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This profile was written by Pandora, a knowledgeable and helpful hobbyist.

Central America


female convict with fry

Amatitlania (Archocentrus) nigrofasciata


    The bar-room brawler and reproducing rabbit of the fish world. This cichlid is a mean S.O.B. that will hold it's own against fish more than twice it's size!

Quick stats:

    Listed tank sizes are the minimum
    Size: 5-6 inches (15cm) full grown males; females an inch or two smaller
    Tank: At least 20 gallons, 25 per mated pair (24 inches)
    Strata: Lower middle
    PH: 6.0 to 8.0 (very wide range tolerated if kept stable)
    Hardness: Soft to neutral
    Temperature: 68°- 80°F (20° to 27° C) (wide range tolerated if kept stable)


    Order: Perciformes
    Family: Cichlidae
    Genera: Amatitlania (Archocentrus)
    Species: nigrofaciata


Common name:

    Convict Cichlid , zebra cichlid

Image gallery:

    Additional species photographs


    Badmans' Forum
Mature male

    Not in IUCN Red List


    Central America: Guatemala, El Salvadore, Costa Rica & Panama

General Body Form:

    General cichlid body type


    Also known as the "zebra cichlid"; both this and "convict" are good descriptions of this species. It has black vertical bars on it's bluish-lavender body. There is usually a pink tinge to it's 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 pointier 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 rounder. There is also a pink albino strain.


    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 3X's their size, and win! Best kept alone or with their own kind, but fascinating fish to watch.
    Convicts are among the easiest bred fish in captivity, but watch out, make sure you know what you are getting yourself into when you get a pair (see below). This fish has no special requirements at all and is extremely hardy. 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 bad-attitude cichlids like red terrors and jack dempseys. If kept in the right setup, you will really see their amazing colors and behaviors 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 like chopped-up spinach leaves. They are omnivorous, and not picky eaters, but very greedy.


    Unparticular, basic setup with hiding places (preferentially with fake/live plants)




    Someone once described breeding convicts as "just add water and fish", and this is pretty accurate! An excellent fish for beginners to start breeding, but just be careful what you wish for... these fish breed at the drop of a hat and will produce many young. The male and female will pair off, and do a mating dance that involves shaking their heads at one another. 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. A breeding pair will vigorously defend their territory against encroaching fish, and will quickly push all the other inhabitants of the tank to the opposite corner. They are one of the very best when it comes to parental care, and will sometimes bury newborn fry when they are threatened, so don't be alarmed if they go missing for a day. Fry usually hatch in under a week, and take another 3-4 days to consume their yolk sacs and become free-swimming (do not feed during this time). Once swimming on their own, they can be fed live microworms. They will also take fry powder foods and then eventually graduate to flake food.


Convicts with fry
Convicts with fry
Convicts with fry

Your comments:


Please remember that the following comments are personal experiences and may or may not apply to your setup. Use them as guide to help better understand your fish, like us all individuals will behave differently under different circumstances.


From: STom
I have had the Pink Convicts and Regular Barred Convicts in 125 gallon aquariums for decades. There is some aggression, but basically they get along fine. In small tanks... that would not at all be the case! If the tanks contains gravel, they will have lots of babies that survive. If you keep the tank as a bare bottom, they tend to not spawn as much and will eat the babies. Bare bottom tanks keep aggression down as they minimize the spawning tendencies significantly. Bare bottomed tanks seem to trigger the fish's sense of being in deep water (where spawning does not tend to take place... and where any young fish are "fair game" to be eaten). Shallow water (with gravel/sand) triggers the breeding tendencies and accompanying aggression. I don't put other species in with them usually; but currently have some leopard danios in with them and they are doing just great. I usually keep one Chinese algae eater in with them. They are long lived, extremely beautiful fish... highly underrated. The males get an awesome large neucal hump upon maturity. They are intelligent (for fish) and very aware!
From: Shane Lindsley
I am fairly new to cichilds, but a convict is excellent for beginners and simple to breed. They have gotten a reputation for being aggressive, but I find it only comes to the surface while they are spawning. My convict eats out of my hand and comes up to the glass to welcome me everytime he sees me! They are chocked full of personality! They are a medium sized cichlid, so you basically have unlimited options on their living space as they don't get big, but they don't remain small either.
From: katpat23
I have kept a pair of these fish for about 18 months. Well, let me rephrase that: I had a pair of them and they produced about 100 fry, 80 of which grew large enough to hand over to a wholesaler. (He was generous enough to take them off my hands, but not to pay me: they're so common in the UK that LFS aren't doling out any dosh for them.) Then the male went into his stroppy mode and killed his mate. We bought another female about a year ago. They have produced a brood about every two months: some get eaten at the egg stage, some hatch out and slowly disappear (usually, slightly larger fry are dining on their younger siblings), and occasionally, we get some to last until I can haul them to the LFS. Meanwhile, the female has survived two maulings, which seem to come out of the blue. Then there's the saga of "Zippy", one of the original babies from the first batch of fry. She was put into a 200-litre community tank of gouramis, tetras, etc., and lived happily there for over a year. Now she's become "jaws", killing about a fish a week, and I've had to move her into the hospital tank until I can re-home her. My biggest fear is leaving friends to tend my fish over holidays, and coming back to find "Clyde" has gone into strop-mode again and attacked his mate, leaving the poor fish-sitters wringing their hands while the fish dies on their watch. So, while these guys are easy to breed, forgiving for water conditions, and interesting to watch, their ups and downs remind me of a soap opera.
From: Parveen
I started with four convicts 2 males and two females. I left them in a 150L tank with no gravel a spongefilter and a few plants for them to eat. During this stage I fed them protein pellets and freeze dried blood worms. After about 2 months they had all grown to about 3 inches big(8cm) and they formed their pairs. At this stage I put one of the pairs in my other tank which is also 150L. I also upgraded the fishes home, I set up both fish tanks with gravel, plants and internal filters. Added a few limestone rocks which I had made holes in to simulate a cave(my convicts like to lay their eggs in the cave and the other pair on the top of the cave) the lime stone also helps maintain a pH of about 7.5-8 which they seem to be more active in but be careful your tank doesn't go over 8 pH otherwise your fish will die. About 3 weeks after the both pairs had laid eggs and at this time a also had added a Leopard pleco (4 inches big) in each tank, to keep the tank clean, if you put your hand in too much, any fish that has babies, will eat them. Don't worry as long as your convicts are big enough they can even defend a 10inch pleco. After about 3 days I saw the eggs wiggling and 2 days later they were swimming short distances. At this point the babies were only about 1mm big so they were very hard to see. 1 month later the I separated the babies because the adults were preparing to lay another batch. Once your babies are free swimming get some liquid fry or fry food mix it in water and pour it in the area where the babies are. When they are large enough you can either keep them or sell them to my local store for $3 each. If your like me I generally keep the strongest one and grow it till it can go in my display tank in my house. I hope this is helpful to any of you who want to breed these magnificent, yet beautiful fish.
From: Steve
I have a 110 gallon tank with 2 pair of convict cichlids. They share the tank with a large pleco, 2 cory cats, 2 pictus cats, 4 black skirt tetra, 4 cherry barbs, and 4 black neon tetras. My convicts have yet to breed, but are a great fish to have. They have great personalities and are fun to watch. They don't seem to bother the other fish in the tank, but it is very clear that they run tank. I've always heard that convicts aren't a community fish, but I've had really good luck with mine. All the fish do very well in my tank and I don't ever see the convicts chasing or harassing any of the other fish. I added the convicts as younger fish, but they have grown quite large. Both males are around 5 inches long and both females are slightly smaller. Neither pair has bred yet (not sure why), but I'm not in it for the breeding as much as I am for the pure joy of watching them flourish in a great environment. My tank has gravel for the substrate, artificial plants, large rocks and three artificial tree trunks (strategically placed) for hiding and decoration. I've been in the hobby for several years and have yet to lose a fish, except due to old age. I've had many different fish species, over the years, and this is the first time that I've integrated a community tank with known, aggressive fish. The convicts are a great addition to my tank and I am more than impressed with their character and social behavior. Any cichlid, in my experience, is a great addition to any tank. I am curious, though, as to whether or not others have had any success introducing the more aggressive species to a community tank. I have also had Jack Dempseys, years ago, and they did not do well in a community environment. My convicts, however, are doing very well. I am very impressed with this site, too, and its abundance of helpful information. This is a great hobby and it brings me and my family hours of enjoyment. Thanks Badman!
From: Sandra
Back in Nov. 2008 I purchased a young 3" pair of Black Convicts and put them into a 20 gallon high tank with powerful filtration. They bred fairly quickly and produced about 150 young shortly after. The parents are extremely protective of the eggs and babies. I've had two more spawning which both produced over 200 each time and all have survived. I feed my young fish decapsulated brine shrimp eggs up until they are about an inch long. No muss, no fuss with the decapsulated shrimp eggs and they love them. I also supplemented their diet with ground Omega One Cichlid pellets and dried spiralina flakes. Having so many young in a tank so small you really need to up the filtration especially since these little guys like to eat five or six times a day while they are growing. I have a large canister filter working and put a pond prefilter (large foam type) over the intake tube. All I have to do is change 20% of the water weekly and make sure the ph stays within range. I remove the parent fish after about two weeks after the babies are swimming around the tank. Surprisingly I have had no trouble finding homes for all these fish. These fish are very aggressive and should be kept in a one species tank. In my opinion breeding pairs should be given the entire tank to themselves because they will inflict injury on any other fish even of their own species. Amazingly I find them one of the most intelligent fish I have owned. They know to attack the hand and not the gravel wash tube. Nature sure is amazing.
From: AMilner
A real character for any beginner to cichlids or experienced aquarist. Having kept fish for nearly 15 years, these have to be in my top 3 of the South American cichlids available in the hobby - and in my top 5 of all species. They are not the best choice for most people purely due to their natural territorial tendencies - this is seen in its aggressive actions to virtually anything else in the tank. They are well worth keeping in a 24" tank on their own.... but beware, two males with fight, a pair will breed!!!
From: Sam
I have three convicts in a 40 gallon. They do not stop breeding and so at any given time I will have 50-400 fry. At first I thought that that was so great. Then I realized that I have to get rid of these cool little boogers. Luckily, since I work at a pet store, I have an outlet to get rid of them. But be mindful of this when purchasing convicts. Some other convict comments on this page say that you need to bump up their temperature and feed them live guppies. This will certainly help, but they are convicts. They don't need help spawning. You can keep yours at 68F and feed them tetramin (a food that definitely should not be fed) and they will still spawn like they are the last convicts on earth and have to rebuild the population. Still, I wouldn't recommend doing that. There is also a marble (or koi) strain that costs about 3 or 4 times as much as the regulars. They are cream, with randomly placed lavender and yellow splotches. I would like to end thanking badman and also saying that you should buy from locally owned pet stores. They are nearly always much more knowledgeable, helpful, and personable.
From: Joe
These fish are the most aggressive fish I have ever had. (And I have been in the hobby for about 20 years now!!!) They mix well with oscars, Jacks,plecos, pictus cats, and sometimes firemouths. You must be very careful when selecting tank mates. Kribensis and convicts in my experience are very aggressive towards each other. My Male convict is 7 inches and the female about 4 or 5 inches. They hold there own, and will defend there broods (fry), against ANYTHING ELSE IN THE TANK!!!! I have four 13 inch oscars in my 220 gallon tank and two huge 15 inch plecos And a huge batch of kribensis. And the convicts when defending their fry will attack my 13 inch oscars when getting to close and win the fight!!! A truly amazing fish that is basically a true hand full./ I bought two small convicts a while back and had them with my oscars and the convicts where breeding already at like only 2 inches and one of my oscars got to close and the little 2 inch convict went up against my 13 inch oscar and the oscar got annoyed and swallowed the convict whole!!! It was pretty funny. So I had to raise the convicts I currently have in the 220 in a 75 gallon tank to get them big enough to go in with the massive oscars. All in all a great fish just make sure to give them lots of space, good filtration, good food, and good tank mates. Never put convicts in a community tank, I don't care if its 10000 gallons, the convicts will kill the other fish in the community tank.
From: Paul
I bought a male convict and put him in a 40 gal with a med size goldfish and a small electric yellow. Then I read this site and after reading about how they are such prolific breeders, I got him a female companion. My tank has lots of plastic as well as natural rock formation. The male spent the first 2-3 days following the female and opening his gills at the female to impress her I guess. He moved gravel out of two places as if he's making a nest but the female seemed uninterested. So I went and bought two 3" ceramic flower pots... to my surprise they both avoided the pots for the first few days but on the 4th day I spotted the female laying eggs and the male fertilizing the eggs inside the flower pot. It was a neat ritual; they would trade places back and forth until she laid about 500 or so eggs. Then for the next three days she stayed in the pot hovering over her eggs constantly fanning them with her fins. After exactly 3 days, I noticed the mother was out of the pot and inside the rock caverns and the eggs that were in the flower pot looked inhabited so then I noticed she had moved her little wrigglers into the rock caverns where they rested on a ledge. The male pretty much stood guard since the mating ritual and his job was to chase the goldfish away (pretty much left the little electric yellow alone though). the goldfish pretty much has his fins and scales nipped away and only stays in the opposite corner of the tank now, scared sh**less. The mother is just hovering over her fry and I believe it will be another 2 days until the fry are off their yolk sack and free swimming. What I did was take the cotton like filter material and wrapped it around the intake of the bio filter so the fry won't get sucked in. going to petsmart tonight to buy miniature fry food; think that is the best thing for them. All in all these convicts are fun to raise and seeing how they are behaving as responsible parents is quite entertaining.
From: Jacob
A very forgiving cichlid, they definitely are prolific breeders. Mine just bred in my tank, and have a bazzillion babies on their first try (I estimate around 150) I used these details to help them breed:
1. Get a 55 gallon tank for them ALONE
2. Find two healthy convicts, I used different pet stores for them
3. Let them settle in for two weeks, at 75 degrees F
4. Crank up the heat to 80 and feed them live guppies.
5. wait.
And that's it, I got mine to breed in 3 weeks.
From: dnorm
I have a pair of convicts, for more than a year. They have produced babies four times, but only one brood survived. That was the group that I left in the tank alone, once they had gotten about an eighth of an inch long. (I fed them the pellets and flakes ground to a powder with a mortar and pestle.) I have twenty of them, and they are from 1/2 inch to 3/4 long now, and I have spread them to the other tanks, with other fish. The other broods eventually became food, and the one, when I left it alone with the mama. I figured that maybe because I had taken away the threats of other fish, mama saw them as food instead of children. But the recent batch got eaten too, by mama or the betas, I guess. Mama went all dark since the babies are gone. Both parents were very protective of the babies at first, but within a few weeks, they all disappeared. I am going to go back to leaving the babies alone in the tank.
From: Bradley
Hello, I am a new convict fish breeder and have had major success. Here are some of the things I have done to successfully breed these beautiful fish.
  • 1- I began by purchasing a healthy pair of convicts.
  • 2- I set placed them in there own aquarium and let them get used to each other and their surroundings.
  • 3- I began feeding them live brine shrimp, this LIVE food source "jump-starts" their reproductive behavior.
  • 4- About one month later I looked into the aquarium to see a small hole dug into the gravel with many babies resting on the bottom.
  • 5- Three days later the babies began to swim around in the tank.
  • 6- I kept my loving convict parents in perfect health and so the parents kept their babies in good health.
  • 7- as the babies grew older, about a month or so old, I began to feed them fry bites. This helps the fry grow big an strong.
So concluding, the fry are not quite grown up all the way but I see a bright future ahead of them. I hope these tips help you successfully breed your convicts. Thank You.
From: c shares
I have found that these fish are quite well behaved when sharing tanks with platties.

From: John
I have this little monster in my 55 gallon tank, and let me tell you he can hold his own. He's living with an eight inch arowana, nine inch clown knife, and a six inch sailfin. Nobody bothers him and he swims where he wants. He eats anything I throw in the tank, rosies, guppies, blood worms and the cichlid pellets of course. He's having a great time being the smallest and toughest fish in the tank!

From: David
My convicts are very aggressive. They share the tank with oscars and jacks. My 3 inch convict is the king of the tank even though I have a 10 inch oscar. But they're fun and easy to breed

From: Kathy
Be careful how warm your tank gets. They defiantly breed on a dime. I have had fish for many years and find that I have gotten the most pleasure from my convicts. They are very entertaining creates.

From: Warren
I put two 3/4 inch convicts in a 55 gal tank with four jack dempseys ranging from 1 to 2 inches. They fought for over a week and had a lot of tattered fins. I added three 2 inch danios and that solved the problem. The convicts and dempseys are so interested in the danios swimming in circles, that they stopped fighting each other. Now I was planning on raising the convicts to breeding size. But one morning I noticed gunk in the corner of the tank. I was going to gravel vac it out, but on closer inspection I saw convict fry! My convicts aren't even an inch long yet!







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