Why The Convict Cichlid Is the Fish You Should Be Raising In Your Freshwater Tank

You’re probably wondering whether it’s worth it to raise cichlids in your freshwater tank. The short answer? Absolutely.

Once you’ve decided to keep cichlids, you might ask yourself next which species of cichlid would be best for your freshwater tank. While you have no shortage of options, the convict cichlid, also known as the zebra cichlid, is one of the most popular species in the Cichlidae species.

This hardy, easy-to-care-for fish is the perfect choice for novice and expert aquarium hobbyists alike. Earning its name from the telltale black and white stripes that run vertically down the fish’s body, the convict cichlid is the fish you should be raising in your freshwater aquarium  , regardless of how much experience you have- or don’t have!


Convict Cichlid Background

Convict Cichlid 1
Photo by Dan

The black convict cichlid is also known as the zebra cichlid because of its obvious black and white stripes. This freshwater fish is endemic to the warm rivers of South America, and is found there in larger bodies of water. It prefers to hide around rocks and sunken branches, and is a hardy fish with minimal care requirements.

The convict cichlid is a member of the Cichlidae family, which is a popular group of fish that includes common species like oscars and angelfish. They are easy to breed and even easier to care for, offering vibrant color patterns that will liven up any tank.

These fish are most commonly found in large rivers in the wild, but can also be found in slow- moving streams. They prefer a rocky or sandy substrate, and will frequently hide behind rock outcroppings and fallen branches.

Convict Cichlid Appearance And Behavior

Convict Cichlid 6
Photo by Phil Bryant

Convict cichlids are active fish. They can be aggressive and territorial at times, a characteristic that is common among the cichlid family. As other fish invade or press into the convict cichlids territory, it will defend itself, chasing and antagonizing the other fish until they have left the vicinity.

As a result, convict cichlids spend most of their days inside caves and plants in their territory. They grow to around six inches long, with females being smaller than the males and reaching only about four and a half inches.

Convict cichlids have eight or nine black stripes across the length of their gray bodies as fully grown adults. Males have larger dorsal and anal fins, while females will have more color but smaller fins. Many convict cichlids are black, but selective breeding has made it possible for you to buy other varieties, such as those that are pink, yellow, gold, and white.

All convict cichlids are monomorphic. This means that you must wait until all the fish are sexually mature in order to determine whether you have male or female fish. You can also tell the difference between the two genders as they grow; male convict cichlids will be much larger than the females. Of course, you must wait until the fish have reached adulthood in order to do this. In addition, females will be brighter in color and have yellow or red spots on their bellies once they are mature. They will also have more vivid black stripes than the males.

Convict cichlids are unique fish in that they make outstanding parents. They are very attentive, and will nurture and care for their fry until they reach the age at which they can fend for themselves.

Convict Cichlid Tank And Water Requirements

Convict Cichlid 2
Photo by Irfaan Hoosaney

Convict cichlids don’t require much in the way of tank space. Because they are small fish, you only need about thirty gallons or so. You should try to keep convict cichlids only with other convict cichlids or similar sizes or behavior patterns of fish. Otherwise, you might find that they become overly aggressive toward your other fish.

Try to keep the waters of your convict cichlid tank warm – ideally somewhere between 79 and 84 degrees Fahrenheit. These fish are resilient and can adapt to a range of temperatures, but you should try to keep it steady. As far as pH levels go, you should aim for those between 6.6 and 7.8. Convict cichlids aren’t fussy when it comes to their pH levels, but you do need to make sure you keep things consistent.

The ideal tank size will be no smaller than 30 gallons. Because convict cichlids are aggressive, you may be better off purchasing a tank of around 40 gallons or more in size. For aquarium hobbyists who are hoping to one day breed their convict cichlids, you should purchase a tank that is at least 50 gallons in volume.

Decorating A Convict Cichlid Tank

Convict Cichlid 3
Photo by Scratanut

They have a wide natural habitat, so they have adapted to be able to survive in a wide range of water conditions and are hardy fish. When setting up your aquarium, it is best to use a variety of rocks and plants. You should also incorporate a good filter, as they enjoy a slow current. You should try to use sandy substrate, but you can also add driftwood or small amounts of gravel, too.

Cichlids get bored easily and like to rearrange tanks. Therefore, although decorations are a great idea, you must take care to anchor your plants well. Choose only plants that are hardy and will withstand the pressures caused by the convict cichlid.

Cichlids will even dig out the substrate, creating an unholy mess as they do so. Make sure you have a good filtration system and avoid under gravel system, as these can easily become dislodged. A hang-on-back filter is the recommended choice for these fish.

What Do Convict Cichlids Eat?

Convict Cichlid 4
Photo by Rachel Cramer

Convict cichlids are omnivores, and in the wild will eat a wide variety of foods. They are opportunistic, feeding upon the first thing they come into contact with in their native warm rivers of Central America. They prefer foods like mosquito larvae, plant debris, and small insects.

As a result, convict cichlids will eat just about anything you place inside the aquarium. As omnivores, they will eat both plant and meat matter. They can thrive when fed a wide range of foods, but ideally you should be feeding a high quality flake or pellet as the cornerstone of your cichlid’s diet. This pellet should be one that is formulated specifically for cichlids, as the ingredients can vary depending on the type of fish for which they are produced.

Convict cichlids can also be fed live foods such as daphnia, brine shrimp, blood worms, and black worms. Fresh foods are best, but if you can’t find these (or have difficulties storing them) you can also feed cichlids the frozen versions of those foods, too. In addition to meat products, you can also feed convict cichlids blanched vegetables that are cut into small pieces, such as lettuce, carrots, and broccoli. These can also be fed frozen, just make sure they are fed in reasonable portion sizes.

Whenever you feed your convict cichlids, as with any other species of fish, it is important that you feed them several times throughout the day in consistently small portions. Many fish keepers make the mistake of feeding only once a day. This can not only pollute your tank and cause the water conditions and quality to fluctuate, but it can also make your fish incredibly ill. Instead, try to feed your fish smaller portions but more often, such as two to three times per day.

Convict Cichlid Tank Mates

Convict Cichlid 5
Photo by Jaymo828

Convict cichlids aren’t fussy to raise, but you do need to be careful about the other fish you choose to house with your convict cichlids. These fish are extremely territorial, and can be hostile and downright aggressive to other fish who dare to enter their territory. As a result, they are not good choices for community tanks, and instead should be housed in tanks that are comprised solely of convict cichlids.

This is the easiest way to prevent any issues relating to territorial behavior from arising. However, you can keep convict cichlids with other fish as long as certain conditions are provided for. For example, you must make sure you do not keep convict cichlids with fish who are smaller or more timid than they are. Instead, select large species that can hold their own in a fight, such as the Pictus Catfish, Green Terror, Jack Dempsey, Giant Danio, or other cichlid species.

You can also, of course, keep convict cichlids with other convict cichlids. However, you must be prepared for them to breed, as this is not just likely but almost definitely going to happen if you have multiple cichlids housed in the same tank.

Try to avoid keeping breeding pairs in a community tank in particular. While you can sometimes get away with keeping convict cichlids with other fish, as previously mentioned, breeding pairs will spell disaster for a community fish. These pairs become even more territorial during spawning periods, with their aggression reaching an all-time peak at this time.

Each convict cichlid will have a slightly different personality and temperament that may tolerate other species of fish, so while it’s important for you to get to know your own fish before introducing new members, just keep in mind that these are general behavior patterns to be aware of.

Common Convict Cichlid Diseases

Convict Cichlid 7
Photo by Are-Metz Muchikito

Cichlids are no strangers to the most common freshwater aquarium diseases, and while they are relatively hardy, there are some pathogens and diseases to which cichlids are particularly susceptible.

Swim bladder disease is one such illness. This disease affects the part of the cichlid known as the swim bladder, which helps the cichlid stay afloat. A cichlid that is affected by swim bladder disease will experience difficulties in trying to stay afloat, and can be caused by a range of factors such as injury or cancer.

You will need to rectify the underlying cause of the problem in order to treat the disease, but know that a common factor in healing swim bladder disease is providing better nutrition. Make sure you feed your convict cichlid a varied diet and offer plenty of high-fiber foods to relieve constipation.

Malawi bloat is another common disease. In cichlids, this disease looks like abdominal swelling, loss of appetite, lethargy, and rapid breathing. It can lead to serious liver and kidney damage and is often fatal. It is caused by a protozoa that causes problems when water quality in the tank is poor. You should treat Malawi bloat by performing a large water change.

Cotton wool disease can frequently be found in cichlids, and it looks like fuzzy white growths that appear on the fins, scales, and head of infected cichlids. Caused by a fungus, this disease is naturally found in the aquarium but becomes a major problem when water quality declines. If your fish are leaving their food and not eating it, allowing it to sink to the bottom of the tank, they are more likely to succumb to cotton wool disease. You can treat the disease by performing a complete water change and applying and antifungal medication or salt bath.

Gill flukes are also common in freshwater tanks, particularly among cichlids. This disease is actually a parasitic flatworm that infects the gills of fish. When the parasite has been introduced, it will go after the gill membranes of your fish, causing reddening and sliming. The slime makes it next to impossible for the fish to breathe, so you might find that your fish is gasping at the surface of the water or rubbing its body against objects in the tank. You can treat it by adding aquarium salt and increasing the tank temperature.

Finally, white spot, or ich, is a freshwater aquarium disease to which few fish species are immune. This disease looks like small white dots on the fins, body, and gills of infected fish. These spots are the most obvious indicators of infection, although you might also notice that your fish is having trouble breathing, is lethargic, cannot eat, or is rubbing against tank objects.

To treat ich, you will need to treat the entire tank. You can quarantine the infected fish, but chances are, if one fish has it, the others have already been exposed. To treat ich, incorporate a salt bath and increase the temperature of your tank. You can also use treatments like potassium permanganate and malachite green to treat this disease.

Breeding Convict Cichlids

Convict cichlids are phenomenally easy to breed, which cannot be said about all species of freshwater fish. Most aquarium species simply won’t breed in captivity, but convict cichlids are the exception to this rule. A large tank (over 50 gallons) is all you need to get started.

Convict cichlids become sexually mature at around seven or eight months of age. They can breed after this point. To allow them to breed, you will need a paired male and female, and they can spawn throughout most the year – there is not set spawning season.

In the wild, female convict cichlids lay their eggs on rocks or inside caves. To mimic this effect in your own tank, make sure you have plenty of rocky decorations or other structures, like castles or caves, to help them feel at home. While they aren’t fussy about where they lay their eggs, they do like to do so in a bit of cover. You should also raise the temperature of the water in your tank to about 84 degrees Fahrenheit. This is another reason why you should keep breeding convict cichlids in a separate spawning tank – the temperature is at the very top of the convict cichlids comfortable range, and this increased warmth can negatively affect your other fish, too.

After the male has done his part and fertilized the eggs, the female will guard them closely. The male will do his best to guard the perimeter. The eggs hatch after about four days, with thirty convicts typically hatching at once. Convict cichlids are excellent parents and will secure both food and shelter for their fry while also keeping away other predatory or invasive fish.

Within five days after hatching, the young convict cichlids will desert their yolk sacs and begin to swim freely on their own. While convict cichlids make great parents, it should be noted that once the fry start swimming around on their own, the father convict cichlid can become aggressive toward his own fry. Therefore, you may want to return him to the community tank so that the fry can be left to swim peacefully with their mother.

Is A Convict Cichlid For You?

Convict cichlids are remarkably easy to care for, and offer color and versatility to any aquarium tank. While they might not be the best choice if you already have a tank inhabited by other freshwater species, they are a hardy fish species that can tolerate a range of water conditions.

If you have the space and means necessary to keep your convict cichlids separate from other fish, you should definitely consider raising this gorgeous, vivacious species in your home today.

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