Convict Cichlids (Amatitlania nigrofasciata)
Convict Cichlids, you would have fun keeping these fish, they have a great personality. If you are someone who likes to spend time watching your fish seated in front of your aquarium, these fish would not disappoint you with their behavior, I find them somewhat comical & I'm sure its not only me. Before learning to care for them in an aquarium a little information about their natural habitat will help. Convict Cichids are Native to Lakes, Rivers & Streams of Eastern parts of Central America which includes Panama, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras. These fish can tolerate wide range of water conditions & this makes them one of the easiest cichlids to keep & breed in an aquarium. Common names for these fish are Black Convict Cichlids, Zebra Convict, Zebra Cichlid, Banded Cichlid etc. You also have color morphs now like the Pink convict cichlid & Albino convict cichlids.
Convict cichlids aggression is easier to control if you have the right take size, tank mates & tank decoration. The problem you would face keeping these fish is usually when breeding as these fish get really aggressive then, I've seen them go after bigger fish twice their size, they are so fast that while attacking the bigger fish, you would not realize that they just attacked, it all happens in a flash & you would see the bigger fish moving away confused not realizing what just bit them in the tail. If I'm asked is convict cichlid a good option for beginners? I would reply, Yes! The reason being they are easy to care; a little knowledge about their requirements is all you need to know. Below information will exactly help you with that.
Visual differences between Male & Female Convict Cichlids
Male Convict Cichlids are larger in size compared to females, they have longer fins, the dorsal fin grows past their caudal fin as they age. They lack the orange coloration in their lower body.
Female Convict fish are smaller in size compared to the Males, you would realize this at juvenile stage of this fish as females appear to grow slower than males. Female Convict Cichlids also have darker stripes with orange coloration on the lower body & fins.
Convict Cichlids Aquarium Care
Convict cichlids are a good option for someone who is new to Keeping Cichlids or want to Breed Cichlids. Whatever the reason is, these fish are super hardy & this makes it that much easier to keep them as they require minimal maintenance, they can adapt to wide range of water conditions than most Central & South American Cichlids. Zebra convicts do not grow as big as other South American cichlids, Males can grow to a average size of 6 inches & Female grow to around 4 inches in length, this means they can be housed in a medium sized aquarium. In an large aquarium they can be kept with few other South American Cichlids, they are usually well behaved unless breeding. Tank decoration & tank size plays an important role is handling their aggression, if you understanding their simple requirements you would succeed keeping them & yourself happy.
What your Convict Cichlid needs?
Aquarium size for Convict Cichlids: If you are keeping a pair of Convict Cichlids 25 to 30 gallon would suffice, in case its a community of Convict Cichlids 50 to 60 gallon aquarium is needed, in case you want them in a South American Cichlid community aquarium with compatible tank mates 120 gallon or bigger tank is required.
Aquarium decoration: Rooted Aquatic Plants will usually not work in a Convict Cichlid Aquarium. Floating plants or plants that can be grown on Driftwood like Anubias & Java fern are recommended as these fish are substrate brooders & dig nest in the sand. Driftwood in the aquarium offers a more natural look & also thee tannin's released from them helps maintain lower pH. I had secured the rooted plants in a clay pot, these fish uprooted them from those clay pots as well. Rocks & Clay pots are a good idea in a Convict Cichlid Aquarium, use rocks to create caves & hiding places, ensure the rocks are firming placed at the bottom of the aquarium as they can dig sand from under the rocks. Since, rooted plants don't work spending on expensive plant substrate in not required use regular sand or gravel for tank bottom.
Temperature range: 74.0 to 82.0° F (23.3 to 27.8° C). Convict are tropical fish ,they like warm water. If the temperature in aquarium is not steady or drops below the ideal temperature it might affect their health.
pH range: 6.8 to 7.8, whats important in Convict Cichlid tank is pH level should never change drastically.
Water Hardness: Soft to moderately hard i.e. under 180 ppm.
Lights : If you are planning on live plants in your tank, make sure you get suitable light for your plants. If you get artificial plants any light will do. Just make sure the light does not heat up the water in the tank too much. Remember to turn the light on & off everyday at the same time or as required by the plants you have in the aquarium.
Filter/Air pump : Filter will help you keep the tank clean & an Air pump will keep the tank nicely oxygenated if you have fry or planning to breed convict cichlids. They tolerate moderate water movement in the tank.
Water conditioner : Tap water in most places are treated with chlorine. This is not good for fish. So get a water conditioner & make the water safe.
Convict Cichlid Fish food : The wild Convict cichlids are Ominvores, they feed on insects, insect larvae, smaller fish, crustaceans etc. In an aquarium Convict fish are not picky eaters, you can feed them quality flakes, Pellets, Freeze dried worms, Live & frozen food, spirulina & some veggies. Protein based cichlid food should be their staple diet.
Tank Mates for Convict Cichlids
Since Convict Cichlids can be kept as a Pair in a Tank or Same Species Tank or South American Cichlids Community tank choosing the right tank size, tank mates & tank decoration is very important. If you are keeping a pair of Convict Cichlid's 25 to 30 gallon or bigger aquarium would be required, since they are prolific breeders you may have to decide if you want to keep the fry not. This set-up is safest & easiest way to keep Zebra Convict Cichlids.
Convict Cichlids can be kept in a same species aquarium, for this you would need 50 to 60 gallon tank; you can keep around 5 to 6 Juvenile Convict Cichlids. However monitor for aggression. Until they pair up & start breeding your tank will be fine. Aquarium should have lot of hiding places. Driftwood & plants that grow on driftwood like Java fern or Anubias can be used to decorate. Clay pots or Ceramic Cichlid pots are another great idea in Convict Cichlid Aquarium. These fish uproot plants; so avoid rooted plants in the aquarium.
In case you want to include Convict Cichlids in a community aquarium with other South American Cichlids, your best bet would be with Cichlids like Green terror, African Jewel Fish, Fire-mouth Cichlid, Blue Acara Cichlid etc. This kind of set-up is risky & requires good understanding of fish behavior & each fish's territory in the aquarium. Chances of succeeding in this set-up is more if all fish are introduced as Juveniles in the aquarium. Things may go out of control sometimes, removing problem fish or re-arranging decoration would help. I've kept them with Juvenile Flowerhorn Cichlid, African Jewel Cichlid, Green Terror, Texas Cichlid, Juvenile Red Devil Cichlid etc. If there are bigger fish in the aquarium these fish prefer to stay less active in the aquarium.
Breeding Convict Cichlids
Convict Cichlids are Prolific Breeders as it ensures the survival of their species in the wild. Captive breeding of Convict Cichlids has changed their natural colors, the size & shape of fins, there are lot of color morphs like Pink Convict Cichlid, Albino Convict Cichlid, Red & Yellow blotch Convict Cichlids & Marbled Convict Cichlids, Convict & Parrot Cichlid hybrids etc. However, even the Fancy Convict Cichlids are Prolific Breeders; all you need to do is provide them with the right conditions to get them to breed. Convict Cichlids are referred to as rabbits in the hobby because of their Prolific Breeding habit.
In case you have one male & one female Convict Cichlid in the aquarium, they would pair-up as young as 5 to 6 months of age. Convict Cichlids are monogamous, this means they pair up & stay as as pair until they are in the same aquarium, both male & female take care of the fry. First thing you notice in your aquarium when they are about to pair-up is the male or the female lets either into their territory, in an aquarium its usually a favorite spot. What triggers spawning is a water change followed by increase in the temperature by 2 degrees. Zebra Convicts are substrate spawners, you would see both Male & Female digging a nest in the substrate & guarding it, any fish getting close to this nest is attacked. In case you have a cave or a clay pot in an aquarium that would be picked as a spawning area.
Once the female lays the eggs, the male would fertilize it; both male & female fan the eggs to circulate water flow around the eggs, they do this for 3 to 4 days. Convict Cichlid fry are born in approximately in 72 hours. The Brood size is on an average of 200 or more. They feed off their yolk sac for a day or 2, after which you need to feed them fry food like micro pellets, crushed flakes, baby brine shrimp, micro worms, mosquito larvae. Both male & female guard & protect their fry.
Convict Cichlid Fry Care
Since, the demand for Convict Cichlids are less in the hobby, you need to decide if you want to raise them or not. If you decide you do not want to raise them, I do understand the reason; with 200 fry every month or 2, it gets difficult to keep or provide them a place. If you do wanna raise the Convict Cichlid fry this information would help you further. Convict Cichlid Fry are free swimming in a day or two. Initially they observe nutrition's from the yolk sac after which they are ready to consume food. You should feed them Micro Pellets or Fry food, baby brine shrimp, mosquito larvae, micro worms etc or simply crush Fish Food you feed adult fish small enough for them to eat. The good thing about raising these fry is both Male & Female can be kept along with them, Convict Cichlids are great parents, they move the fry to a new place every few days, both male & female dig a nest & place the fry in them during evening. During the day they are always by their side & guarding them.
Few things that needs to be followed for at least 4 to 6 weeks caring for the Convict Cichlid Fry is keep them in a appropriate sized Tank, with sponge filter, follow 25% water change every 3 days, feed 3 times a day. Temperature range between 78 to 82 degree Fahrenheit helps with growth rate. Convict Cichlid Fry prefer pH range of 7 to 8 without drastic changes. This plays an important role in keeping the fry healthy & gaining a optimal growth rate. Lights should be off for at least 8 hours for the Convict Cichlid fry to sleep, good sleep also helps with the growth rate.