Convict Cichlid: Care Guide, Pictures, Tank Setup & Info

Cichlids are a favorite group of fish in the aquarium world, but they can also be complicated fish to keep. One of the most popular cichlid species in the aquarium trade is the Convict cichlid, also known as the Zebra cichlid. This aggressive fish is best suited for intermediate to experienced fishkeepers.

Size:4–5 inches
Lifespan:8–10 years
Similar Breeds:Other South American cichlids
Suitable for:Intermediate hobbyists and professional fishkeepers
Temperament:Aggressive, territorial

The Convict cichlid gets its name from the black and white stripes it sports all over its body, giving it the appearance of a prisoner. The black and white stripes also give them their alternative name of Zebra cichlid. This is a South American cichlid species that can be very territorial, making it a poor option for community tanks. If you’re interested in this beautiful but complex fish, keep reading.

Convict Cichlid Breed Characteristics


Convict Cichlid Cost?

two convicted cichlids in an aquarium
Image Credit: Roman Marusew, Shutterstock

Convict cichlids are a common fish in the world of aquatics, so you shouldn’t struggle to find one to bring home. Aquatics shops, pet stores, and online vendors all can provide Convict cichlids. You can expect to spend between $4 and $10 for a single fish. These are not community fish, so you don’t have to worry about buying multiple fish. It is possible to keep a male and female fish together if you’d like two fish.


Sociability of the Convict Cichlid

Do These Fish Make Good Pets?

This is a beautiful fish that is interesting to watch. It’s considered to be hardy and relatively low maintenance, making it a pretty low-care fish. They are not considered to be a good option for beginners because of their territorial, aggressive temperament. They could be suitable for a beginner who only wants to keep one fish, but only experienced aquarists should attempt to keep Convict cichlids in community settings.

Convict Cichlids
Image Credit: Convict Cichlids, Shutterstock

Does This Fish Make a Good Tank Mate?

No, the Convict cichlid is not a good tank mate for most fish, including other Convict cichlids most of the time. They are not suitable for most community tank setups. Males should not be kept with other male Convict cichlids, although a male-female pairing can often work with proper management. There are some tank mates that are suitable for the Convict cichlid, including many types of catfish and other hardy bottom dwellers.

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Care Guide & Tank Set Up

Water Quality, pH & Temperature
This fish is not picky about its water and can tolerate a range of water conditions. Maintaining high water quality will support the health of your fish and provide them with a longer life. The Convict cichlid needs tropical water temperatures between 79–84°F, although they can do well in temperatures as low as 74°F. They can tolerate a pH range between 6.5 and 8.0.

Convict Cichlid inside the aquarium
Image Credit: Richelle Cloutier, Shutterstock


Convict cichlids love to dig through their substrate, so sand is usually recommended. Aquatic soil could work, but it’s likely to become messy when the fish digs through it. Keep in mind that your substrate will also need to be able to support plant life, so you may have to add root tabs if using sand.

As previously mentioned, these fish like to dig, but they also like to uproot plants, so it can be challenging to keep a planted tank for Convict cichlids. Hardy plants, especially those that can be attached to surfaces, are ideal, including Java fern, Java moss, and Anubias. Cryptocorynes, Echinodorus, and Vallisneria are also suitable options.

There are no lighting needs specific to the Convict cichlid, although they may need to be slowly worked up to bright tank lights. Aim to provide a regular day/night lighting cycle and remember to ensure your light is capable of supporting the live plants in the tank.


These are not overly messy fish, so a filtration system that is rated for the size of the tank that your fish are in is suitable. Hang-on-back and canister filters are the ideal options in most situations for Convict cichlids. If keeping Convict cichlids with messy tank mates, like Plecos, then you should beef up your filtration system to account for the added heavy bioload.

convict cichlid fish inside the tank - (Amatitlania nigrofasciata)
Image Credit: Vojce, Shutterstock


Things to Know When Owning a Convict Cichlid:

Food & Diet Requirements

Cichlid-specific pellets are a great option for feeding your Convict cichlid. Choose a high-quality pellet that is high in protein. These fish are omnivores, so a varied diet is essential to their health. While a high-quality pellet should be the base of your Convict cichlid’s diet, you can also provide treats, like mosquito larvae, brine shrimp, and bloodworms, as well as algae sheets.

Convict cichlid fish background of a large stone
Image Credit: Roman Marusew, Shutterstock

Size & Growth Rate

Convict cichlids are rapid growers when they are very young. Their growth will slow as they become juveniles and enter adulthood, though. It’s not uncommon for a Convict cichlid to take up to 2 to 3 years to reach its maximum adult size.


There are multiple varieties of Convict cichlids, although they are all the same species. They all have distinctive stripes, but different colorations do occur. Common varieties of Convict cichlids include albino, leopard, yellow belly, red phantom, black barred, gold, blue, and electric blue. There can be some pattern differences between varieties, but all are identifiable as Convict cichlids.

The different varieties of Convict cichlids are the product of selective breeding. In the wild, varieties outside of the usual zebra-type stripes are very uncommon. Albino fish can occur in the wild, but their color often makes them easier for predators to spot, giving them a shorter lifespan.

Lifespan and Health Conditions

With proper care, a Convict cichlid can reach 8–10 years of age. They are hardy fish that are tolerant of a variety of water conditions. If kept in an appropriate tank environment, you can expect your Convict cichlid to be healthy. If kept in a tank with other fish, especially inappropriate tank mates, then your Convict cichlid may become stressed, which can lead to illnesses and death.

Male vs Female

It isn’t usually very difficult to tell the difference between male and female Convict cichlids. Males tend to be larger than females, as well as having a larger nuchal hump, which is a bump on the forehead or top of the head. Females may have a nuchal hump, but it is smaller than that of male Convict cichlids. In many cases, females may lack a nuchal hump altogether.

Aside from being larger, males also have larger fins in comparison to their body size than females do. You can also look at your fish’s anal opening to determine their sex. Males tend to have a slightly protruding opening, while females have a flat, broad opening.


Final Thoughts

The Convict cichlid is a neat fish that many people enjoy keeping. They do need space, though, and they aren’t a good option for community tank setups. If you’re hoping for a fish that will get along with tank mates, then it’s best to skip the Convict cichlid. Although named for its prison-uniform stripes, the Convict cichlid is also not a particularly nice fish, so you can expect it to attack or bully other tank mates, regardless of size.

Featured Image Credit: Bernsten, Shutterstock

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