in your aquarium.


Convict Cichlids seem pretty much indestructible, which makes them a beginner’s favorite. These fish can handle stress well regardless of whether it is due to transportation, ammonia spikes, tank mates, and whatnot.

Still, that’s not a valid reason to mistreat them and keep them in an unsuitable environment. Eventually, these fish may fall victim to Ich if you allow them to live in subpar conditions.

Tank Setup

Convict Cichlids don’t need fancy setups. All they want is for you to replicate their natural habitat as much as possible.


So, what size tank do convict cichlids need?

I recommend no smaller than a 40-gallon tank for three non-breeding Convicts. You don’t want to keep two males for a tank this size; otherwise, those two will torment each other. Additionally, consider adding small species of dither fish to diffuse aggression.

Moreover, a 55-gallon tank (208 liters) would do if you wish to keep a breeding pair. Only this time you shouldn’t add other species. A pair of breeding Convicts will viciously attack any fish that may swim past their nest.

Plants and Decorations

Hideouts are vital for Convict Cichlids. Terra cotta pots, ceramic caves, and coconut shells are fantastic examples, as they are big enough for Cichlids to squeeze themselves in.

Adding limestone and dolomite rock formations is also a brilliant idea, as it provides aesthetic appeal and helps maintain proper water chemistry at the same time. Driftwood is also great, as the waters Convicts come from have these in abundance.

As for plants, Convicts pay little to no attention to them, but they make a nice addition nonetheless. Aquatic plants also add cover. However, you wouldn’t want to add rooted ones since these fish sometimes love to dig and rearrange the decor.


Convicts will do best with fine sand since these fish will sometimes do a bit of digging. Coarse substrate, like pebbles and gravel, will only scratch them.


I recommend installing a canister filter or a strong HOB (hang-on-back) filter for your fishy friends, especially because they love to make a mess out of the substrate. If you are planning to set up a large predator aquarium, then I strongly suggest you use a sponge filter for extra biological filtration.


Convict Cichlids are always up to something, which makes them so interesting to watch. Are you ready to own a pair or more?

Let’s rewind and remember the most important points:

  • Convict Cichlids can tolerate a wide range of parameters, but you’ll still want to stay within the recommended range.
  • These fish will need high-quality flakes or pellets as their main diet supplemented by occasional servings of live/frozen food.
  • Albeit aggressive, you can house a single Convict Cichlid in a community aquarium, provided that it contains plenty of decorations for the fish to hide.
  • Keep 1 male Convict for every 3 females to keep aggressive behaviors at bay.
  • If you wish to breed a pair, it would be wise to put them in a separate tank until they wean their fry.
  • Add dither fish when keeping Cichlids in a predator-exclusive tank.

All in all, the Convict Cichlid’s hardy nature and ease of care make them perfect for beginners. They are also suitable for novice fishkeepers who are looking to try breeding fish.

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