Convict Cichlid: Fish Species Profile

Characteristics, Origin, and Helpful Information for Hobbyists

Male convict cichlid

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The Convict Cichlid is an aggressive Central American cichlid. Named for their striking black bars down their body, these freshwater fish are good for intermediate hobbyists with an established background in cichlids. Due to their aggressive nature, they are not suited for community tanks.

Species Overview

Common Names: Convict Cichlid, Black Convict Cichlid, Zebra Cichlid

Scientific Name: Archocentrus nigrofasciatus

Adult Size: 6 inches

Life Expectancy: 8 to 10 years


 Family Cichlidae
Origin  Central America
Social  Aggressive
Tank Level  Mid-dweller 
Minimum Tank Size  30 gallons
Diet  Omnivore 
Breeding  Egg layer 
Care  Intermediate 
pH  6.5 to 8.0 
Hardness  9-20 dkH 
Temperature  68 to 77 F (20 to 25 C)

Origin and Distribution

Native to Central America, the Convict Cichlid has been raised in captivity for many generations, providing protection for native fishes. Their scientific name, Amatitlania nigrofasciataI, describes them as from a region known for its rustic paper made from the Rock Fig (Ficus petiolaris).

Colors and Markings

The Convict Cichlid most commonly has a grey to silver body with multiple black vertical bars along the length of its body. These fishes may have iridescent patches along their elongated anal and dorsal fins. During breeding, female Convict Cichlid bellies may be slightly orange or red. There is an "albino" variety bred in the aquarium community that is also referred to as a Pink, White, or Gold Convict Cichlid. These leucistic fishes lack the Convict Cichlids' black barring. A darker color variety is known as the Black Convict Cichlid.


Due to their aggressive nature, be careful when selecting tank mates for the Convict Cichlid. Try to choose similar South American cichlid species that can hold their own. If you plan on breeding a pair of Convict Cichlids, it is best to keep them isolated from other fishes, given the pair will viciously protect their eggs. Suitable tankmates include Green Terrors, Salvini Cichlid or Suckermouth Catfish.

Green terror in an aquarium
Green Terror (Aequidens rivulatus)

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Salvini cichlid resting on bottom of aquarium
Salvini Cichlid (Cichlasoma salvini)

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Plecostomus on gravel bottom
Suckermouth Catfish (Ancistrus plecostomus)

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Convict Cichlid Habitat and Care

Due to their environmental requirements, Convict Cichlids are not recommended for beginners. Although fairly tolerant of water quality, Convict Cichlids are very territorial and need to have an appropriate environment of plants, rocky substrate, and caves, such as hollow branches or pots, in order to do well in captivity. If you plan on breeding your Convict Cichlids, they will require a cave and loose, rocky substrate to lay their eggs.

Being aggressive fish, if you are adding a Convict Cichlid or a pair to an established tank, be sure to add them last. This will allow less aggressive fish to stake their territory first. But be aware, if there isn't enough room for everyone with suitable places to call their own, the Convict Cichlid will quickly oust less aggressive fishes.

Convict Cichlid Diet and Feeding

Since they are raised in captivity, the Convict Cichlid readily accepts a pelleted diet. There are many cichlid diets that are appropriate for a South/Central American cichlid tank. They will snack on some plants and invertebrates in their tank, so keep shrimp and snails away! Their omnivorous nature allows them to snack on all sorts of treats, from fresh vegetables to frozen or dried meaty treats.

Gender Differences

If they are young or not interested in breeding, it is very hard to differentiate male from female Convict Cichlids. During spawning season, the females will develop a orange patch on their bellies. Males may start to grow a more prominent forehead, which is actually a hormone-directed coalescence of fat.

Male Convict Cichlid

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Female Convict Cichlid

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Breeding the Convict Cichlid

Most Convict Cichlid breeding pairs will require a cave or crevice in which to lay their eggs. The super-sticky eggs will adhere to the walls of the cave and be viciously guarded and fanned to provide aeration by both parents. You can encourage your Convict Cichlids to breed by providing a suitable cave, often made from a pot turned on its side (see above images), and slightly increasing the water temperature to 75 to 79 F (24 to 26 C).

Fertilized eggs will hatch approximately 3 days later. The fry will stick closely to their cave, but venture out during the night to forage for food. It is critical to provided additional protein and fat to developing fry. Most Convict Cichlids are bred in separate breeding tanks where the diet can be controlled and competition from other fish is limited. You may see your adult Convict Cichlids sucking their babies into their mouths. This is normal behavior, exhibited by many cichlid species, to protect their young and to transport them safely. Once the fry are free swimming and growing, the parents will leave them. The parents should be removed from the spawning aquarium, which allows the fry to grow on their own. Feed the fry fine food multiple times per day.

More Pet Fish Species and Further Research

If you like the Convict Cichlid, check out these other similar species:

Check out additional fish breed profiles for more information on other freshwater fish.