The Convict Cichlid
This little fish is a true aqua-criminal! In fact, many hobbyists describe this perpetrator as a "homicidal maniac"! And, look! This fish already has its "prison stripes"! However, before you lock this fish up and throw away the key, you may want to give the fish a second hearing! This fish may get you locked up - in cichlid-mania! Not only is this fish a great beginner fish for hobbyists who would like to keep cichlids, it is also one of the hardiest, easy to care for fish! And if you are wanting to try your hand at breeding fish in a home aquarium, this fish is a must have! In fact, once they get started, you can't stop these fish from breeding! It's the homicidal, hardy, sex-crazed cichlid called the Convict Cichlid!
I am an admitted cichlidiot! For those who don't know what that means, it simply means that I love cichlids to the extreme! I love cichlids to the point where I have to buy every species I come across! I love cichlids to the point where I continue to buy new aquariums just to keep more cichlids at home! (10 home aquariums and counting now!) It's easy to become a cichlidiot. Some would say it's too easy. Cichlids are some of the hardiest, easy to care for freshwater fish available in the hobby. Cichlids are also some of the most energetic, colorful fish you will ever find! Their only drawback is their aggressive behavior.
Many cichlidiots begin their interest in keeping cichlids with the same cichlid I began with, the ever popular oscar. However, there is one other cichlid that many hobbyists claim is an even better cichlid to begin with: the convict cichlid.
The convict cichlid is a native of Guatemala, Panama, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica and other areas of Central America. The convict cichlid's body is gray-blue with vertical black "prison" stripes from its nose to its tail. Due to years of captive breeding, there are also color variants of the convict cichlid available. The four known color variants of the convict cichlid are an albino form, a gold variation, a multicolored variant and the popular pink convict cichlid.
The convict cichlid is an undemanding fish that more or less takes care of itself. This, along with the fish's playful, energetic personality, makes the convict cichlid a popular fish for freshwater fish hobbyists. However, like many other cichlids, the convict cichlid has one major drawback: it's belligerent attitude. Truth be told, the convict cichlid is probably more aggressive than most other cichlids, regardless of their size!
While the convict cichlids available in pet stores are usually 2 to 3 inches in length, an adult convict cichlid won't grow much larger. An adult convict cichlid will usually reach a length of 5 to 6 inches. However, don't let the convict cichlid's size fool you. This tiny fish has a huge attitude!
Most fish that are the size of an adult convict cichlid would be able to comfortable fit into nearly any size aquarium, but not the convict cichlid! Because of the convict cichlid's aggressive behavior, this fish should only be kept in aquariums that are at least 30 gallons. Forget about housing the convict cichlid in a community tank! This fish will absolutely have to be placed in an aggressive tank! And even then, the convict cichlid may still terrorize its tank mates, regardless of their size! The convict cichlid has been known to attack much larger, aggressive cichlids like oscars, jaguar cichlids and green terrors! When the convict cichlid isn't battering another fish to death, it may choose to simply nip at the other fishes' tails and fins! Because of their aggression, many hobbyists have no choice but to house the convict cichlid in a species tank.
Deciding which fish to keep with the convict cichlid is more or less a case of "try and see". Convict cichlids can be placed in a tank with much larger, aggressive cichlids and be harassed. However, once the convict cichlid finds a place in the tank to call its own, look out! The convict cichlid may very well then turn on the fish that had previously harassed it and end up ruling the entire tank! Suggested tank mates for the convict cichlid can include nearly any other cichlid, regardless of its size and aggression level. Other suggested tank mates can include black sharks, rainbow sharks, red tail sharks, gouramis, tiger barbs, pacus and plecos. Slow moving fish should be avoided, since the convict cichlid seems to target these fish first. Be aware that even if you follow the above guideline for choosing tank mates for the convict cichlid, whether or not the convict cichlid gets along with the other fish boils down to one thing: the convict cichlid's mood! This homicidal maniac is so aggressive that it will often attack your hand while you are cleaning its tank!
While the convict cichlid is usually aggressive at all times, these fish actually become more aggressive when they are ready to breed. If you have never had the experience of raising your own fish from fry, the convict cichlid is the ideal fish for you. Choosing a compatible pair of convict cichlids shouldn't be too hard. The male of the species tends to be larger than the female. The male convict cichlid will also have longer, pointed dorsal and anal fins, while the female's fins are more rounded. The female will also have a scattering of orange scales on the lower part of the body. Perhaps the biggest indicator of the convict cichlid's sex is the forehead of the mature male. Once the male convict cichlid reaches adulthood, the fish will develop a fatty lump on its forehead.
Choosing a male and female convict cichlid won't guarantee a successful pairing. Sometimes if the female or male is smaller or weaker than the larger convict cichlid, the larger fish will then attack the inferior fish! This is a problem I have had twice. I had selected a pair of convict cichlids on two different occasions, and the females were smaller and apparently weaker than the males. In both instances, after I placed the convict cichlids into their tank, the males proceeded to batter the females to the point where the females were seriously injured, and later died! For this reason, it is suggested that you buy a pair of convict cichlids when they are young and compatible in size.
Often the first indication that a pair of convict cichlids are ready to breed will be when the fish take over control of at least half of their aquarium. In most instances, the other fish in the tank will be found congregating, if not cowering, on the other side of the tank! Notorious diggers, the convict cichlids will dig a pit right outside of their cave, rock or other established territory. The female will lay her eggs in the cave or on a flat rock. In 3 or 4 days, the fry will hatch and the female will move them into the pit. After 2 or 3 days, the fry will then become free swimmers. While the female looks after the fry, the male will stay nearby and continue to keep other fish away. The parents will defend the fry and try to keep them in one place for 10 to 14 days. At that time, the parents may be ready to spawn again and will chase the fry away from their spawning site! It's nearly impossible to keep well paired male and female convict cichlids from breeding! In fact, many reports suggest the pair will breed as often as every two weeks! So if you are wanting to raise fish from fry, be careful what you ask for! At this rate you may get well more than you ever asked for!
Breeding convict cichlids isn't always a given. Some hobbyists actually may have trouble breeding their convict cichlids. It is often suggested that you can aid in the convict cichlid's breeding process by trying a couple of things. One way to accelerate the breeding process is by raising the water's temperature to 85 to 90 degrees for about 24 hours. (This should only be done in a convict cichlid only tank, as the rise in temperature may harm other fish.) In about 2 to 3 days, you should have hundreds of tiny fry in the tank. The other possible solution is feeding the convict cichlids brine shrimp and bloodworms.
The best way to encourage the convict cichlid's breeding is to set up its aquarium properly. The convict cichlids will need at least a 30 gallon aquarium with plenty of cave like hiding places. The convict cichlids will also appreciate plenty of rocks and driftwood. Live plants aren't exactly recommended for the convict cichlid's tank because, like many other cichlids, this fish is its own "interior decorator"! Aside from digging holes in the aquarium's gravel or sand substrate, the convict cichlid will not only eat any live plants, but they will also uproot them! Forget designing a beautiful aquarium for your convict cichlids! They will likely make a mess of your decorations, and design things more to their liking! My convict cichlids spent more time burying under their tank decorations than ever living inside of them!
The water in the convict cichlid's aquarium should have a pH between 6.5 to 8.0. While the convict cichlid can tolerate vast water temperature changes, a temperature range of 68 - 76 degrees is preferred. The convict cichlid is an extremely hardy fish, but vast, quick changes in water temperature can beset the fish with ich.
Feeding the convict cichlid is just as easy as any other cichlid. It's probably easier to list what this fish won't eat! The omnivorous convict cichlid will readily accept flake foods, cichlid pellets, bloodworms, brine shrimp, krill, beef heart and small fish. The fry will readily accept powdered fry food, powdered flake food and newly hatched brine shrimp. It is suggested that you feed the convict cichlids a couple of times a day, because once this fish gets hungry, it may seek out nourishment in the form of other fishes' fins!
In most cases, the convict cichlid is a very affordable cichlid. Most pet stores choose to sell this cichlid anywhere from $4.00 to $7.00 apiece. And finding the convict cichlid shouldn't be too hard. Due to this cichlid's popularity, the convict cichlid is imported nearly year round to most pet stores. You may find the convict cichlid available under a number of different alias: the black convict cichlid, the blue convict cichlid, the pink convict cichlid or the zebra cichlid. Whatever the name, you should try to give this little sex-crazed aqua-criminal a little "home detention" with a place in your home aquarium! Just keep the guards and the dip nets on hand! You never know when you might have to break up a riot in this fish's "cell"!