Convict Cichlid – Care Guide, Diet, Breeding, Tank Mates and More

The convict cichlid has earned its name for its distinctive coloring. Also known as the zebra cichlid, their white and black stripes are hard to miss. These fish are readily recognizable, breed easily, and can be found through most suppliers.

Attractive and easy to care for, this is one of the most popular cichlids for an at-home aquarium. They’re easy to keep and even suitable for beginner fish keepers.

Close up of a grey and white striped convict cichlid
© ID1974 – stock.adobe.com

Convict cichlids do come with their own specific needs, though.

An aggressive fish, they are generally not recommended to be placed with other species. While there can be some success had when placing with larger fish that also tend toward aggression, there are other species better suited to keep in mixed community tanks.

But if you have your heart set on one, everything you need to know about convict cichlid care is here in this article. Let’s get started!

Overview and Statistics

In the table below, we’ve summarized some general information about this species and their needs.

CharacteristicDetails
Common name(s):Peppered corydoras, peppered cory, salt and pepper cory, peppered catfish, blue leopard corydoras, paleatus corydoras, and mottled corydoras.
Scientific Name(s):Corydoras paleatus
Family:Callichthyidae
Origin:South America, small streams and rivers, backwaters, ponds, oxbows, and marsh environments. Clear, shallow, slow-moving waters.
Care Level:Easy
Temperament:Peaceful
Adult Size:2.5 inches
Color Form:Black, white, green
Lifespan:5 years +
Minimum Tank Size:10 gallons
Typical Tank Setup:Smooth sand or gravel with rounded edges, well planted with hiding places.
Tank Level:Any level
Diet:Omnivore
Water Conditions:Tropical freshwater, 72-79 F, 2-12 KH, 5.8-7.0 pH
Tank mates / Compatibility:Peaceful community fish and its own kind.

The convict cichlid originated in Central America. Native to pools, ponds, and streams in El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama, and Costa Rica, they are hardy and do well in warm waters.

In the wild, they are frequently found in larger, quick-moving waters. They seek shelter among the rocks, plant life, and sunken driftwood logs. Replicating such hiding spaces in their aquarium should be included in your aquarium plans.

An aggressive fish, it’s not recommended that you keep them with your peaceable community – it’s likely it won’t end well for the less aggressive fish in your tank.

Though some of these aggressive behaviors can be controlled by how you set up your tank, they will always tend toward aggression.

Appearance

They are an attractive fish. The vertical black and white stripes would help provide camouflage for them in the wild. In a home aquarium, they make for a striking addition to your tank.

Convict cichlid in a gravel bottom aquarium
© Zbigniew – stock.adobe.com

An adult will have eight to nine stripes along the length of its body. They may also have glints of green through its fins. The male will grow to be about six inches, while the female will be smaller at about four and a half inches.

The female may have some orange along her dorsal fins and lower body. Not only is the male larger, but he is also usually less colorful and has a more dramatic, steeper forehead. Like many other fish, his fins are also larger and more beautiful than the females, designed specifically to attract mates.

Juvenile convict cichlids are monomorphic, and you will not be able to identify their sex or place them in breeding pairs until they have fully matured.

Behavior and Temperament

They are extremely aggressive. They don’t usually do well in group environments, but they can be kept with others of their kind.

Each individual will identify a territory they believe is theirs. Then they will protect this territory by chasing and harassing any fish that infringe on it. Such behavior can be incredibly harmful to fish that are easily stressed.

Despite their aggressive tendencies, they enjoy being paired and will readily select a mate. In fact, they can be a great option for a beginner breeder. Surprisingly, they make quite good parents and are happy to raise their fry.

Convict cichlids are monogamous and dedicated to their partner and their young. Once they have paired, they will likely have young. Both males and females will work to protect their eggs and fry, by guarding and patrolling their designated territory.

During the breeding season, natural aggressive tendencies will be heightened. Care should be taken to separate any fish being negatively focused on. You may find that reintroduction is not possible.

Habitat and Tank Requirements

Great convict cichlid care begins with setting up your aquarium to suit their specific needs. The following tank parameters will help you create the best home possible for them.

Replicating the natural habitat of your fish will always provide the best environment with the least amount of stress. The convict cichlid originates from Central America and prefers warmer waters, with significant water flow and plenty of hiding spots.

What Size Tank Do Convict Cichlid Need?

They should be kept in at least a 30-gallon tank. Should you choose to keep other aggressive fish with your convict cichlid, you may find it’s in the best interest of all the fish involved to move up to a larger tank size.

Water Type and Parameters

They should be placed in a freshwater tank, at a temperature between 68 and 73 degrees Fahrenheit, and the KH between nine and 20. The pH of the water should be between 6.5 and 8.0.

While they can tolerate quite a wide range of water parameters, it’s always best to make any changes in your tank’s parameters slowly. This will ensure a smooth transition for your fish and should be considered best practice.

What Substrate do They Need?

While they are adaptable to many kinds of substrates, keep their natural environment in mind while planning their tank.

To accurately replicate their natural habitat, sand is a great choice of substrate.

Filtration Requirements

Due to their origins, convict cichlids prefer water with quite a bit of movement. They also like a clean space.

Therefore a strong filtration system that generates currents in your tank can go a long way toward providing your fish with the habitat they desire.

You may also find that they like to dig in the sand. This can create quite a bit of mess, so you’ll want a filtration system that’s able to handle keeping the tank clean, while not suffering clogging in a tank with sand.

Lighting Needs

They have no special lighting requirements or needs. Standard aquarium lighting is sufficient.

Plants, Decorations, Swims, And Open Spaces

They do best in tanks outfitted with the kind of items that would be found in their natural habitat. Caves, plants, and rocks can all help create the kind of hiding spaces and territories they crave.

Aggressive tendencies can be controlled by making sure there are plenty of available territories to claim. More hiding spaces lessen the likelihood that there will be conflicts over the different areas.

Convict cichlids are also cave-breeders, so such spaces will be critical to any breeding success. Terracotta flower pots can work very well for this purpose.

How Many Convict Cichlids Per Gallon Should I Have?

Due to their territorial nature and personal space needs, you’ll find that bigger is better when it comes to a tank for multiple convict cichlids. For two breeding pairs, you’ll want at least a 50-gallon tank.

You’ll want to keep the fish-to-gallon ratio as you add more fish. This will be the safest way to ensure that your fish have the space they need to thrive. Don’t forget that the more fish you place in a single tank, the more hiding spots and territories you’ll need to create.

Diet and Feeding

Great convict cichlid care requires a good diet. As omnivores, they will need to have access to both plant-based and meat-based foods.

Let’s take a closer look at their natural feeding habits, and how you should feed them at home.

What do They Eat in the Wild?

When not in captivity, they will happily munch on insects and larvae. They’ll also spend time sourcing food from plants and scrounging for algae. In their natural environment, no food source is off limits.

What Can They Be Fed in an Aquarium?

It’s important they have access to quality commercial fish food. This will supply them with the nutrients they really need to thrive. There are foods explicitly designed for cichlids, and these are preferred for providing optimal convict cichlid care.

Equally important, though, is to provide variety in their diet. Mosquito larvae and bloodworms can be a great treat. They will also enjoy tubifex worms, daphnia, and brine shrimp.

Remember that a well-fed convict cichlid will be a respectful pet. If your fish are hungry, they will be more likely to be destructive to your plants and may attack any tankmates.

What Human Foods Can They Eat?

They are not picky eaters. If you’re looking to treat them with something from your refrigerator, small pieces of vegetables can be enjoyed by your fish. Not only will it give them a varied diet, but it will provide them with extra fiber and nutrients.

Zucchini, cucumber, and lettuce are all vegetables you might find they love to munch on. Just remember to remove any leftover vegetables after a 24-hour period, to avoid any tank soiling or bacteria growth that can endanger your fish or alter your tank’s parameters.

How Often Should They Be Fed?

Plan on feeding them two times a day. Take care not to overfeed, especially if you’re providing vegetables or protein sources as well.

Provide your fish with only as much food as can be consumed in the first two minutes. Any excess food won’t be eaten and will contribute to a dirty tank.

Any Special Care Requirements?

They are a hardy species that require very little specialized care. As long as your tank is set up to appropriate parameters and your fish have the space they crave, you’ll find that owning convict cichlids is a low-maintenance pleasure.

Compatibility With Other Fish

Generally speaking, convict cichlids are not compatible with other fish. They are aggressive and have strong opinions about what space belongs to them. They will chase and harass other fish in their space.

Their aggressive nature also means that they shouldn’t be kept with other fish that are capable of eating them. Unafraid of confronting large fish, they may put themselves in danger of being consumed.

Of course, much of this will depend on the individual temperament of the fish in your tank. There are some species that can be successfully kept with the convict cichlid. The blue acara, Jack Dempsey, green terror, and rainbow cichlid may be suitable for cohabitating in a large tank.

Can Multiple Convict Cichlids Be Kept Together?

Yes. These cichlids may be kept together. They especially enjoy being paired with a partner of the opposite sex. In those instances, you should be prepared for your fish to reproduce.

If you choose to keep multiple breeding pairs, you will need to make sure your tank is large enough to support your fish, with ample space and the amenities they need.

Buying Advice

Convict cichlids are an attractive fish that breed easily, so finding them for sale is rarely an issue. Many times, pet stores won’t even outsource additional fish as their stock will choose to breed while in the store.

Their breeding rates also mean you can find them for sale at a very reasonable price. For little money – between 5 and 10 dollars each – you can add this striking addition to your home aquarium.

When shopping for your fish in person, look for one that’s active and quick moving. Any with unusual spots or behaving differently from the other fish in the tank should be avoided.

If you are unable to find them locally, it is possible to find them online and have them shipped directly to you.

Can You Breed Them?

Convict cichlids readily pair and breed. Once you have your breeding pair, you’ll want to address your tank parameters. They are a hardy fish that can acclimate to a variety of waters. You can help encourage spawning by increasing the water temperature to the higher end of their preferred range.

In the wild, convict cichlids breed during the summer. The temperature change can help signify to them it’s time to reproduce. You can also do frequent 20 percent water changes, which replicate the heavy summer rains from their area of origin.

With your breeding pair prepped for breeding, you’ll need to make sure you have a proper place for the female to lay her eggs. In her natural environment, she would look for a cave to lay eggs in. In your home aquarium, this can be replicated by using clay flower pots or flat stones.

The female will first lay her eggs at the spawning site. Then the male will fertilize the eggs. The female will then guard the eggs, while the male patrols the perimeters of the area.

In 4 days, the eggs will hatch. For several days, the fry will continue to absorb their yolk sacks, while the parent convict cichlids continue to protect them. After another 5 days, you can expect the fry to be free swimmers.

While the males are usually great providers and protectors during the first few days, this free swimming phase may inspire aggression in the male. If you do notice your male showing aggression toward the fry, it’s best to remove him from the tank and leave the female with her fry behind.

Interesting Facts and Trivia

  • They was first discovered in 1867.
  • They may reach maturity in as little as four months.
  • In their original environment, there’s no need for convict cichlids to find the perfect cave to lay their eggs—the female is happy to excavate her own from underneath promising rocks.
  • They take attentive care of both their eggs and their fry.
  • They will brood their babies for up to six weeks in the wild, but in captivity spend less time brooding and will hatch more eggs per breeding period.
  • A breeding pair should not be kept with other fish—they are likely to attack and kill fish to help keep their future young safe.
  • They are so prolific in the wild that in some areas they are considered to be an invasive species.
  • Convict cichlids have been reclassified several times.
  • They can be found well outside of their original habitat—they’ve even been located in Australia.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Many Eggs do Convict Cichlids Lay?

Your female convict cichlid can lay up to 300 eggs at a time. Larger females will have more eggs. This generally means a younger, smaller, female will have fewer eggs during the beginning of her parenting career. It is possible as the seasons pass that she will begin to lay more eggs.

While they practice caring for their brood for many weeks in the wild, in captivity they may go as little as two weeks between broods. This can make for quite a few eggs in a relatively short period of time.

Do Convict Cichlids Mate for Life?

They are monogamous and do mate for life. Males and females can pair together prior to establishing their own territory together. It’s also possible that your convict cichlids may establish separate territories before meeting and bonding.

If this is the case, you can expect them to relocate to a single territory together when they pair. As their territory will be geared toward reproduction, it will most likely house an appropriate future spawning site.

Will They Eat Their Babies?

In general, they are excellent parents. They guard, protect, and provide for their eggs and fry.

That being said, once the fry has become a free swimmer, you may find the male cichlid shows inappropriate aggression toward his young. If that’s the case, you’ll need to separate your male from the female and new fry.

You may notice your convict cichlids collecting young fry in their mouths and returning them to the nest at night. This is a common practice for cichlids and is part of their normal care routine for the vulnerable fry.

Can all Cichlids Live Together?

While it’s understandable thinking the different kind of cichlids can live together, the truth is that they can’t – or at the very least, shouldn’t.

All cichlids are aggressive. While some are more aggressive than others, you generally don’t want to house multiple types of cichlids together.

While it can be possible under certain situations to have more than one cichlid kept together, it’s best to commit to one kind of cichlid per tank. Even then, you’ll probably need to strictly monitor the number you have.

If you do decide your tank is big enough to comfortably house multiple kinds of cichlids, make sure to keep only cichlids from the same region together. Your African cichlid should not be housed with one from South America, for example.

Summary

Convict cichlids can be a great addition to your home aquarium. As long as you’re prepared to set up your tank properly to deal with their needs and aggressive tendencies, they can be a beautiful asset to your tank.

While proper care is not difficult to provide, it does require a basic understanding of their needs. A large tank with plenty of territories they can claim as their own, a mate they’re happy to raise fry with, and a good filtration system, will go a long way toward successfully raising them.

We hope you’ve found the information here you were looking for on convict cichlid care. What’s your experience with convict cichlids been like? Are there other cichlids you’d recommend instead? We’d love to hear all about it. Leave us a message in the comment section below.

Happy fish keeping!

Wendy Kathryn

Hi, I'm Wendy, the owner and creator of this website, an experienced fish keeper and avid student of the art since 2010. My aim is to help beginners avoid the many possible mistakes when getting started in this wonderful hobby.

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