Above A female standard Convict. Photo by Rick Borstein.
Archocentrus nigrofasciatus, known universally as the Convict Cichlid, is substrate-spawning cichlid native to Lake Atitlan and Lake Amatitlan in Guatemala south to Panama in Central America. This fish was first typed by Günther in 1867.
Archocentrus nigrofasciatus is is also known under the synonyms Cryptoheros nigrofasciatus and Cichlasoma nigrofasciatus. Occasionally, you will see the species name erroneously referred to as Archocentrus nigrofasciatum or Cichlasoma nigrofasciatum.
Any way you spell it, Archocentrus nigrofasciatus is one of the most popular cichlids. Why?
- Very hardy and thrives in almost any water conditions
- Easy to breed, even in small tanks
- Exhibit outstanding parental care
- Available in a variety of color forms
Archocentrus nigrofasciatus males get up to about 6". Female Convict cichlids get up to about 5". Mature females have a rounder belly profile than males. Males have a longer, more flowing dorsal and anal fins and sometimes a nuchal (head) hump.
Archocentrus nigrofasciatus is available in a number of color forms
- Black— a gray and black striped variety that was the inspiration for the common name "Convict".
- Pink— an albino variety (see above)
- Gold— Similar to the black variety, but exhibits lots of gold coloration on the belly
- Calico— a fish with a white/gray base, with black and brown spotting
- Long Fin Pink— a long-finned version of the Albino fish
Color-enhancing foods can greatly change the appearance of Archocentrus nigrofasciatus, especially the Pink variety. For example, a steady diet of Spectrum pellets, a red-enhancing food, will cause the belly area of the Pink Convict to turn almost solid red. Very attractive!
Some serious aquarists consider Convicts to be the "rats" of the aquarium hobby. To these folks, this fish is so easy to breed that it isn't a challenge. While Archocentrus nigrofasciatus is easy to breed, the intelligence and outstanding parental care exhibited by this fish is something every hobbyist should experience. Interestingly, in GCCA, there are members with over fifty spawns in our Breeders Award Program (BAP) who have never spawned this fish!
Archocentrus nigrofasciatus is found in a variety of habitats from streams to pools and ponds. It is generally closely associated with cover such as roots, rocks and overhanging banks.
Convict Cichlids are easy to keep. A young pair of convicts may be kept in a ten-gallon tank. Groups of fish or larger specimens will need more room. Although this fish is tolerant of a variety of water conditions, regular partial water changes are necessary to keep this fish in good breeding shape. Maintain the tank temperature between 75 and 80F.
When breeding, Convicts will aggressively attack all other fish. Since they spawn easily— and often — be careful when choosing co-habitants for the tank.
In the wild, Archocentrus nigrofasciatus is omnivorous. Stomach contents of wild Convicts have included worms, crustaceans, insects, fish and plant matter. In the aquarium, they are easy to feed. We fed HBH Graze, Spectrum pellets and various cichlid flakes.
Archocentrus nigrofasciatus is very easy to breed. Males and females form strong pair bonds. If you elect to buy a breeding pair, you will probably have success shortly.
If breeding pairs are not available, purchase 5 or 6 juveniles and place them in a 20-gallon tank. Provide numerous rocks and flowerpots for cover and a substrate of fine gravel. We have found a quality pellet food such as Spectrum helps these fish grow quickly and color nicely. Weekly, 50% water changes will ensure rapid growth and health.
When the fish approach two-inches in length, look for signs of pair bonding such as territory defense and excavation of the substrate. At this point, the dominant pair in the tank may "own" a significant piece of tank real estate, driving the other fish away. You may wish to remove the other fish at this point. If you provide lots of cover, it may not be necessary.
Shortly after pair bonding, you may observe the female cleaning the spawning site— usually the inside of a clay flowerpot. Spawning and the laying of eggs generally commences within a day after. Spawns range in size from 50 to 100 in our experience with fish that are under a year old. Older pairs may have 300 eggs or more. After the eggs are laid, the females stays close to the eggs fanning oxygenated water over the eggs. Meanwhile, the male patrols the outskirts of the territory, chasing away possible intruders.
The eggs hatch in about 72 hours at 78F. The wriggling larvae may be moved by the parents to various pits dug in the substrate. A week later, the fry are free-swimming.
We feed newly hatched baby brine shrimp to the fry and have excellent results. They fry grow quickly and can be trasitioned to flake food at 3 weeks old.
Expect to pay as little as $1 to$4 for juvenile fish! Archocentrus nigrofasciatus is readily available at most pet stores. However, we encourage you to seek out known location varieties.
Report December 2004 by Rick Borstein.