Fish, Tanks and Ponds

Fish, Tanks and Ponds
A comprehensive guide to fish

Amatitlania nigrofasciata

Convict cichlid

Convict cichlid, Amatitlania nigrofasciataConvict cichlid, Amatitlania nigrofasciata
Photos by Andy Rapson


Amatitlania: Named for the type locality of the type species; 'Amatitlán' 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

General Notes:

A. nigrofasciata is a very adaptable and hardy species which has been widely introduced beyond its natural range including the UK. There was a stretch of the Leeds Liverpool canal where the water was artificially warm due to the water being used for a cooling process from a large glass manufacturer. Some fish were released there reportedly from a closed down pet shop and several species of released fish managed to establish viable populations including the convict cichlid. I personally caught three wild pairs from that location.
Wild caught convict cichlids have a well deserved reputation for being very aggressive but todays captive bred fish have mellowed and can easily be kept with other suitable fish in a community tank, this isn't recommended with their wild counterparts.


Wild convict cichlids Feed on worms, crustaceans, insects, fish and plant matter. In captivity they will accept all food. Convict cichlids are bold aggressive feeders who will always get their share even when housed with much larger species. Use a varied diet which includes a good quality flake or granular food supplemented with live or frozen blood worms, daphnia, glass worms, chopped prawns and shell fish.


Males are larger and have longer and more pointed fins, females have gold coloured scales along their flanks.


One of the easiest egg layers to breed and convict cichlids are very good parents which is very rewarding to witness.
Convict cichlids will require a tank of their own when breeding because they won't tolerate any other fish near their brood. They normally pair up very easily and quickly even when there is just one male and one female in the tank, alternatively put six unrelated juveniles in a tank and let pairs form naturally.
The spawning tank should be set up with a mature sponge filter, sand substrate, some well rounded smooth stones with lots of nooks and crannies and a few broken flower pots which make great caves and spawning sites. After spawning the pair will constantly tend their eggs, keeping them clean and aerated. The fry hatch after a few days and the new fry will be moved around from one small pit dug in the sand to another. After a further week or so the fry will become free swimming and they will accept micro worms, newly hatched brine shrimps or even finely powdered flake food. They will also graze from the sponge filter where they will find naturally occurring infusoria, algae and other edible items.
Broods can number well in excess of a hundred but remember that Convict cichlids have a poor reputation and not many dealers will be to keen to take them off your hands so don't try to raise to many fry and don't expect a lot of money for them, you will probably pay more out in brine shrimp eggs than you get for the entire brood. Having said that it is still a worth while project to breed these fish and watch the parents care for their fry.

Wild status

The wild population has not been evaluated but convict cichlids are very prolific and extremely wide spread. They are not facing any major threats across their range. Almost all convict cichlids offered for sale are bred in captivity.

Additional information

Juan Schmitter Soto’s paper, “A systematic revision of the genus Archocentrus (Perciformes: Cichlidae), May/June 2008.
Schmitter-Soto identified enough specific anatomic differences between Convicts and closely related fish including Cryptoheros panamensis, C. spilurus, C. cutteri, C. septemfasciatus, C. myrnae, C. nanoluteus, and C. sajica to justify putting Convicts into their own genus, Amatitlania.
The genus Amatitlania now contains four species: A. coatepeque, A. kanna, A. nigrofasciata, A. siquia.

Information at a glance

pH: 7 - 8
dGH: 9 - 20
Temperature: 22 - 28°C (72 - 82°F)
Diet: Omnivore
Size: 10cm (4in)
Min tank size: 100 litres
Difficulty level: Intermediate
Aquarium type: Community
Swimming level: All levels

Distribution and habitat

distribution map for Convict cichlid, Amatitlania nigrofasciata

Origin: Central America from Guatemala to Costa Rica, and on the western coast from Honduras to Panama. Widely introduced beyond its natural range.

Habitat: Adults inhabit flowing water from small creeks and streams to the shallows of large and fast flowing rivers. Prefer rocky habitats and finds sanctuary in the various cracks and crevices provided by this type of environment, or among roots and debris. They occur in warm pools of springs and their effluents


Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Perciformes
Family: Cichlidae
Genus: Amatitlania
Species: A. nigrofasciata (Günther, 1867)

Other common names:
Zebra cichlid

Synonyms: Archocentrus nigrofasciatus, Cichlasoma nigrofasciatum, Cryptoheros nigrofasciatus