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Convict Cichlid – Amatitlania nigrofasciata

Convict Cichlid - Amatitlania nigrofasciata

Cichlids are a very ancient and extensive classification of fishes dating back millions of years before, for example, dinosaurs. Cichlids probably originated around 550 million years ago (give or take a month or two 😀) and there are somewhere in the region of 2,000 to 3,000 different species, of which around 1,700 have been classified (at the time of writing).

Cichlids can make excellent community fish but you should take care because not all Cichlids are good community fish and may devastate an established aquarium, treating their tank mates as food, so before choosing a Cichlid, please ensure that you know whether or not your choice will be appropriate to your needs.

Is Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) a good community fish? Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) should NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES be considered to be a community fish unless that community comprises other aggressive, Central America, cichlids. Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) is suitable for single-species aquariums and is, oddly, an ideal beginner fish if kept as a single species because it is easy to care for and easy to breed. It makes an excellent parent although it can be extremely aggressive during breeding. 

Key Facts about Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata)

CategoryKey Facts
Common name(s)Convict Cichlid – also known as:
Zebra Cichlid
Scientific nameAmatitlania nigrofasciata
Originate fromCosta Rica, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama in Central America.
Care requiredEasy to care for as a single-species
TemperamentAggressive and very territorial
Colour & FormOval-shaped body with extended dorsal and anal finnage
LifespanUp to 10 years
Adult sizeUp to 6 inches (male) of 5 inches (female)
DietCarnivorous – eats small fish, Daphnia, Bloodworm, Tubifex worms and pellet food in the aquarium.
Aquarium size36 inches in length or greater
Compatible withNothing
Avoid keeping withanything except certain other Central American Cichlids
BreedingEasy if you put the fish in the right environment.
Water temp79 – 84 Fahrenheit
Water pH6.6 to 7.8
Water hardness (dGH or dH)6 to 8 dGH

Origins of Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata)

Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) is found in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama in Central America. 

It is usually found in nature in soft, slightly acidic, flowing water. 

Basic Characteristics of Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata)

Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) will grow to almost 6 inches in length (males) of up to 5 inches (females) in the aquarium The mature female will tend to have pink to orange coloring in the ventral region. The mature male may develop a fatty (nuchal) hump midway between its mouth and the dorsal fin on top of its head. 

In young fish, it is difficult (pretty impossible) to distinguish between the sexes so if you are purchasing young fish then buy half-a-dozen or more and you should have a mix of the sexes but please bear in mind that a group of what will become quite aggressive fishes will require adequate space in which to live. When you find that two of the group have paired off then the remaining fish should be moved to a different tank, as the male can be particularly territorial (murderous) whilst breeding.

The lifespan of Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) is around ten years but this can vary enormously depending on tank conditions and general health.

Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) prefers neutral water, with a pH of 6.6 to 7.8 in and a temperature range between 79 and 84 degrees Fahrenheit and 6 to 8 dGH. Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) will be comfortable with certain other species of Central American cichlids that prefer this type of water chemistry.

Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata), being a Central American Cichlid, is a notoriously aggressive species and will become very territorial whilst mating and the male, in particular, will chase other fish to the other end of its territory, should they come close – it will take on all-comers and almost invariably defeat them. Because territorial behavior varies widely amongst individual fish, you may find that yours may chase other fish away whilst another may launch a full-on attack so you need to be particularly vigilant at spawning times.

Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata), being an aggressive fish should ideally be kept in a single-species aquarium.

The Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) is both monogamous and biparental, so once a pair have formed they will stay together and are excellent parents..

Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) enjoys a fine substrate, and plenty of rocks, as the female will spawn either on the substrate or on rocks within caves which she will prepare for the purpose. Plants will be uprooted so any plants should either be floating (Java Moss, Cabomba, for example) or attached to solid sunken roots or rocks.

Breaking up sightlines helps to mitigate aggression somewhat but be aware the Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) has a tremendous sense of smell to can detect the proximity of other fish, even in the dark.

The physical appearance of Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata)

  • The body of the Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata)  is an oval shape, slightly flattened at the bottom.
  • The head of the Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata), as far back as the eye is grey in the adult fish and the eye tends to have a greenish/yellow color over the top.
  • Behind the pectoral fins, which are clear (hyaline), Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) females have an orange to pinkish tinge running under the belly and this could be replicated to some extent in the dorsal fin..
  • Behind the eyes of the Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata), the body is grey but is distinctive in that it has around eight or nine columns of the black bands, fairly evenly spaced and running to the end of the caudal peduncle.
  • The dorsal fin is long and slender for the first half and the black bands extend into the rays. Thereafter, the dorsal fin flares up and is extended at the rear, ending in a point. That of the adult male tends to be longer than that of the female.
  • The ventral fins have a thick, black leading edge but is clear (hyaline) behind that. Like the dorsal fin, the outermost rays extend backward, beyond the fin as a whole.
  • The anal fin of the Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) has a black leading edge and is more-or-less clear (hyaline) behind and this also extends to a point at the rear. The anal fin of the male tends to be longer to the rear than that of the female.
  • The caudal fin is fairly unremarkable, being that is is only slightly elongated. It is generally clear (hyaline).

The living environment for Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata)

Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) enjoys being in and around rocks and caves. Only one adult pair should be kept in the aquarium unless the aquarium is of sufficient size to facilitate two (or more) territories.

Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) will appreciate a soft substrate, as they love to rummage around for food.

Note that Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) is both monogamous and biparental so will generally make good parents for any brood that they are rearing. 

It is recommended that Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) are kept as a small shoal only until two of the adults have paired up, after which, the remainder of the shoal should be relocated to a different aquarium (unless the aquarium is large and has well-broken sightlines). The male, in particular, can be very territorial and will launch a physical attack on “trespassers” but setting up the tank so that sightlines are broken up will mitigate the risks of territorial behavior in general. 

When purchasing Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) it is generally recommended to buy around six fish. It will be impossible to sex the fish when purchasing them as immature specimens but, in due course, they will find their own mate and are, from that point, generally both biparental. Remember that this fish will grow to up to six inches in length so be certain that you have sufficient space in which to house them properly.

Overall, Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) is the most attractive and unusual species if kept in the right environment.

The diet of Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata)

Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) is primarily omnivorous. It loves live food, feeding on a range of invertebrates in nature. In the aquarium a diet of live or frozen Artemia, Bloodworm and Daphnia is recommended and Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) will readily eat pelleted food and flake food. That said, they prefer to stay close to the bottom of the water column and browse the rocks and plants. For this reason, a fine substrate is recommended.

Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) can also be carnivorous and may eat small species of simply kill them and will happily take on and defeat species that are double its size.

Sexual differences in Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata)

It is very difficult to distinguish the sex of the Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) until it becomes an adult. The adult male is larger than the adult female and can develop a nuchal hump on its head whilst its dorsal and anal fins tend to be longer than those of the female. The female is also fuller-bodied when viewed from above when carrying eggs (gravid).

Aquarium size for Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) 

It is generally advised that the minimum tank size for Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) should be one of at least 36 inches in length or more due to the fact that a shoal of around six per species should be maintained initially and the adult fish are very territorial. This will enable your Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) to find an area of the aquarium which the pair can call home. A smaller tank will be too restrictive (unless it is a breeding tank) and the fish will suffer as a result whilst a larger tank is always to be recommended.

In a community tank, including some floating Java Moss will give smaller fish and any fry a safe haven from larger or more vigorous species and it certainly helps to break up the sightlines in the aquarium. Plenty of rocks are advised for Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) because they have evolved to gather around and amongst them. That said, it is not recommended that Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) is ever included in a community tank.

There is a predominance of so-called “Nano tanks” available but, being old-fashioned, I prefer my fishes to live in an environment which, at least, attempts to mimic nature, rather than living in what I would liken to a piscine prison cell. The tank should be well-planted but with clear areas where the fish can swim freely. The water should have a certain amount of movement, as Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) enjoy a flow of water.

Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) – Videos

Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) general care video

Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) breeding guide video

Are you keeping tropical fish as a hobbyist or as a breeder?

This is a question too often ignored in my humble opinion. If you are a breeder (either commercially or as a hobbyist who gives away young fish to other hobbyists) then you will need the resources to move fish into breeding tanks in order to maximize the yield of fry that will grow up either for sale or to give them away.

If you are keeping fish for the joy of observing them in something resembling a natural habitat then you may feel that it is appropriate to allow nature to take its course and, as and when different species breed, then many of the eggs (and surviving fry) will be eaten either by their parents or by other fish in your aquarium. This is the natural order of things because this is what will happen in nature. The fittest may well survive to reach adulthood.

Ultimately, the choice is yours to make.

How does Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) breed?

In total, the female Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) could lay up to 300 eggs during a single spawning. Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) will lay the eggs in an overturned (on its side) or upturned terracotta pot with a suitably-sized entrance is generally recommended in the aquarium. The female will prepare the breeding area and then mating will occur.

Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) becomes sexually mature after around six months, so you don’t have to wait long for them to breed.

The female will constantly fan the eggs to ensure that they are getting sufficient oxygen and she will eat any unfertilized eggs. In the meantime, the male will chase away any and all threats to his territory.

Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) eggs will hatch in around three days, depending on water temperature and chemistry. The fry will become free-swimming around three days later and the parents will take care of them until they are around half-an-inch in length. Generally, the fry will stay close to the breeding cave until they are large enough to fend for themselves.

It is generally true that Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) make really good parents and will not prey on their own young. In general, the male will protect the territory whilst the female will tend to care for the eggs and fry but these roles are interchangeable.

The male will provide “overwatch” around the broader area, gently warding off potential predators.

The Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) takes responsibility for post-spawning care and may become aggressive if it feels that the brood is threatened. For this reason, if possible, a breeding tank is recommended.

If Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) feels threatened, it will defend its brood.

Studies have shown that Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) is significantly more aggressive in higher water temperatures, so this indicates that reducing water temperature could calm down the aggression. That said, Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) prefers a higher temperature for breeding.

In a breeding tank, it is always a good idea to include a few aquatic shrimp, as they will consume any unfertilized or dead eggs but won’t tend to predate on viable eggs.

Breeding tank for Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata)

You should prepare a tank of around twenty gallons in size with mature, soft, acidic, flowing water. The female will breed readily in any smooth cave (such as a terracotta pot, which she will prepare for the purpose.

It is recommended that the substrate consists of a fine substrate (sand) without sharp edges. 

Arrange your tank heating so that you can slowly remove up to half of the tank water and then replace it with collected rainwater (very slightly cooler than the aquarium water – but not so much that White Spot could result) and repeat this daily until the Cichlids spawn. This water and temperature change may encourage spawning, as it mimics nature. The rainwater is most important though some argue that tap water is fine.

Cichlids prefer to spawn where the water is flowing so a decent pump is required to synthesize that flow.

Feed up your Cichlids on bloodworm, which will sink to the bottom and burrow into the substrate. Your Cichlid will love rooting out the bloodworm and it can help to trigger spawning.

You may also wish to introduce baby brine shrimp, mosquito larvae or tubifex worms as an inducement to reproduction and live food will be very much appreciated. This will also tend to divert the attention of the Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) from preying on their own eggs and fry though cannibalism is not characteristic of Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata).

Reduce the water movement by turning down the pump once the eggs are laid – only regular aeration is now required. Keep the lights off (or very low) and the tank dark (or fairly dark)  because eggs and fry can be particularly sensitive to the light.

The eggs will hatch typically in three days depending on tank temperature and conditions and the fry will become free-swimming after around three days more. 

Keep the tank more-or-less unlit for the first week or so then gradually increase the lighting. Bear in mind that the eggs and fry of a fish as small as the Cichlid will be tiny indeed so you may need to use a magnifier “app” on your smartphone or a macro lens to see anything at all. A collection of eggs is generally easy to spot, as they look like a collection of tiny, pearls.

The newly hatched fry will feed firstly on their yolk sac and remain fairly static but, once free-swimming, can be fed infusoria and will also thrive on egg yolk during the first two to four weeks. 

Once the fry are free-swimming and their yolk sacs are depleted, then add baby brine shrimp and/or white worms. Once the fry are sufficient in size not to be treated as a snack then they can be introduced into the community tank where they will join the existing shoal. Before moving the adolescent fish into the community tank ensure that you have balanced the water temperatures to mitigate the risk of White Spot or other diseases being triggered.

Should your Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) have a special diet for breeding?

Adult Cichlids don’t need any particular inducement to breed. That said, it has been suggested that adding tubifex, bloodworm or mosquito larva may encourage them, presumably because the addition of a new food may “fool” the fish into thinking that it is breeding time. From my own experience, I would always recommend keeping all of your fish in the best possible condition at all times, as this is good for the wellbeing of your fish.

Mike Wheeler

I started keeping freshwater tropical fish in 1972 and it has been something of a passion ever since. In this website, my aim is to build up an everyman's guide to help the everyday aquarist get the best from this inspiring and entertaining hobby.

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