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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Family: Cichlidae, Subfamily Cichlinae

Common Name: Convict Cichlid, Zebra Cichlid

Origin and Habitat: Widely distributed in Central America: Pacific slope from Guatemala to El Salvador, Atlantic slope from Guatemala to Honduras. Not native to Panama, Costa Rica or Nicaragua (as previously thought, but see additional species comments under Description). Introduced elsewhere, including the USA and Australia. Occurs in flowing water streams and rivers, also in lakes and ponds, preferring a rocky habitat with wood and debris; never in open water.

Compatibility/Temperament: This is not a community fish. Best in a species tank; a pair may be kept in a 36-inch (40+ gallon) tank. In much larger tanks (over 6 feet) it may be kept with a few other Central American cichlids that are robust. This species is very aggressive and territorial, and when spawning becomes very violent to all other fish including much larger cichlids.

Convict Cichlid Diet

Convict cichlids are omnivorous feeding naturally on worms, crustaceans, insects, fish and plant matter. They are not fussy eaters and will accept any food, but a variety will ensure better health.


Males attain 10cm/4 inches though some sources report 15cm/6 inches; females slightly smaller.

Minimum Tank Suggestion

36-inch (40 gallon) for a pair alone.

Water parameters for Convict Cichlid

Medium hard to hard (9-20 dGH), basic (pH 7-8), temperature 20-36C/68-100F. This is the "tolerated" temperature range [Fishbase] but the fish will be better within a more normal range with a maximum of 26C/79F.


Convict cichlids, also sometimes seen under the common name of Zebra Cichlid, are widely available; they are very hardy, very easy to spawn, and are thus frequently sold as good beginner fish. This is unfortunate, since this fish is not a community fish; and being easy to spawn and prolific, the fry are not easy to get rid of.

It is best in a species tank with a pair. Pea gravel substrate, several rocks, and chunks of bogwood will replicate its natural habitat. Rock must be secure, as this fish will dig and dislodge everything. Substrate-rooted plants are not possible, but Java Fern and Anubias secured to rock and wood are useful. Floating plants are advisable, as this fish naturally never ventures into open water but remains under cover.

Sexual dimorphism is very easy. Males are the larger and have a more pointed tip on their dorsal fin. Females, on the other hand, are smaller with an orange patch on their bellies.

In recent years, a convict with red on the fins has become popular. This may be a distinct species [see below] but this is uncertain, and now hybrids are also available, so the species may not be true. It is generally referred to by the common name "Honduran Red Points" or HRP Convict.

The species was originally described by A. Gunther in 1867 as Heros nigrofasciatus. The species epithet is Latin, meaning black banded. In 1980 it was transferred into the genus Cichlasoma and the species epithet was changed to nigrofasciatum to agree with the gender of the genus name. It was moved into the genus Archocentrus (as A. nigrofasciatus) by Kullander & Hartel (1997). R. Allgayer (2001) moved it into Cryptoheros, but it wasn't there long.

In his revision of the genus Archocentrus, Juan Schmitter-Soto (2007) identified four distinct "convict" species and placed them in his newly-erected genus Amatitlania. The genus was named for the type locality of the type species; 'Amatitlan' means 'a place abundant in amate' in Nahuatl, 'amate' is a kind of rustic paper made from the bark of Ficus petiolaris or Ficus indica [source: Fishbase]. A. nigrofasciatus, the type (and original) species, occurs throughout the given habitat range, while A. siquia occurs on the Atlantic slope of honduras and Costa Rica, A. coatepeque is endemic to Lake Coatepeque in El Salvador, and A. kanna occurs on the Atlantic slope in Panama. The story may not end here. A 2008 study by Oldrich Rican has suggested that the species in Cryptoheros and Amatitlania should be moved into the genus Hypsophrys. Stay tuned.


Fisbase: Amatitlania nigrofasciata, Convict cichlid : aquarium

Kullander, S.O. and K.E. Hartel (1997), "The systematic status of cichlid genera described by Louis Agassiz in 1859: Amphilophus, Baiodon, Hypsophrys and Parachromis (Teleostei: Cichlidae)," Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters, volume 7 (no. 3), pp. 193-202.

Schmitter-Soto, J.J. (2007), "A systematic revision of the genus Archocentrus (Perciformes: Cichlidae), with the description of two new genera and six new species," Zootaxa No. 1603, pp. 1-76.

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