Minimum Tank Size: 20 Gallons (29 Gallons recommended)
Care Level: Easy
Water Conditions: PH 6-8 and Soft to Neutral
Temperature: 68-80 F (20-27 C)
Maximum Size: 6 inches (15.2 cm) for males, and 4 for females (10.2 cm)
The convict cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) is found throughout Central America, inhabiting a wide array of habitats. It is commonly found in streams and rivers, but it is also known to live in ponds and lakes with thick plant cover. But in general, it prefers moving water, and is often found sheltering in submerged branches and rock formations.
The male convict cichlid grows up to 6 inches (15.2 cm) in length, while the female grows to an average length of 4 inches (10.2cm). When the females reach breeding maturity, the stomach of the fish will take on red hue, making sexing quite easy in mature convict cichlid fish.
Convict cichlids can be a messy fish, and should generally be housed in a spacious, species only tank. The minimum tank size for a non-breeding pair should be a 20 gallon tank, though the ideal size is closer to 29 gallons.
If a person is planning to breed convict cichlids, or hopes (and I stress the word hopes) to keep them in a community tank, then they should be kept in at least a 55 gallon fish tank. A pair of breeding convict cichlids will terrorize any tank that they are housed in, and will viciously attack anything that comes near their nest. It’s not unusual to see a breeding pair of cichlids take on a much larger fish, and have been known to attack fish nearly twice their size.
Since convict cichlids constantly dig and rearrange their tank, their aquarium should be over-filtered with a strong HOB (hang-on-back) filter, or in ideal circumstances, a canister filter (Click here for HOB filter reviews). For extra biological filtration, a second filter or a sponge filter can be added to the tank, which helps keep the water sparkling clean. This is especially useful if a person is planning to breed convict cichlids, as the fry need pristine water quality.
In the wild, convict cichlids primarily feed on small insects, worms, plant matter and algae. In the home aquarium, they will greedily eat nearly anything offered to them. But a healthy diet should be made up of a high quality fish food, with occasional frozen foods added for treats.
Their favorite frozen foods are blood worms, daphnia and brine shrimp. They will especially appreciate any live food that can cultured or caught – mosquito larvae and live black worms being particular favorites.
Convict cichlids are among the easiest tropical aquarium fish to breed. Unlike many other cichlids, they don’t selectively pair off, and any male and female in placed in an aquarium will usually breed within a few weeks.
Since convict cichlids prefer to lay eggs on rocky overhangs in the wild, the easiest way to simulate their natural habitat in the home aquarium is to provide them with overturned clay pots. Stacks of rocks will also work, and they have also been known to lay eggs in PVC pipe “caves”, but nothing seems to beat clay pots.
Once an egg laying surface has been provided, the male and female will begin clearing the area around their breeding site. Any plants will be removed and the substrate will likely be excavated and moved around to their liking.
During this time, the convict cichlid breed pair will viciously attack any other fish in their tank, and few fish – even the armored pleco can take this abuse for long. Needless to say, any breeding convicts should be kept in a tank without any other fish present.
Once their territory has been staked out, the female will deposit her eggs on a clay pot, and the male will fertilize them. The parents will diligently guard the eggs, with the male chasing away anything that comes close to the nest, while the female stays close to the eggs.
The fry will begin to hatch in a few days, and after about a week, the convict cichlid parents will begin to herd the tiny fry around the tank. At this point infusoria, and baby brine shrimp should be fed to the fry three times a day. If someone doesn’t want to go to the trouble of hatching brine shrimp or culturing infusoria, then there are a few commercial products available for feeding fry.
One of the most interesting aspects of owning convict cichlids, is watching the level of parental care that they give to their offspring. While guppies and many other fish will make a quick snack of their offspring, convict cichlids are extremely caring parents. They will dig paths through plants for their fry, stir up the substrate to uncover food, and quickly get the fry to safety anytime they feel threatened. Even in a tank with equal sized predator fish, it’s exceedingly rare to even lose even one convict cichlid fry.