Convict Cichlid Care

Convict Cichlid Care Guide

Also known as Zebra Cichlids, the Convict Cichlid is a species of fish that is incredibly popular in the fish keeping hobby due to their low care requirements, and their beautiful coloring.

Perfect for beginner aquarists, the Convict Cichlid is a relatively small fish that will grow up to around 6 inches in length for males, and around 4 inches in length for females.

The minimum tank size we would recommend for Convict Cichlids is around 25 gallons. If you have never kept a Cichlid fish before, then this is the species we would recommend to you.

In their natural habitat, the Convict Cichlid can be found in streams and rivers across the entire length and breadth of Central America. These are incredibly hardy fish that can survive and thrive in a variety of different water conditions.

Since the Convict Cichlid is most commonly found in moving rivers, it will come as no surprise that these fish love a little bit of a current to play in, as well as plenty of rocks, plants and roughage that they can hide in.

The name ‘Convict’ is drawn from it’s convict like colors of black and white stripes, hence the reason it’s also referred to as the Zebra Cichlid, however there are a couple of variations which are becoming increasingly popular such as the Black Convict Cichlid and the Pink Convict Cichlid.

If you are interested in adding some Convict Cichlids to your home aquarium, continue reading our Convict Cichlid Care Guide for information on how to house them, how to feed them, sex them and breed them.


Convict Cichlid Tank Conditions

Convict Cichlid Tank Mates

Cichlids in general are very hardy fish who can withstand a broad range of different tank conditions.

In regards to the temperatures, we would recommend replicating the waters of their natural habitat as much as possible, so anywhere between 70 – 82F (21 – 28C) would be ideal.

The pH of your tank is not something that needs much attention when housing Convict Cichlids, since they can thrive in just about any pH balance. If you are housing other types of fish, then keep your pH neutral to their needs, and the Cichlids will be fine. If you are just housing Cichlids and want a ballpark figure, then anywhere from 6-8pH would be fine.

Convict Cichlids do enjoy to hide under rocks and within branches and other roughage, so we would recommend adding as much as possible to the tank. Plants are not necessary, but some strong plants such as Java Fern or Amazon Swords can be a good addition to your tank.

It’s worth noting however, that Convict Cichlids are notorious for rearranging the tank to a layout which suits them, so don’t expect your plants to stay neat and tidy for long.

Because of this constant messiness and moving things around, you can expect your tank to get murky relatively quickly, so we would always recommend a very high quality filtration system if you want to house Cichlid fish.

A good Hang On Back filter should suffice, but if your budget permits, we would always recommend a good quality Canister Filter such as the Fluval 407 Series.

Convict Cichlid Tank Mates

While this particular species of fish is generally very timid, they can become extremely aggressive when they want to be, especially when they are breeding. We would recommend keeping Cichlids on their own, in their own separate tank (they are beautiful and active enough to enjoy this way) to prevent any issues, but if you are interested in keeping them in a community tank, then make sure it’s substantially larger than the minimum tank size (50 Gallons at least) and that the tank is not too overcrowded.

Convict Cichlids are a territorial fish, and will attack fish of any size to protect their property. When breeding, a pair of Convicts will live up to their name by terrorising the rest of the tank mates, without hesitation. It’s often recommended to keep large fish with Cichlids, but even they are not safe in our opinion.

If you are adamant that you want to keep these fish in our community tank, then make sure the rest of your fish are ones which are fast enough to evade any danger if the Cichlids ever decide to get a little nasty. Fish such as barbs and mollies.

Feeding Convict Cichlids

Convict Cichlids are far from fussy eaters. They will eat pretty much anything you throw in the tank, but obviously, the goal is to raise your fish as healthy as possible, so here are our recommendations for the optimal Convict Cichlid Diet.

convict cichlid suitable tank mates

The bulk of their diet should come from a high-quality fish flake or pellet. The majority of brands will work well, but we highly recommend that you choose a food that is specifically made for Cichlids, such as the New Life Spectrum Cichlid Formula.

To supplement the high-quality fish food, we would also recommend a regular feeding of both live and frozen foods such as blood worms, Tubifex worms, brine shrimp and Daphnia.

Our Cichlids are obsessed with the freeze dried blood worms from Omega One. We go through a tub every few weeks.

Fresh is obviously optimal, and it would be a great treat for your Cichlids but obviously, not everyone has access to live foods, so frozen will do just fine.

In the wild, Convict Cichlids tend to enjoy munching on small insects and larvae, so if you can throw a few live insects into the mix, or a few mosquito larvae, they will be sure to appreciate it.

Convict Cichlid Breeding

There’s a saying in the fish keeping community that the easiest way to breed Convict Cichlids is simply to ‘add water’, and it’s not far from the truth.

These fish are incredibly easy to breed, and they breed very often, so if you are ready to start breeding them, expect a batch of at least 20 – 30 little convicts within the space of a few weeks.

Convict Cichlids can spawn from a very young age, and they do not require a suitable breeding mate. Any male Convict will breed with any female Convict. No funny dancing, no chasing around the tank. Just add a male and a female to a big enough tank with the correct layout, and you will be the proud carer of Convict Cichlid fry in no time.

Convict Cichlid Fry

In the wild, the Convict Cichlids will lay their eggs on rocky overhangs, and in caves, so it’s important that you try to replicate this as much as possible.

Flat stones placed on top of each other are probably the best way to go about this, but clay pots and even PVC pipe will get the job done. It doesn’t matter where you place these rocky overhangs, because the Cichlids will move everything around to their liking anyway.

Plants will be demolished and substrate will be pushed aside. Although they are not picky over their mating partner, they are definitely fussy over where the magic happens!

If you leave a male and a female together for enough time, and you feed them plenty of food, you can expect to see a batch of eggs on the upper part of the ‘caves’ within a few weeks. While the eggs are maturing and preparing to hatch, the female Convict will guard them constantly, and the male will swim around, attacking any other fish which dare to come near.

Convict Cichlids are incredibly good parents, and they will literally fight for their lives in order to protect their eggs and their fry. Once hatched, the Convicts will help their fry find food, they will create safe burrows for them, and will fight with any species of fish if they feel threatened. It’s rare to lose a live Convict Cichlid fry.

Once the eggs are hatched (usually around 3 – 5 days), you can begin feeding them some small brine shrimp or a crushed up fry food. Infusoria is also a great, healthy food for the fry to snack on. When the fry are young, it’s important that you feed them frequently. At least 3 times a day will be enough.

Our favorite fry food for Convict Cichlids and most other freshwater fish is the Ocean Nutrition Instant Baby Brine. It’s not the cheapest fry food on the market, but it’s definitely one of the best. You need to give your fry the best possible start if you want them to grow into healthy and vibrantly colored adults.

Sexing Convict Cichlids

Just like the entire breeding process, sexing a Convict Cichlid couldn’t be any easier. The males are almost always larger by a couple of inch, and the females will generally develop a yellowy red colouring to their underbelly once they reach sexual maturity.

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  1. my convicts laid eggs but the eggs is gone now.did they perhaps eat it?

  2. Mike Jack says:

    Beautiful fish that makes a great wet pet. One of my males will spit rocks at the glass until I let him chase my hand around. Great with Oscars unless you have a breeding pair.

  3. Joleen Brann says:

    I had about 50 fry two days ago. I fed them yesterday morning, but forgot to feed them until this evening and ALL of them were gone. It was night and dark in their tank. But when I turned the light on, they were ALL GONE. what could have happened to them?

    1. Anonymous says:

      Did you check your filter? ????

  4. Nichole S Hughey says:

    Would convict fry be good food for my axolotl as fry is all she’ll eat?

    1. Hi Nichole!

      I won’t advise you to feed convict fry to your axolotl, or any feeder fish at all. Firstly, cichlids may not do well in the cold temperature that an axolotl normally needs. Plus, unlike guppies, convict fry can grow too big for your axolotl to eat.

  5. Mary Counihan says:

    I have two male convict cichlids that live together in their cave. They seem to be very friendly with each other. They are never far apart. Is it possible that they are a “couple”?

    1. Mary, I’d normally wouldn’t put it past nature if they were a couple. But, given that convict cichlids don’t go through sex changes, your pets might just be besties!

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