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Last updated on April 23, 2014 at 11:05 EDT

Convict cichlid

Convict cichlids are a Central American species of cichlids found in freshwater streams and lakes. These fish are named convict due to their black stripes similar to early prison uniforms. They are very aggressive towards other fish when breeding; they are very defensive of their fry and breeding site.

They are one of the easiest cichlids to breed in an aquarium.

Convicts are very genetically close to the Honduran red point cichlid and readily hybridize.

Coloration

Also known as the “zebra cichlid,” both this and “convict” are good descriptions of this species. It has black vertical bars on its bluish-lavender body. There is usually a pink tinge to its belly, and well-kept fish will have an iridescent pattern on their fins and sides. Both the dark stripes and pink belly become more pronounced during breeding. Males usually have darker stripes and pointy fins (in addition to their usually larger size), and fully mature ones will sometimes have a bit of a hump on their head. Females have pinker bellies and are usually more round. There is also a pink albino strain.

Environment

Convict cichlids originate from Central American countries including Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Panama. Convicts prefer to live around many large rocks in order to shelter themselves and their young. The usually dig a nest at the bottom with loose sand or gravel.

Maintenance in the Aquarium

This is perhaps one of the most forgiving fish in the pet trade… they are amazing survivors and adaptors. However, they are not for the weak of heart and for those fishkeepers with peaceful community tank fish. These fish are not known for their gentle dispositions, and need to be kept with other aggressive, larger fish that will hold their own (it can and will harass some fish to death). They have been known to pick fights with Oscars more than 3 times their size and win. They live best kept alone or with their own kind, and they are fascinating fish to watch. Convicts are among the easiest bred fish in captivity, but a pair of Convicts can mean trouble. This fish has no special requirements at all and is extremely hardy. It is best kept in an aquarium of at least 30 gallons. It is great for beginners who are having trouble keeping more delicate species alive, but they must be prepared to see this territorial fighter in action if they want to keep them with other species, even other cichlids like Red Terrors and Jack Dempseys. If kept in the right setup, their amazing colors and behaviors will come through. They are very entertaining fish. They can be fed a variety of foods, including flakes, cichlid pellets, frozen/live brine shrimp, blood worms, and vegetables. They are omnivorous, and not picky eaters, but very greedy.

Breeding

Convicts pair off with a dance in which the male swims parallel to the female. The female contracts her scales to darken her stripes and brighten her underside. Females usually show an orange type belly color that becomes more intense when close to breeding. The female will find a secluded shelter, such as a large crevice between rocks or a nest dug in the gravel, to lay about 100 eggs. The male will then fertilize the eggs and then aggressively protect them from any other fish which come near.

In the aquarium, this is an excellent fish for beginners to start breeding. They prefer to lay their eggs on the inside of a flower pot, as shown in the picture, and both parents will usually dig a depression in the gravel around it.

Fry

Upon hatching after 3 days from the female laying the eggs, the fry will attempt to swim with the egg enclosed around its body. They will take another 3 to 4 days to absorb the yolk sac, during which they will not need to feed, until they become free-swimming. Eventually, the fry will resemble tiny versions of their parents. The female and male occasionally move the fry in their mouth to the nest if they stray too far from it; however the male might eat a few of them. In the aquarium, once the fry are swimming on their own, they can be fed live microworms. They will also take fry powder foods and then eventually graduate to larger flake and live foods such as Bloodworm and Daphnia.

Convict cichlid