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FAQs on Convict Cichlid Behavior

Related Articles: Convicts, Freshwater Angels, Discus, Juraparoids, Neotropical Cichlids, African Cichlids, Dwarf South American Cichlids, Asian Cichlids, Cichlid Fishes in General

Related FAQs: Convicts 1, Convicts 2, & Convict Identification, Convict Compatibility, Convict Selection, Convict Systems, Convict Feeding, Convict Disease, Convict Reproduction, & Cichlids of the World, Cichlid Systems, Cichlid Identification, Cichlid Behavior, Cichlid Compatibility, Cichlid Selection, Cichlid Feeding, Cichlid DiseaseCichlid Reproduction,

Convict cichlids; repro., beh.       9/27/17
Hi there,
<Hello Natasha!>
I am new at keeping convicts cichlids.
<Neat animals>
With my luck I landed up getting a male and a female. They spawned and there are about 32 Fry. Within 2 weeks they had a new batch of eggs, but the existing fry ate them.
<Ahh! Happens>
I move the fry to a grow out tank and cleaned the cichlid tank. Upon putting the pair back in, the male started attacking the female to a point of almost killing her. So I separated her from him and put her with the  fry.
<Sometimes one sex will "blame" the other for early spawn mishaps>
When would it be safe to put them together again and how should I go about doing so?
<Best to put a perforated separator between the two, allowing them to see, smell each other but not get to... for a week or more. Barring this, a plastic, floating colander (yes, for draining pasta et al.) can be used, placing the aggressor (the male in this case) in for a few days for a "time out", then watching carefully on reintroduction for signs of overt aggression>
<Welcome. Bob Fenner>
Re: Convict cichlids        9/28/17

Hi Bob!
Thanks so much for the advice :)
I will definitely give it a try and I will let you know how it goes.
Have a fantastic day further.
Kind regards,
<Ah, thank you. BobF>

Convict cichlids; beh., comp.; Oscar sys.    3/14/16
Hi. I recently purchased two convicts. One male one female both about and 1 1/2 <?> the male slightly larger. But the female is always following my larger and older Oscars plucking their tails. Annoying them in a sense.
Paying the convict male little to no attention at all. What does this mean?
<Territoriality amongst neotropical cichlids. Need separating. >
p.s I have a 55gal with plenty of hiding spots and fake plants.
<Too small for Oscars
. Bob Fenner>

Female convict behavior change       4/4/15
<Hey Shel>
I tried finding a question related to what my convict is doing and didn't have much luck after a couple of searches. I have a female convict and she and the male had babies.
We moved him out of the tank because he was trying to kill her.
<Happens at times>

So now a month or so later the babies are growing and seem to be fine. The past couple of days she stays at the front of the tank (which is a 35 gallon right by my bedside) and every time I move my hand close to her to get a drink or grab the TV remote or anything she lunges at the glass at me.
<Ah yes; protective>
She suddenly seems very aggressive and angry. She also will swim up and down in the same line really fast like she's freaking out. My husband thinks she is just being protective of the babies
<This mostly; yes>
or possibly feeling claustrophobic because they are getting bigger and it makes her feel crowded. They are about the size of a small jelly bean at this point and there are probably 20-30 of them. I am wondering if this is normal behavior and ok or if we should try to do something to help her. <Mmm; time to separate the young out... maybe ask your local fish stores if
they'll trade you credit>
We have a 65 gallon in our living room with several other fish including the male convict so moving her there could be an option. I am not sure what to do or if I even need to do anything and hope you can help me.
<The separation>
Thank you!
Shelly Matthis
<Welcome. Bob Fenner>

Dear Crew
Recently brought a pair of convicts. Male hasn't eaten anything. But they laid eggs and they took care of the fry very much. But from 2 days, I observed rapid gill movement in Male convict and is hiding in the pot where the eggs were laid. Bullying female whenever it moved near to him.
<I'd separate these two>
Luckily it is not chasing the other. But the water condition is good. The fry and the female is doing so good. Even the female is not accepting pellets.
This is the first time I have seen convicts hiding and not well. What to do?
<When, where in doubt; partial water changes! Do you have much ammonia, nitrite, nitrate?>
I am very much concerned about its health. Do some help. Thank you.
Pavan Gollakoti
<Welcome. Bob Fenner>
CONVICTS RAPID GILL MOVEMENT        /Neale        12/20/14

Dear Crew
Recently brought a pair of convicts. Male hasn't eaten anything. But they laid eggs and they took care of the fry very much. But from 2 days, I observed rapid gill movement in Male convict and is hiding in the pot where the eggs were laid. Bullying female whenever it moved near to him. Luckily it is not chasing the other. But the water condition is good. The fry and
the female is doing so good. Even the female is not accepting pellets. This is the first time I have seen convicts hiding and not well. What to do? I am very much concerned about its health. Do some help. Thank you.
<Very important to separate male and female cichlids after spawning if they no longer coexist. Sooner or later one will attack the other. Despite their reputation, stable pairs of cichlids don't stay together forever, and can "fall out of love" sometimes. Egg crate can be used to divide the tank, but ideally, move one to another tank. Assuming water quality and chemistry are
correct, they will both settle down and start feeding. Cheers, Neale.>

Thanks a ton. I will move the male to another tank.
<Most welcome. Neale.>

Convict Fry   11/17/13
I just had a new batch of convict fry, there are about half a pinky nail.
there almost a month old. My question is, about how big should the fish be at 2 months, 3 months, 4 months. I'm feeding them two to three times a day shrimp brine started feeding crushed flake food. thanks Stephen
PS: if you can send photos of  2, 3, 4, 5, month convict fish that would be good, or a website cant seem to find any.
<Hello Stephen. There simply isn't a single answer to this question. Under optimal conditions they can grow quite rapidly. Such conditions include a large tank; 4-6 meals per day; daily water changes; near-zero nitrate levels; and segregation of faster growing fry from slower growing ones so all can feed adequately. All these things being given, they can get to 4-5 cm (around a couple of inches) within 3-4 months. Sexual maturity can be attained within 6 months, often substantially less for the males, at which point the fish will be around 8 cm/3 inches in length. But there's enormous variation, and since Convict fry are rarely given optimal or even half-decent conditions, slow growth rates are commonly reported. One very common mistake is insufficient food. Remember, the goal with very young (0-6 week old) fish is invariably multiple small meals rather than a few big meals. That's because their digestive system is, at this stage, adapted to continual grazing and has little ability to store food for thorough digestion. This is why 6 meals per day (if not more!) is suggested with fry, but the down side to this is, of course, all that food will mean nitrate levels go up, and nitrate is one of the most important factors that works against the growth rate of fry. It's a classic Catch-22, and the solution is, of course, the biggest possible tank (to dilute the nitrate produced) together with many, ideally daily, water changes (to reduce nitrate level periodically). The growth rates of virtually all fish decline with age, and fish that are stunted in the first few weeks by lack of food may never quite reach their genetically programmed maximum size, however well they are fed thereafter. Hope this helps, Neale.>
RE: Convict Fry   11/17/13

looks like I have a lot of work to do for these guys.
<Depends how many you want to raise. Since the market for Convicts is (in the UK at least) virtually nil, there's no pressing need to rear more than a half dozen per batch. Convict adults will spawn at least once monthly, and will do so for several years.>
I have a 55 gallon with all my fish 3 cons and an algae eater, and about 60 fry. Can I move the fry to a smaller tank, so I can take care of them easier?
<Would be optimal, in the sense that a fry-rearing tank will be easier to keep clean (i.e., keep dissolved nitrogenous wastes low) while providing optimal amounts of food will be easier.>
if yes, when can I separate them from there parents?
<Any time you want, even the eggs, though eggs and wrigglers (non-mobile fry) need some care to prevent fungal infections. Certainly easy to move and rear fry yourself once they're mobile and feeding.>
is it to late for this batch there almost a month now I made an error in the size there all the size of a pinky nail.  I had a bad back my wife has been taking care of them for past week
<Ah, very kind of her.>
<Most welcome. Neale.>

Black Convict, beh. on being moved     7/21/12
I have a question regarding my Black Convict cichlid. I work at the local pet store and a customer begged me to take her 55 gallon tank and complete set up, off her hands. She claimed nothing was wrong with it and even had 3 fish in it. Well the tank was in horrible shape. I'm not sure what these poor fish lived like. I donated the two Blood Parrots and kept the Black
Convict. She told me he was the aggressor in the tank. He is about 4-5 inches long. I used the 55 for bait and put the Black Convict in a 30 gallon with his old gravel & decorations. This guy hides. He has this entire tank to himself and he squeezes himself into tiny hideouts and never comes out! It has been a month and this is still his behavior. When I say never, please appreciate this because I haven't even seen him eat! Can you please e plain what you think is going on ir offer advice? Thank you!
<Hello Tommee. It's very, VERY common for fish to be totally shell-shocked if moved from a big aquarium to a smaller one. There's no real solution save time, and if the fish feels this tank is too small, he'll likely be nervous for many months to come. Providing overhead shade (e.g., floating plants) can help, as will putting the tank somewhere really quiet. Adding other fish is one way to reassure cichlids, but Convicts are so aggressive and nasty, and a 30-gallon tank so small, that that's a risky proposition here. Even something fairly robust like Swordtails would be hammered in a tank this small. Dither fish work because bottom-dwelling fish "judge" the safety of their environment by looking to see what schooling fish in open water are doing. If the schooling fish are swimming about, the bottom dweller knows it's safe to come out; if there are no schooling fish, the bottom dweller assumes that a predator has scared them off so hides. If the Blood Parrots were working as dither fish of a sort (hardly text book choices, but hey) then the Convict may now assume they're hiding because there's a heron or an alligator about, so he's staying firmly in his cave.
Make sense? Cheers, Neale.>

Re: Convict Cichlids: Behavior change 1/17/12
Well, I've got 2 Firemouth cichlids ~ 2" each.  The price was right.  I have no idea of their sex yet.  They seem happy enough, mouthing the glass when I walk up to them, swimming together, no scrapping that I've noticed.
Hopefully they get along like 2 peas in a pod, if not I'll deal with that when the time comes.
<Okay. This species isn't especially aggressive, and initially, two antagonistic fish will display to one another long before they come to blows. So you'll have plenty of warning.>
If it's a breeding pair, I'll likely be in trouble but if they are of the same sex, would that be a problem? 
<Two males may not get along.>
Also picked up Swordtails as you suggested (3 female, 1 male ~ 1.5" each)
The Swordtails are already picking away at the floating plants looking for snacks and it didn't take long for the 1 male to start flirting with the ladies.
Bristlenose Pleco is perfectly at ease with his new roommates.
The above fish are in the 50 gallon. 38 gallon is a work in progress once again.
<Sounds sensible.>
The good news is there may be free live sword snacks in a few weeks, food for all.
<Yep, though Firemouths are very inept predators.>
I was fortunate enough to find a home for the troublesome Convicts.  I can't say I'll miss them.
<Indeed not.>
thanks again,
P.S.  I did come across 1 fine Nicaraguan cichlid, beauty indeed.  Pricey, but I guess that's to be expected these days.
<Perhaps. Cheers, Neale.>
Re: Convict Cichlids: Behavior change (also: book buying) 1/17/12

Hi Neal, thanks for the quick response yet again.
<Most welcome.>
I noticed one of the two Firemouth cichlids has lost his/her colour, or chooses not to show it. The other is showing the same red as when I picked them up.  The substrate is off white sand if that helps to know. Any idea what is happening?
<Cichlids change colour primarily because of [a] mood, e.g., bullying; and [b] as a result of upwelling or unnatural light, e.g., from light bouncing off a pale substrate. Adding shade in the form of floating Indian Fern ("water sprite") or similar can make a big difference. Alternatively, simply reduce the lighting if you don't have live plants.>
I did a 20% water change shortly after seeing this; figured it couldn't hurt. No change in his/her colour.
Years ago in university I used to read up on cichlids at our natural sciences library.  Being that it's 2012, which text(s) would you recommend these days for Cent. American cichlids or a decent aquarium husbandry guide.  The internet is great but I'd like to sit down with a good text.
<"Pocket Professional Guide to Cichlids" by David E. Boruchowitz is probably the best of the modern books and well regarded. Otherwise pretty much anything by Paul Loiselle in particular will give you an excellent grounding in the more serious side of cichlid keeping. "The Cichlid Aquarium" by Loiselle is an oldie but goodie, and well worth tracking down.
It's written for people who are interested in cichlids generally and don't need help setting up an aquarium for a certain sort of cichlid. The Latin names used are often obsolete, too. But it's a great book if you want to know why cichlids do certain things in aquaria or how they live in the wild. There are some oldish books out there, like "Fishkeepers Guide to Central American Cichlids" by David Sands and "The Guide to Owning Central American Cichlids" by Richard F. Stratton, but they're both cheap and contain material of value. Oh, and if should go without saying, any of the Baensch Aquarium Atlas books would earn their place on your bookshelf many times over (they're my Bibles, and have been for 25 years!). There are several volumes, the first one being the most essential, the subsequent ones that bit more specialised each time, with cichlids featuring strongly, albeit less and less often traded species. The fifth volume ("Baensch Aquarium Atlas Photo Index 1-5") is a photo index of the first four, with only very brief notes on care, size, etc., but is a great book to take fish shop shopping.>
Thanks, Mike
<Best wishes, Neale.>

Convict Cichlids: Behavior change   1/14/12
Hello folks,
<Hello Mike.>
Aquariums: 38 Gallon & 50 Gallon freshwater
I have 2 Convict Cichlids: 1 Male / 1 Female
I've had them for about 4 months in the 38 gallon aquarium, shared with a 4" Bristlenose plecostomus.  Plenty of driftwood, slate rock, 1 inverted flower pot and a sand substrate.  There is nothing else in that aquarium. 
They seemed to get along and breed regularly.
I recently acquired and set up a 50 gallon aquarium that has been running for ~ 3 weeks.  Five giant Danios inhabit this aquarium.  I transferred the 2 Convict Cichlids to the 50 gallon, 3 days ago.  Similar decor to the 38 gallon, including a ornamental plastic mountain and large pvc pipe to help break line of sight.
For the first 1/2 hour or so, the male and female were swimming together and quite gentle with each other.  After that initial period, the larger male has been chasing the female all over the aquarium.  She does her best to hide, yet as soon as she comes out of hiding he chases her again.
<Oh dear.>
Is this normal behaviour?
<Yes. Cichlid pairs are dependent on the tank they're in. Move them, and they have to form a new pair, just as if they'd met for the first time.
Sometimes this happens readily -- after all, they clearly impressed one another before -- but there are no guarantees.>
Perhaps the presence of the neurotic giant Danios is throwing him off kilter?
<Perhaps, but generally dither fish have the opposite effect, encouraging pair-forming behaviour.>
In retrospect, I wish I could have found Rainbow Cichlids [Herotilapia Multispinosa] instead, since apparently they're easier to manage with a milder temperament. 
<Absolutely. Convicts are not fish I recommend because they're aggressive and the fry are difficult (perhaps impossible) to rehome. There are any number of better Central American cichlids out there that have nicer colours and better personalities, such as Honduran Red Spots and the Rainbow Cichlids you mention.>
thanks for any advice,
<Cheers, Neale.>
Re: Convict Cichlids: Behavior change   1/15/12

Thanks for the feedback Neale.
<Most welcome, Mike.>
I've given it some thought and have decided to change species.
I'll have to rehome or give away the convict cichlid babies and the 2 adults.
It was a fun learning experience to test my [or their] breeding abilities. Perhaps craigslist or kijiji, since pet stores around me have no interest in them.
<What I do warn people about'¦>
I've come to realize that the 38 gallon or 50 gallon aquariums are just too small to offer the convict cichlids some friends.
<With cichlids, often the case.>
I read some of the stories on your website regarding a breeding pair of convict cichlids taking out a full grown Oscar. 
That's not something I'd like to risk. I suppose I could keep just the female, yet that sounds risky as she might breed with different species cichlids?
<Possibly, and quite probable with Central American cichlids.>
Can't say I'm a fan of hybrids.
I know Firemouth cichlids are readily available in my neck of the woods and I do like the look of them. Apparently mild mannered
<When not breeding; singletons can work well'¦>
and I can possibly house them with some schooling tetras or some attractive mid swimmer.
<Swordtails are the better bet, given that Firemouths are hard water fish.>
The giant Danios I have are even a little too neurotic for my tastes haha. Occasionally I also come across Acaras for sale, so that's an option.
<Some Acaras are excellent community residents. The Blue Acara is a good choice but it's quite big, around 15 cm/6 inches under aquarium conditions. Needs soft to only moderately hard water to do well. Keyhole and Sheepshead Acaras are smaller, even less aggressive, shy even, and can work very well with the usual tetras and barbs we know and love.>
Unfortunately I've had no luck finding Rainbow cichlids.
<Sadly not as widely sold as they were in the past.>
Would Firemouth or Acara be suitable for a community environment?
<Acaras yes, Firemouths with reservations.>
I'm open to suggestions.
<Do also look out for the Nicaragua Cichlid, Hypsophrys nicaraguensis. A biggish sort of Central American and does need fast water conditions in a spacious aquarium, but quite peaceful and good specimens have wonderful colours. Cheers, Neale.>

Convict Acting Strange After Water Change   8/29/11
Hello! My 5 year old female Convict Cichlid, Miss Stripes, has been acting strangely since I did a water change/vacuumed the gravel a week or so ago. She is hovering on the opposite side of the tank, sometimes near the top of the water (she ALWAYS resides in her rock formation at the bottom). Her breathing looks labored, her coloring is very dark and her scales look puffy. She hasn't been eating, either.
The last time I cleaned the tank she got very stressed out, having a little bit of what looked like ich on her body. I added some salts in addition to the normal slime coat and in a few days she was fine. This time I tried to move very slowly and kick up as little debris as possible. I added both the slime coat and salts as an extra precaution.
I don't see any major injuries from other fish/fighting. The only thing other than the above is maybe where her fins connect it looks a little white, but not hanging off, just discolored. The fact that she's not in "her side" of the tank is a big red flag to me as well.
I'm very worried about her :( She's my buddy and I'm not sure what to do. Seems there are so many things out there it could be and we don't have a local aquatics expert! I'm a bit overwhelmed searching the internet. If you could pass on some advice, I'd greatly appreciate it (and so would Miss Stripes!).
Thanks so much. I look forward to hearing from you soon!
Re: 5 year old female Convict Cichlid is ill :(   8/29/11
Oops, forgot to attach a photo. This is the best I could get considering where she keeps hovering. She does kind of lean to the side a little off and on as well.
< Check the water quality of the tap water and the tank water before and after each water change. Your fish is being stressed by something after a water change. Fish usually don't like big changes in water chemistry so I would start there. get a kit that gives you accurate numbers instead of "fine" and words like that.-Chuck

Convict Goes Wild, beh., sys.   2/4/11
I have a single male I believe convict cichlid in a ten gallon aquarium. My question is why does he go nuts all the time. Most times he hides in a rock but when he comes out he flips jumps out the water (luckily I have a lid on or he would be in the floor) swims upside down. He will hit the gravel so hard that there are bare spots where there is no gravel. I mean he goes absolutely crazy.
He does this with the light on and off. I'm not quite sure what is going on do you have any advice or any ideas? James
< Chances are your convict is reacting to shadows and foot traffic near the tank that can scare him into jumping out. Move the tank to a different area of the house, add some floating plastic plants or cover the sides so he will not be so scared. In a bigger tank I would recommend adding dither fish like a school of barbs or tetras, but in a 10 gallon the waste products may become too much to handle.-Chuck>

Convict Cichlids, beh., sys.   8/30/10
Hi WWM, I acquired 3 Convict Cichlids about a day ago (1 large male and 2 smaller ones that I do not know the gender of yet) and the 2 smaller ones sit in one corner of my 25 gallon fish tank and the big one sits in my rock formation all day. They do not seem to be active at all, is this a problem?
Also, whenever I turn my fish tank light on the 2 small ones go crazy, they swim really fast in all directions. Is there something wrong with my light?
Thanks for reading my question. You're site is great!
<Assuming water quality and water chemistry are appropriate (i.e., 0 ammonia, 0 nitrite, 10+ degrees dH, 5+ degrees KH, pH 7-8) then this sounds like a psychological problem. Your tank is really much too small for three random Convict cichlids, and the dominant male can, mostly likely will, badger any other males to death. Non-receptive females are likely to come in for a good deal of harassment as well. Like all cichlids, Convicts dislike bright lights, and in a small tank suddenly switching on bright lights will make them feel very threatened and exposed. I really can't see this combination of fish and aquarium size working for long. Back to the drawing board I'm afraid.
I will mention briefly that Convicts are among the most pointless fish in the hobby, and unless you have a darn good reason to need them, they're best avoided. There are many much more beautiful Central American cichlids out there, as well as species that behave much better. Inbreeding has caused massive problems with the species, and it is very common to see
specimens that are stunted, have poor colours, or deformities such as faulty swim bladders that mean they cannot swim properly. Convicts are fine as "filler" in a 200 gallon tank to go alongside larger, more impressive Central Americans kept singly, such as Midas Cichlids or Jaguar Cichlids, but on their own their pretty worthless. Great lab animals, but rather
boring pets that produce vast numbers of fry that pet shops don't want.
Unlike, say, Firemouth cichlids it's almost impossible to keep Convicts in community tank settings. What I'm saying is that if you have the option ton return these fish, and then procure some species better suited to a 25 gallon tank, like a pair of Kribensis for example, then go and do so.
Cheers, Neale.>

Convict Cichlid Behavior Question 07/13/09
Good Afternoon,
<And a very good evening from England!>
I have a 30g tank that recently finished cycling. I went to the LFS and purchased what I thought was a pair of Convicts. They seemed to be guarding a batch of eggs in the petstore tank.
<As they will, repeatedly, at home; do think about what you're going to do with these fry: after the first thousand, it's gets annoying! Few pet shops will accept juvenile Convicts, and I'd strongly recommend pulling the eggs each time they spawn, unless you have some very good reason to want to rear them.>
One is very colorful and 1.25 inches with a pointy dorsal fin but she is generally round and fat. The other is normally striped with a rounded dorsal fin and very faint coloration of the belly (you can barely see it).
While in the bag they were locking lips and doing what I presumed to be a mating ritual. Once I introduced them to the tank the more colorful one has been repeatedly biting and chasing as the dull one. (I'm going to assume that the colorful one is the female for ease of the story). The male never fights back, he just takes it all. I left them together for the night and when I came to the tank in the morning the male was up in the corner of the tank and the female had him pinned there. I promptly moved the female to a 45g alone so the male could maybe establish some territory in the tank (ever since he has been swimming around happily). I'm starting to think that maybe both the fish are females because I have been Googling for 2 days now and I've seen no mention of any males having belly coloration.
<They can do, though usually *less* than females; the problem is Convicts in the hobby are likely hybrids between more than one Amatitlania species, and that means that the colour patters of species like Amatitlania nigrofasciata *in the wild* might not apply to what you've bought from a pet store.>
Have you ever heard of a male with rounded fins and very faint belly coloration?
Any other random input that isn't obvious with convicts that I wouldn't have read while researching convicts would be greatly appreciated as well.
<Anything in specific? Feel free to fire away; in the meantime do read here:
Thanks WWM!
<Cheers, Neale.>

Re: Convict Cichlid Behavior Question
New World Cichlid Companions 07/13/09

I decided to rearrange the 30g and put the two back together and the female went right back to chasing the male up to the corner after she won the lip locking contest. I moved the male to the 45g this time and I'm going to keep them separated for good. Now my tank plans will need to change. I'm looking to put a jewel cichlid and a Firemouth cichlid in with the convict that is in my 45g later this week. I'm going to go out on the limb and guess that there really isn't anything that can be added in with the female in the 30g aside from dither fish? (FYI, I was planning on using the babies as snacks for my 45g tank which were going to house a blood parrot, a Firemouth, and a jewel.)
< You could add some more convicts of equal or greater size. You would probably get a couple of pairs.>
If you have any input on possible things I could do with my tanks Id appreciate it. Current setup = convict in 45g and convict in 30g. Both tanks
are gravel, fake planted with a few hiding places and have the proper filtration. Thanks Neale, I appreciate the promptness
< I like the idea of adding additional New World cichlids. Look for other convict like cichlids like salvini, sajica spilurum. There are other Firemouth like cichlids too like aurem, and pasiones.-Chuck>

Convicts Changing Color -- 05/02/09
I recently (2 or 3 weeks) bought three young (>1 inch) Convict Cichlids, two striped whites and one slightly larger (1.25 inch) striped black. (No gender determined yet.) Well, the three Convicts are doing well, growing big pretty fast. The larger black one grows fastest, already 2 inches, while the other two are just over 1.5 inches.
<Still very small, though quite possibly sexually mature. Convicts can breed when notoriously small.>
Anyways, a few days ago I woke up to find the bigger white Convict black.
Not just with darker stripes, but completely black; as black as the one who was originally black. I have seen the large black fish's color loose its luster occasionally, but the color always came back; the newly black fish has been that way for >24 hours. Also, when the largest Convict was lighter, he was still distinguishable from the white ones; this fish has completely changed.
My question is: Does this have to do with territoriality and dominant males? If so, why are both fish black at the same time?
<Now, there are two reasons Convicts will change their colours like this.
As with most fish, if stressed, their colours darken. So if the fish seem shy, or disinterested in their food, think about social behaviour problems or water quality/chemistry problems. Review the conditions in the tank, and establish whether or not you have the right water quality (0 ammonia/nitrite; less than 20 mg/l nitrate) and the right water chemistry (pH 7.5-8; 10-25 degrees dH). Check to see that there aren't any damaged fins or missing scales -- these could suggest fighting. It goes without saying that mature male Convicts WILL NOT tolerate one another in small or medium sized aquaria. The second thing to consider is sexual maturity. Male Convicts are rather drab, but it is possible for them to change the darkness of the vertical bars on their bodies. They will do this when "flirting" with females or trying to "scare" rival males.>
Is it the diet? I feed them Cichlid Pellets, although they eat their share of normal flakes from the other fish and get a few bites from the pl*co's algae chips.
<Well, the more varied the diet, the better their colours will be. That's true for any fish. Including algae AND crustaceans gives you the best chance of getting the brightest colours.>
Finally, should I be worried? Will this change cause added aggressiveness?
<If they are sexually mature males, then yes, they will fight.>
Or maybe it's a breeding ritual?
Thanks in advance,
<Good luck, Neale.>

Convicts Changing Color, Part 2   5/11/09
Hey WWM! You guys rock!
<To be fair, we do indeed rock.>
Thank you very much for answering me earlier; I now have the solution, and would like to share it with you. My last guess was right: It WAS a breeding ritual. Yesterday while cleaning the tank, I found a batch of eggs where the newly black fish was hiding. (I described them wrong-not all black, but black with dark gray stripes, BTW).
<Ah, the details are everything!>
Turns out she (I assume it's a she because she's smaller and stays with the eggs, while the bigger fish patrols the area outside) had laid eggs! For some reason, the female changed to match her mate's color; no idea why.
<They do; or rather, cichlids will alter their colours all the time, to convey specific messages to their partners.>
I do have a few questions:
1) What color will the babies be when they hatch? Black with gray or white with black? I'm not sure it's genetic, though, because the female so easily changed colors.
<Likely black/grey; albinism is usually a recessive characteristic.>
2) I'm right about the sexing of the pair, right?
<Impossible to say; sexing Convict cichlids is tricky when they're relatively small. Females should have bright patches of colour around the belly, usually gold or blue, but that's the wild-type; artificial forms are
(to be frank) less colourful. Males should eventually get bigger than the females, but again, the inbreeding and the lack of selection pressure in favour of large size means that many Convicts are far undersized when
3) Because she's guarding the eggs, the assumed female is getting less food, and less types of it. Is this unhealthy?
<Not immediately, no. Pull the fry and rear them yourself after 2-3 weeks, and then ideally separate the female from the male (e.g., with egg crate or a tank divider) so she can fatten up for a month. Convicts will breed monthly given the chance, and when that happens, the female can, will lose health and condition.>
4) The egg-laying place was inside a plastic root system. The female can get in fine, but the male got stuck twice; it was with difficulty I got him out. He learned not to go in anymore, but what about when the female grows?
Should I remove the roots when the eggs hatch, or wait till the fry are grown?
<They'll figure it out themselves. Certainly feel free to add alternative nesting sites though.>
5) Petsmart recently changed its policies and won't buy back baby fish.
Does Petco still buy baby fish? What about small fish stores (in general, not specifically?) And how big should the fry be before I sell them, either to a petstore or a private owner?
<Can only speak for the UK, where I live, and there the Maidenhead Aquatics chain will usually accept (for zero money) unwanted fish. That said, because Convicts are [a] too aggressive for community tanks and [b] breed like rabbits, there's virtually no market for the fry. Hence my advice is consistently DON'T BREED THEM unless you already have a home for the juveniles. Feel free to set aside, say, 20 eggs and rear the fry yourself, and you'll likely get about ten fry big enough to give away. But wash the rest away, or feed the newborn fry/eggs to predators in another tank. I don't mean to sound cruel, but if you let them, you will seriously be dealing with thousands of fry per year, and that gets ridiculous.>
6) Once I remove the roots and the convicts lay eggs again in a new place, is it safe to return them? Will they stick to the new site or go back to the roots?
<They will explore the tank anew each time they want to spawn.>
7) What should I feed the fry: Powdered algae chips, powdered normal fish flakes, powdered cichlid pellets, or a combination of all three?
<Finely powdered flake food sold especially for baby fish works fine for Convict fry. Liquid fry food for egg-layers is good too. After a couple weeks, they'll be big enough to take regular flake food, albeit finely
crumbled in your fingers first.>
Sorry for the long list of questions and thanks again for the help.
<Cheers, Neale.>

Cichlid rubbing! 7/7/05 Hey crew!!! I have this 20 gallon and holds 2 convicts and 1 Pleco. Suddenly the convicts started to rub on the rocks in the tank. What kind of sickness is this? <Could be nothing... or reproductive behavior... or something to do with your water quality... is the system cycled?> And I almost forgot that I'm a beginner and just started a few weeks ago. thank you for the help!! Sean <Please read... on WWM re cichlid systems, disease... Leave a space between sentences... Bob Fenner>

Convicts Breeding, Aggression, Behaviour - 05/15/2006 Hi, I'm a newbie and I found your site and love it! I've learned a lot about the fish that my husband and I have but I haven't been able to find the answer or advice I need for this particular situation. <Then perhaps I can help.> We bought a pair of black (zebra) convicts and a Jack Dempsey. We had all 3 fish in a 55 gallon tank - they are all small, the female convict is about 3 inches and the male convict is about 4 and a half inches. Jack Dempsey is bigger at about 5 and a half inches.  The convicts had babies and they kept them away from the Jack. We noticed that the convict parents were getting very tired constantly protecting their babies from Jack so we put Jack in a 30 gallon tank. Right after we moved the Jack to the other tank, the male convict started being really mean to the female and wouldn't let her near the babies. It was like he was chasing her and fighting her. We took her out and put her in with the Jack for about a week. We then tried to put her back into the tank with the male and the babies and he tore after her. <This behaviour is rally not uncommon.> We decided to take the male convict out and put him in with the Jack and they seem to be ok with each other. There's a lot of chasing but it seems to be like they are playing.   <Trying to establish territories in too small a space; it could get ugly.> So now we have the female convict and the babies in the 55 gallon tank and the Jack and the male convict in the 30 gallon. The babies are about 4 weeks old now and we will be giving most of them away in about 3 weeks.  My questions: if we decide to keep some of the babies, how many would be ok to keep in the 55 gallon tank? <They WILL grow up, and they WILL breed.  I would not try for more than three adult pairs, and that only if the tank is heavy with plants or decor for establishing territories.> Would it be ok to keep the mother in with the babies and have that tank be just a convict tank? Or would it be ok to introduce some dither fish in too?   <I would wait until most of the young are of a saleable size, pick the "best" to keep, sell, trade, or give the rest, add some dither fish - a friend of mine swears by rainbow fish for dithers for many of his cichlids - and reintroduce the male once the female's fully recovered.  Chances are, the next spawn, they'll be more amenable to chasing dither fish than each other.> I'm thinking that the Jack and the male convict would be ok in the 30 gallon tank. <The jack Dempsey may outgrow it, and the two in the tank together may spell trouble before long.> And that the babies that we decide to keep (and the mother) would need the 55 gallon tank.  Thank you so much for your answers/advice and for all the work you all do in helping people like me - clueless but loving the fish!  -Jackie <Glad to be of service.  Wishing you well,  -Sabrina>

Female Convict Hiding From Male  - 05/17/2006 Thanks, for your advice. I just got the floating plant and she doesn't even go near it. She just sits by the filter and doesn't move. You think she will be okay? <  This is strange because in your first letter you said she was at the surface trying to get away from the male. She has probably never seen a floating plant before and needs a few days to get use to it. If the male convict can still see her then you need more vegetation/rocks/caves for her to hide. Ultimately you could move her to a different tank, use a tank divider or add numerous cut pieces of PVC pipe for her to hide in and around.-Chuck>

Convict Cichlid With Phantom Rival  9/18/06 Hey dudes. <Cowabunga! Surf's Up!> I have a male swordtail (3.8 cm) two male firemouths (both about 4 cm) a female (2.75 cm) and male (5.5 cm) convict in a 20 gallon long tank furnished with river rocks, about 2.5 cm gravel, and plastic plants. Obviously, with so many cichlids in such a small tank there is some competition for territory. The male convict seems to have claimed the whole tank as his territory, which he defends with two tactics I have never heard of for a convict cichlid: nosing up to a side of the tank and kicking as hard as he can with his tail fin, and flaring his gills like a Firemouth, throat inflation and all! There is also, of course the usual chasing of intruder fish. I was wondering if the other two techniques, especially the gill flaring, had anything to do with why the convicts haven't bred and why the male has recently developed some pale coloration near the anal fin, but not near the pectoral like what would happen if it was a female. Also, what can I do to get the convicts to breed and how big of a tank will I need for all four full-grown cichlids? -Jack < Your male convict is fighting his reflection in the glass. He thinks he is lip locking with another male convict as a test of strength. As long as he thinks their is a competing male in the tank that is as determined as he is they will probably not spawn. Cover that side of the tank with some paper and see if he stops. Males can get some color in the unpaired fins. females still tend to color up in the belly region. When all your fish are grown and breeding they will probably need a 40 gallon.-Chuck>

Convict cichlids   8/19/07 Hello WetWebMedia crew, I find your site very useful. I have a pair of convict cichlids, about 2.5 inches, and right now they are moving around gravel and digging pits and redecorating an area in the tank. And the female likes to stay in this little cave rock thing that I have set up. Does this mean that they're going to breed soon? do you know how long? Frankie <Yes, they're likely going to spawn soon. Spawning usually occurs within a couple of days of the fish pairing off and decorating their cave. But often cichlids will eat the first batch of eggs, almost as if they're "practising". But convicts generally make superb parents, and before too long you will have more baby cichlids that you'll know what to do with! Cheers, Neale>

Re: convict cichlids -- 08/22/07 Hello WWM: Yay, my convicts spawned yesterday! Why is it that the male convict doesn't really display his stripes or his "colors" as much as the female does? is it because there are no other fish/predators in the tank? (they are in a tank by themselves) <Well, male convicts are less colourful than females anyway. But also remember the colours aren't there for your amusement, but for communication. When fighting over territory or flirting with potential partners, the colour patters will be used in different ways. When communicating to one another while guarding the fry, and eventually when communicating with the fry themselves, different colours are used. So for now, just sit back and enjoy cichlid behaviour. Cool behaviour is, after all, why anybody keeps these cranky, violent animals! Cheers, Neale>

Convict doing head spins, Convict Going Loop The Loop   8/23/07 Hi there. You guys really have a wonderful and quite often when I have the time I spend it here. I am relatively new to the hobby (about a year) and am quite fascinated with cichlids. I have 3 convicts, 1 male and 2 females. The male I have had since he was a toddler. The females I introduced later and there weren't any problems. It's been about 6 months and recently I think the one of the females and a male seemed to have formed a pair. They've been digging up the sand in a corner of the tank and they protect it as their own territory. My male convict suddenly started acting funny today. He started spinning quite energetically. Not horizontal in circles, but vertically, like he was doing head spins. I have seen fish with swim bladder problems and his spinning seemed too conscious to be a swim bladder problem, but I am no expert. He did this twice in a span of 10 minutes and after that he went back to being normal. I have been keeping an eye on him and he's not done it again (over the last hour and a half). Am a bit flummoxed by the behaviour. Could you please throw some light on the above. Thanking you in advance, warm regards. Sujay <It is not part of any spawning ritual that I am aware of. Never heard of this before. Check the water quality and offer some live food. Spawning can be stressful and you want to make sure your fish are in good shape.-Chuck.>

Re: Convict doing head spins   7/25/07 Thank you Have been keeping an eye on him and he's not done it again. Was wondering whether it could be the onset or symptoms of some internal energy? Regards... Sujay <Not sure what "internal energy" means in this context. But, as ever, keep an eye on water chemistry and water quality. Trying mixing up the diet a little, and offer some green foods and algae as well as the usual flake and bloodworms. Practically all cichlids eat some green foods, even if only incidentally to their normal diet, and just like any other animal, the vitamins and fibre in green foods are important. (Even cats, the most completely carnivorous animals on Earth, make a bee-line for the partially digested plant matter in the digestive tracts of the prey animals they eat.) When cichlids lose swimming ability, it's usually either environmental or dietary, so if you can cross those two things off, you've made a good start. The last time I saw "spinning cichlids" it was a tank full of baby Pelvivachromis taeniatus into which I'd poured some freezing cold water without thinking... they recovered within half an hour or so, but it was pretty scary to watch! Cheers, Neale>

My convict... beh.    11/3/07 Hi WWM crew, I just bought two small Convict Cichlids and they are not getting along too well, one is about 2 inches and the other about an inch. The smaller one has to stay in the floating plants so it doesn't get attacked. The other one rules the whole bottom of the tank including 4 houses and when the smaller one comes down, the bigger one chases her away. I noticed a few missing chunks of her tail but she doesn't seem to mind. What's weird is that the bigger one has the looks of a female, but the characteristics of a male, kind of an orange belly and a bluish tint to a few places including the fins and the lips, but an aggressive attitude. I was wondering what this is? Also the smaller one has kind of dull striping but I think that's just because she's so young, what would you recommend me doing? I don't know if I should take the smaller one back to the pet store or just leave them be? Please help Jesse <Hello Jesse. Cichlids are territorial and aggressive. A single male (which can get to around 15 cm) will attempt to monopolise even a very large aquarium. If you have two males, they will fight. Sexing Convict cichlids is notoriously difficult. While males *do* tend to be bigger and have longer fin rays, and females *do* tend to be more colourful, there is plenty of variation. This is why experienced Convict keepers recommend keeping 6 juveniles together and letting them pair off naturally. Once a pair has formed, you can remove the 4 leftover fish. So depending on the size of your tank you could either get a bunch more juveniles (not recommended in smaller than a 55 gallon tank) or else separating the two fish now to let them grow up some more. Sexing fish at the size you have them now is very unreliable. Even if you are right, and the small one is the male and the big one is the female, there's no guarantees they will "bond". Sometimes cichlids don't like each other. There's not much you can do about this except swap one of the fish for another fish. Cheers, Neale.>

Pink Convicts... repro./beh.    2/19/08 Hello WWM Crew, I was given 6 pink convicts and when 2 paired off I gave away the remaining 4 to LFS. Approximately 3 weeks after spawning and raising the fry, the male killed the female and I don't know why, <Tank not big enough; Convict cichlids are notoriously rough when overcrowded, and being so much bigger than the females, the males can seriously harm females that do not respond to their overtures to breed again.> yet he does not bother any of the fry. <Yet.> I now have about 30 fry left from the spawn that are growing nicely (about 2-3 months old). Could it be because they are so much smaller than he is? <He won't attack them until he views them as rivals (in the case of the males) or females that won't mate with him. In any case, you will need to get rid of the fry soon.> I like these fish and would like to have more but due to the aggression I don't know what to put in the tank with 'Periander', nor do I know what size tank would be acceptable. <Convicts aren't community fish by any measurement, and keeping them with tankmates is always difficult. When I kept half a dozen of them, I did so in a 200 gallon tank with a similar number of Firemouths, a Jaguar cichlid, and a Red Devil. Also some catfish -- a smallish channel catfish and a Gibbiceps catfish. Adult 'Chinese Algae Eaters' (Gyrinocheilus aymonieri) also work well, being extremely fast but also quite nasty animals themselves. Large botiine loaches might work, too, provided the loaches were kept as a school (for protection) and had ample hiding places. In other words, your best choices for tankmates are larger and more aggressive cichlids, very fast Cyprinids, and armoured catfish. This does rather depend on the size of the tank though; there's absolutely no point trying to keep *anything* in a 20 or 30 gallon tank containing a mature male Convict. Even a 55 gallon is pushing your luck, and adding tankmates will be a bit of trial-and-error.> I am hoping you could make some generalized suggestions to try. <Cheers, Neale.> Thank you for your time.

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