Convict cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata)

Convict cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) is one of the most spread and the least demanding cichlid fishes. It has a very interesting feature – how the fish couple takes care of its juveniles, a process which is rather exciting to observe.

However, you should keep in mind that this species is very aggressive towards its tank mates, that’s why in case of small capacity tanks the Convict cichlid couple has to be kept on its own in a tank.


Male and female (left)
Male and female (left)


Inhabitance in the wild

The fish is native to Central America: Guatemala, Panama, Costa-Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras. The fish that gets into local ponds from tanks has created a stable population in Australia and North America. Convict cichlid prefers slow flow waters with rocky bottom.


Convict cichlid body size is from 8 cm (3 in) to 12 centimeters (4.7 in). Its average life span is about 8 — 10 years, though provided with proper care the fish may live longer.

Convict cichlid body has about 8-9 vertical dark stripes on it, due to which the fish has got its name. Its coloring intensity may vary. Quite often you may encounter pink convict cichlid – its body is pinkish and yellow, the eyes are dark colored. There was also bred a short-body (balloon cichlid).

Convict cichlid breeding and keeping is quite the same as for a classical cichlid species.

Difficulties in keeping

Cichlasoma nigrofasciata is very easy in keeping and care. At the same time this is definitely not the fish for beginners due to its quarrelsome temper and the habit of digging the tank bottom.

It’s better to keep the fish alone or with other Central America cichlid species in a very spacious tank.

Keeping in a tank

It’s desirable to keep this fish in large capacity tanks and some open spaces for the fish to swim. A couple of young Cichlasoma nigrofasciata fish can live in a tank of 100 liters capacity (26 gallons), but reproductive adult fish require about 200 liters (52 gallons) capacity tank.

It’s highly recommended to use rather powerful external filter since the fish likes digging tank bottom.

Convict cichlid likes warm water 26–29 °C (79–84 °F), it can live under various parameters of water acidity and hardness, however it’s preferable for tank water to have ph about 6.6–7.8 and hardness 6 — 8 dGH.

This isn’t a demanding fish and it’s easy in care. Some large grained bottom substrate, snags, roots, stones make the fish feel comfortable.

You may put some tank plants, but these should be some tolerant and strong kinds, since the fish often digs tank bottom substrate and moves it, so some small and tender plants may be dug out completely.

Scientific NameAmatitlania nigrofasciata
Common NameConvict Cichlid, Zebra Cichlid
Tank size100 liters (26 gallons) and more
TemperamentTerritorial, aggressive
Temperature26–29 °C (79–84 °F)
Size8 cm (3 in) to 12 centimeters (4.7 in)


Convict cichlid is omnivorous, i.e. it eats everything you give. You may feed it with different food: for example, some artificial feed for cichlids, some plant tablets and flakes with spirulina, blood worm, tubifex, brine shrimp.

To prevent tank pollution with feed leftovers, feed the fish twice a day with small portions of food.


In small tanks it is recommended to keep a couple of convict cichlids. This species becomes very aggressive during the spawning period as well as any other time – it may attack other fishes.

That’s why even in a spacious tank you should choose strong and proper sized convict cichlid tank mates (Green Terrors, Jewel cichlids, Firemouth Cichlids, Blue acara).

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Sex differences

Convict cichlid male is much larger than a female fish, its anal and dorsal fins are elongated. Convict cichlid female has to a greater or lesser degree orange coloring in form of small spots on its abdomen and near dorsal fin. Older convict cichlid males frequently develop vestigial fatty lumps on their foreheads.


For successful convict cichlid breeding all you need is a male and female fish, but if spawning happens in a community tank – it’s a trouble for all its inhabitants.

The fish is monogamic, it becomes reproductive at the age of 7-10 month. When being just juveniles Convict cichlids create stable couples.

If you want such couple to be created in a tank, you need to keep a small school of the fish with equal number of male and female fish in it.

Convict cichlid spawning happens all the year round with some small breaks. This concerns both separate spawning tanks and community tanks. To get good and healthy convict cichlid juveniles still it’s better to put them into a separate volume.

Chemical parameters of tank water don’t play an important part. To stimulate the fish spawning raise tank water temperature up to 29 oC (84 °F) and renew ¼ of tank water with the fresh one.

Male fish courtship process takes rather long time, once it’s finished the female fish lays the eggs in some place she likes. This can be some flower pot, flat stone, coconut shell or a big sea shell. Or sometimes it may be a big leave of a tank plant. When a spawn is in some nookery, its parents may show aggression to all trespassers (if spawning happened in a community tank).

Just like all other cichlid species, this fish eagerly takes care of its breed, taking dead and non-fertilized eggs from the nest from time to time.

Once larvae hatch from the eggs their attentive parents take them to some other place. 2-3 days later, when the juveniles are without their yolk sac already, they start swimming around the tank carefully guarded by their parents.

The female fish will wave with its fins to get the mud up from the tank substrate. By the end of the day all juveniles get together in their nookery.

As a rule we don’t take the fish parents from the tank. However, there are the cases when convict cichlid males become aggressive and they may eat all the juveniles.

To avoid this male fish is taken back to the community tank and the female fish stays to look after their juveniles.

You should install filtration and aeration in a tank with convict cichlid juveniles and you should renew the water about twice a week. Start feed for the juveniles is some milled live and dry feed.