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Choosing a Convict

The convict (Chiclosoma nigrofasciatum) is a popular fish from the large family of cichlids native to Guatemala, Honduras and Costa Rica. Their name is derived from the distinctive pattern of vertical stripes that gives the appearance of prison garb or jail bars. Their temperament tends to live up to their name.

These fish, like most cichlids are best reserved for a species tank with others of similar size and temperament.

Appearance and Behavior

The vertical stripes of the convicts make them instantly recognizable. These are territorial, aggressive, biting fish. The males are larger and less colorful than the females, which have orange scales on their bellies and fins. Males develop a large “bump” on their heads as they mature. They can grow to a length of six inches and are most comfortable in a setting of rocky outcroppings and hiding places. A small clay pot turned on its side works well. They will rearrange rocks to their liking and destroy plants. Breeding pairs lay their eggs in the cover of caves and both parents guard the eggs and fry.

Feeding and Tank Requirements

Convicts will eat both flake and live foods. Mosquito larvae, bloodworms and fish fillets are all accepted. Some will eat cichlid pellets, but you can offer spinach or lettuce as a vegetable source. Water temperature should be maintained between 68 to 74 degrees Fahrenheit, pH 6.8 to 7.5. These fish need a deep gravel bottom to satisfy their digging habits.

Special Concerns

Keep these fish with tank mates of similar size and temperament. As with most cichlids, their aggression is enhanced if breeding.