How to Care for a Convict Cichlid
The convict cichlid is a species of fish that is very popular in personal aquariums. Although this fish’s name might suggest that it has some sort of naughty penchant, the source of its name is actually based on the fish’s black and white “jailbird” stripes. Convict cichlids, also known as zebra cichlids, are fairly easy to keep as a pet, even for an individual who has no experience with raising fish; but there are a few things that you should know about this species if you are thinking of caring for it. Keep reading to learn more about the convict cichlid and what it takes to properly care for this species.
About Convict Cichlids
The convict cichlid is one of the easiest types of tropical fish to raise. This species can grow as large as six inches in length, but generally their growth will be stunted or encouraged by the tank’s size and the amount of other fish that share the tank. As mentioned earlier, this cichlid variety is well known for its vertical black and white stripes. The fins may have a splash of green or yellow color and it is not uncommon for the fish’s underside to be tinted with orange or pink. A special variety of convict cichlid actually sports pink stripes. If this type of cichlid loses its stripes after being introduced into a new aquarium then it could be a sign that the water’s chemistry levels are drastically off balance.
This eye-catching species hails from the coastal regions of Central and South Americas and are actually related to the piranha. –Don’t let the last bit of information taint your opinion of this fish, as it is also closely related to a very popular aquarium fish called the Oscar, and as long as you understand the nature of this species and prepare a suitable aquarium and tank mates then you shouldn’t have any trouble raising your own convicts.
Personality and Suitable Tank Mates
This type of cichlid can be quite entertaining and is reported to be packed full of personality. You might often see this fish zipping up and down and back and forth all over the tank and chasing after other non-convict fishes. One thing that can be said for sure about this fish, however, is that it does have aggressive tendencies and has been known to pick on fish that are more than twice its own body size. If paired with the wrong tank mates or placed in an aquarium that is too small, this fish will nip and pick at other fish and may even kill other fish in aggressive shows of dominance.
Before you even consider getting a convict, you must realize that this species will play the dominant role in the tank. As a result, it would definitely be unwise to put this fish in a tank with other species of an aggressive nature, as you could end up losing your fish, your money, and your efforts. If the convict fish will be kept in a tank with other mild-natured tropical fish then it’s best to only have one convict in the tank. If you don’t have much experience with fish and feel that you would be unable to identify signs that your convict is picking on the other fish, then you should consider having a single-species tank of convict cichlids. This is definitely true if you have male and female convicts in the same tank, as they become extremely aggressive while breeding.
The types of fish that would be able to handle having the convict as a tank mate would be larger species that are less likely to succumb to the aggressions of the convict or hardy, quick species that can withstand a bit of nipping. Try large cichlids or tiger barbs.
Convict cichlids are favored as a good fish for beginners because they are quite hardy when it comes to water chemistry. With any type of aquarium, there is a cycle in the water chemistry that alternates between ammonia content, nitrates, and general bacterial buildup. “The cycle” takes about a month to complete and the first cycle that occurs after an aquarium is initially set up is usually the roughest. If you’ve ever had an aquarium before or know of someone who has, then you might be aware that it is during the first month in which the fish are at the greatest risk. It is very common for fish to die during an aquarium’s first chemical/bacterial cycle. The beauty about the convict cichlid is that it has a natural hardiness that enables it to better withstand fluctuating chemistry levels in the water.
Cichlids are notorious for producing a lot of filth, so in order to prevent your tank from becoming a cesspool you will need to make sure that it is equipped with a good filter. Live plants will keep the water oxygen-rich and the addition of a plecostamus (sucker-fish), shrimp, lobster, and other bottom-dwellers will help to gobble up excess food and feces, which will go a long way in keeping a clean tank.
Due to their territorial nature, convict cichlids need a sizeable tank—at least no smaller than 20 gallons. If you plan to breed the convicts or put one in with other tropical fish then you should opt for a larger tank such as a 50 – 55 gallon aquarium.
Feeding and General Care
The care involved with a convict cichlid doesn’t really require anything out of the ordinary. Feed the cichlid tropical fish flakes twice every day and keep your tank well-maintained. Due to the fish’s ability to quickly dirty the tank, you might prepare yourself to do a partial water exchange of about one-third of the tank’s water once or twice every month. Be sure to use appropriate water and bacteria stabilizers.