Black Convict Cichlid – A Complete Guide (Care, Diet, Facts)

There are many different species with the Cichlidae family; one of the most popular members of the family is the Black Convict Cichlid. Also carrying the name of the Zebra Cichlid.

With the scientific name of Archocentrus Nigrofasciatus. No matter the name this sturdy fish is easy to care for making it the ideal fish for a beginner hobbyist.

The Convict Cichlid gets its name from its colorations. Having black and white verticals stripes along its back. Zebra Cichlid are native to freshwater ways in South America.

In the wild they are most commonly found in large streams and rivers. Although, they won’t be found in open water; rather hiding near rocks or debris.

Hiding from larger predators. Convict Cichlids are the third most popular fish of the family. Following behind Oscars and Angelfish.

They gained popularity over the years due to its care levels, coloration, low maintenance levels, and their ability to mate easily. Males grow to be roughly 6 inches long, as females grow to be roughly 4.5 inches in length. Due to their small size they don’t need a whole lot of water to live in.

Convict Cichlids need a minimum of 30 gallons of water. This fish is not a community fish. It is aggressive and will attack any tank mates that aren’t another Convict Cichlid.


Behaviors found

This fish is an active fish. That is known to be highly aggressive and territorial. This behavior is common for fish of this family.

If Convict Cichlids see another fish with its territory it will harass and bully the fish until it exits out of the territory.

Zebra Cichlids spend most of their time hiding amongst debris or inside a cave beside its territory. Don’t let their aggressive manners fool you; Convict Cichlids are very nurturing fish.

Why are convict fish aggressive?

Aggression runs inside the blood of most if not all of the fish within the Cichlidae family. Territorial fish will do anything to ensure they do not lose what is theirs.


Black Convict Cichlids revived their names for a reason. These vibrant fish are white with black stripes amongst its body, as a mature adult these fish will most often have 8 to 9 stripes along its back.

Females will have more vibrant coloration than a male. Although a male will pack a larger anal fin.

Before selective breeding it was very rare to find Convict fish of other color variations. Although, anymore you can find pink, white and gold Convict Cichlids.

Pink Convict Cichlids are gaining popularity quickly. They are pink and yellow with no stripes.

All fish of this breed are monomorphic. Meaning they don’t get a gender until they reach maturity. When buying juveniles, they will be classified as sexless.

Black Convict Cichlids are the runt of the family. Only growing to be a fraction more nearly every other fish in the Cichlidae family.

Sexing a Black Convict Cichlid.

Determining whether you have a male or female is easy and straightforward for this breed of fish.

Males are larger specimen than females.

A mature female will have brighter markings and will often get yellow or red spots amongst their belly once they become sexually explicit.

Habitat and Tank Requirements

Black Convict Cichlids are naturally found in warm climates of Central America; running from Costa Rica to Panama. Although, they aren’t only found living in rivers as they are found in run offs and springs as well. They are slow water fanatics and enjoy a mixture or sand and rock substrates.

They are found hiding amongst debris or rocks.

Being found in multiple variations of water has forced this fish to adapt into many water conditions. Making this a sturdy breed of fish.

When setting up your tank it’s important to keep in mind that you can use rocks and or other props that add a debris feel to it.

When purchasing a filtration system, it’s important to get one with little to no give in the force of the water. We are looking to reproduce calm slow water and not rapids. You can use a mixture or rocks and sand as your substrate.

Convicts are a fun active fish that are excellent swimmers. When setting up your tank it’s important to keep in mind these fish love to rearrange things.

So, it’s important to get strong plant life that can handle a little abuse from the fish.

They even find themselves a little fun in digging into your substrate from time to time. Creating a mess for your filtration system to clean up.

So, it’s best to purchase a filtration system that can keep up with your troublemaker fish.

Without a good filtration system these fish will quickly make your tank murky and unappealing.

Tank Conditions

Convict Cichlids are used to the hot waters of South America and should live within a tank that is 79°F to 84°F. Due to their ability to adapt to new conditions Ph levels are not as important to Convict as they as other fish. Although, prefer a PH between 6.6 and 7.8.

Tank Size Requirements

When purchasing a pair of Black Convicts, it’s important to allow space for fish to maneuver and protect. With that being said they need at least 30 gallons; and recommended 40+ gallons.

In a breeding tank you need at least a 50+ gallon tank.

Diet and feeding

These fish eat on insects, larvae, and debris in the wild. Being omnivores, they aren’t too picky when it comes to their feeding. So, they will eat most anything placed in front of them.

Under most circumstances’ humans are omnivores. It means we eat both meats and vegetables. Black Convict Cichlids can survive and flourish off many types of foods.

It’s important to feed them food that will support their health and grown not just your pocket.

It’s recommended that you feed your Black Convict Cichlids quality pellets or flakes. Not just any breed feed. Find a brand specifically for Cichlids.

To ensure a healthy happy fish you can feed the fish other protein forms such as small insects, blood worms, black worms, and brine shrimp.

They would enjoy it most fresh although as mentioned before they won’t complain about food.

You are more than welcome to feed them chopped up and clean off vegetables.

Just ensure they are clean; you don’t want chemicals in your tank.

Feeding large helpings 1-2 times a day is not a healthy option for the fish. This can cause fish to not receive enough in one sitting and become starved and eat its tank mate. Or it can cause it to overeat and get sick; along with pollute the tank. Rather feed it multiple times throughout the day in small portions; this is healthier for the fish all around.

Tank mates

Although, this fish may look as it plays nice with others. Their temperament and protective instincts don’t allow them to.

They can and will become very aggressive and violent to other fish within its territory. If you can imagine the outcome of this fish in a community tank. You will be left with the Convict Cichlid and nothing else.

If you are a beginner looking to purchase this breed of fish, it’s important to just start out with a single Convict to a tank of their own. This way you don’t have to worry about doing something wrong and causing a massacre.

Although, if you are an experienced hobbyist you may be able to take up the task in having these bullies in a community tank. As long as you follow some guidelines it shouldn’t be hard.

  1. Don’t put any smaller or less aggressive fish within the tank. These fish will be easy prey and will be taken out first by the Zebra Cichlid.
  2. If you are going to put tank mates, ensure they are larger than the Black Convict Cichlid; and can stand their ground.
  3. Always ensure the fish have plenty of food and no reason to attack each other. This way they may keep peace with each other.

Keeping multiple Black Convict Cichlids together

Black Convicts get along with those of its kind. So, keeping multiple Black Convicts together is not a problem. Just know that keeping two together will result in breeding.

And never keep a breeding pair together in a community tank. This will escalate aggressive behaviors causing trouble throughout the whole tank. These fish are very maternal and will die before they watch other fish eat their young.

Black Convict Cichlids are not a fish that backs down in a fight.

During spawning season their aggression skyrocketed as their maternal hard drive kicks in.

It’s common to have a male take over and rule your tank if their inside of a crowded space. So, it’s important to ensure there is plenty of space for each individual Convict Cichlid.

Breeding Convicts

The easiest part of raising a Convict is breeding them. As crazy as that sounds it’s true.

Along with they make great parents to their fry.

Many species of fish refuse to breed within a ranked environment. For whichever cause of concern, they just won’t breed in the tank.

Although, if you take a mating pair and at least 50 gallons of water these fish will begin popping out fry left and right.

Once the Black Convict Cichlids reach maturity (around 7 months) they will begin to breed.

Although, you will need to have a mating pair before any of this will happen.

These fish spawn year-round and don’t have gaps where they cannot spawn. Females like to lay their eggs in an enclosed area where they believe their eggs are safe. So, you will need to provide this space for them.

They don’t care what the hiding spot is as long as it’s “safe.”

You may use shelters you purchase, flowerpots turned upside down, floating sticks, or anything that provides a hideout for the fish to lay.

Water predicaments stay the same with the one change of heat. They will do best if the tank is turned up to 84°F. Once the eggs are fertilized the female becomes a protector of her eggs as the male becomes a protector of the area as a whole.

Then 4 days later you will have 30+ fry swimming around the tank. During the fry stage you will get to witness firsthand how great of parents Black Convict Cichlids are. They will provide shelter for each fry. Ensure no fish comes anyway near them and will do anything to protect their young.

After 5 days the fry will scurry away from the yolk sac and will begin wandering the tank on their own. At this stage is when you need to separate the father from the fry because the father has been known to become aggressive and at times eat his young.


Now you know whether or not the Zebra Convict is the fit for your tank of if these rowdy fish are too much. Their sturdiness, easiness to care for, and coloration. Can appeal to the best of us.

Giving people something, other fish lack. They are great fish for a beginner in a single fish tank. These fish are also a great option for someone looking in and learning how to mate fish. Being these are easy fish to breed that breed year-round.

They can be in a tank community with strict rules. Which makes it easier to just say they aren’t bred to play well with others and can cause disruption in a community tank. They are territorial and aggressive; a bad combination to live inside a small tank with other fish it size or smaller.

If you choose to put these fish in a community tank, ensure they mate the personality of the Zebra Convicts. Also keep in mind that these fish need to only be housed with fish larger than them that way they can’t bully them without being put in their place.

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