Convict Cichlid

From Microcosm Aquarium Explorer

Amatitlania nigrofasciata - (Günther, 1867)
Convict Cichlid

Amatitlania nigrofasciata pair.jpg

Convict Cichlid pair, humpheaded male at right. Dean Pemberton/GNU


The Convict Cichlid is a beautiful, iridescent cichlid that is very durable and well worth keeping. Its bold character and active behaviors make it a favorite of many aquarists, and it is an ideal choice for beginners, as well as classroom and office aquaria.

As long as there is a pair in the aquarium, the fish will spawn and reward their keeper with a show of typical cichlid parental brood care behavior. (To obtain a pair, buy 4-6 juveniles and raise them together until a dominant pair forms.) This species spawns so readily that advanced cichlid enthusiasts have called them the "pet rats" of the aquarium world.

They may be quite aggressive toward other tankmates, especially when nesting, so avoid keeping small or timid fishes with them.

Breeding colors can be spectacular, and mature males are larger, with elongated dorsal and anal fins, and they develop a distinctive nuchal hump. (See below.)

Blue form.
Female. S. Olkowicz photo/Creative Commons.
Parent with juveniles. Thomas Voekler photo/GNU.

This species has been the victim of several name changes, and it is still found in other references under various obsolete names: Cryptoheros nigrofasciatus, Archocentrus nigrofasciatus, Cichlasoma nigrofasciatum, Heros nigrofasciatus and others.

Family: Cichlidae

Other common name(s):

  • Zebra Cichlid
  • Black Convict Cichlid
  • Pink Convict CIchlid

Native range:

Habitat: This species is found in rocky areas in streams and rivers in its native habitat. No matter what the decor, the Convict is always at home, as long as there are a few flat rocks and a cave or two. Plants are not a necessity, as these fish will be particularly hard on them. Include only artificial plants or tough plants, such as Amazon swords, potted in flowerpots buried in the substrate.

Maximum length: 13 cm (5 in)

Minimum aquarium size: 114 L (30 gal)

Water: Freshwater 22 °C (72 °F) - 26 °C (79 °F)

General swimming level: All levels.


Omnivore. The Convict Cichlid will accept just about any fish food offered. Feed a varied diet of the commercial cichlid foods available, as well as frozen meaty foods, such as bloodworms, krill, Tubifex worms, white worms, adult brine shrimp and mixed rations. Some Spirulina-based herbibore foods and color-enhancing flakes or pellets will help balance the diet and bring out their best coloration.

Aquarium Compatibility

The Convict Cichlid is a hardy species that can adapt to just about any water conditions, which is why it’s such a good beginner’s cichlid. To encourage breeding, water conditions should be good, with regular water changes to prevent the buildup of dissolved nutrients.


Female with newly hatched fry on rock. Dean Pemberton photo/GNU.

Amatitlania nigrofasciata is a bi-parental substrate and cave spawner. A tank devoted to a pair (15-20 gal.; 57-76 L) will allow the aquarist to observe their fascinating breeding behaviors, including the rearing of the fry.

A red clay flowerpot is often used as an artificial spawning cave and most pairs will readily adopt it as an easily defended nesting area. Eggs are typically laid on the roof of the pot or cave.

To trigger spawning, raise the tank temperature several degrees and feed live foods frequently.

From 50 to as many as 300 eggs may be deposited, and both the male and female provide intense parental care. (Older pairs produce larger clutches.) Other tankmates will suffer at these times, and are best kept out of the Convict breeding aquarium.

Fry can be fed newly hatched brine shrimp and may be raised with the parents present.


Pink Convict Cichlid, a case of leucism. Tommy Toucan image/GNU.

Various color forms are available:

  • Black: this is the classic black-striped fish that earned the species its "Convict" common name. Bars may be pale or grey but become more vivid when the fish are courting or breeding.
  • Blue: similar to the common black variety, but with sometimes brilliant electric blue as the overall base color. (See above.)
  • Calico: a light-colored fish with black and brown spotting.
  • Gold: a morph enhanced with yellow or golden colors, particularly on the belly.
  • Pink or White: white or very pale Convict Cichlids result from a genetic condition known as leucism. Leucistic fish lack most pigment in their scales. These are sometimes mistakenly called albinos, but true albinos always have pink eyes. Longfinned or veiltail Pink Convict Cichlids are being bred.
Reference: 101 Best Tropical Fishes
Image credit: JJ
Text credit: KW