Breeding Convict Cichlids: A Comprehensive Guide

I first kept Convict Cichlids nearly 15 years ago, when I first discovered my passion for fish keeping. They are hardy, easy to keep, and offer great learning experience.

As I soon found out, they are also on of the easiest fish to breed in captivity! Breeding convict cichlids is often as easy a obtaining a breeding pair and setting up a simple aquarium.

Parameters such as tank size, water temperature, and water quality are not nearly as important to convicts as they are with other species. In fact, these parameters are often irrelevant. Convict Cichlids breed in nearly any reasonable environment.

Sexing Convict Cichlids

male convict cichlidfemale convict cichlid

The first step in breeding convict cichlids is successfully obtaining a breeding pair. There are two main strategies I have used to do this.

The first strategy to obtain a breeding pair of Convict Cichlids is to buy a group of six or more fish.

With this method (6 fish), there is a 98.5% chance of getting at least one male-female pair. This method is extremely effective and almost guaranteed to work, but it has its downsides.

Buying six Convict Cichlids is much more expensive than buying two fish. Once the pair is formed, the other four fish must be moved to a different tank, which requires a whole new setup. If you don’t have another tank of hand, you may have to return them to the fish store.

Remember, you are most likely not going to get any sort of refund.

The second strategy to obtain a breeding pair is determining the gender of the fish yourself. Luckily, this is not too difficult with mature Convict Cichlids!

Males will sometime (but not always) be larger than the females. They may also have a bump on their head once mature.

Mature female convict cichlids are much easier to identify. Once ready to reproduce, the stomach of a female convict cichlid will turn bright red.

Males will NEVER have a red belly, so this method is pretty reliable.

Tank Requirements

As I stated before, tank requirements/parameters are not AS important with Convicts compared to other species of cichlids. It is still a good idea, though, to set up a comfortable living environment for your fish if you want them to reproduce. Here are the requirements that I base my Convict breeding tanks around:

  • At least 10 gallons (most say 20, but if you’re careful, 10 is fine)
  • Filteration: normal hang on back filter
  • Temperature: 75-78 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Water flow: low if possible
  • Lighting: not necessary
  • Setup: gravel with flowerpot in middle of tank

The most important part of the tank setup is giving your Convict Cichlids a good place to lay their eggs.

For over 10 years, I have been using gravel as the substrate with a normal clay flowerpot in the middle of the tank. Convicts love flowerpots as spawning grounds because they offer good texture and 360% protection for their eggs.

Making the fish feel safe is the most important part of the process, which the flowerpot does very simply and effectively.

Getting Your Convict Cichlids To Spawn

The most important thing to remember with this step is that your fish MUST feel comfortable in their home. A nervous, scared fish will never spawn.

Try to leave your Convicts alone for the most part. Don’t stick your hand in the tank or put your face up to the glass often.

Also, make sure you remember to feed your fish protein rich foods regularly. I prefer to use New Life Spectrum fish food.

When the female is preparing to lay eggs, nutrients in her body are used up very fast. Make sure you feed them enough!

If Your Convicts Don’t Spawn…

There are several things you can do if your Convict Cichlids are being a little stubborn. Here are a few tips to give them a nudge:

  1. Increase the water temperature: In the wild, convicts naturally spawn in summer months when the water temperature is warm. If your fish do not spawn, try increasing the water temperature by one or two degrees (make sure not to go over 82). This will simulate the natural changing of seasons and, hopefully, get your fish to spawn!
  2. Do a 20% water change: The summer months often come with a lot of rain. Changing 20% of the water in your fish tank will simulate a heavy thunderstorm and capitalize on the Convict’s natural tendencies to spawn. This is the most effective method, in my opinion.
  3. Feed heavily: If you Convicts are still hesitant to breed, try increasing the frequency of feedings. If you can get your hands on live brine shrimp or dried blood worms, give your convicts a few of these several times a day.

I Have Eggs!

If you made it to this point, congratulations! You have probably notices your Convict parents fiercely guarding rows upon rows of eggs on the inner wall of the flowerpot.

Over the next 3-4 days, the eggs will remain in the same state. The parents will probably be hesitant to feed and spend most of their time guarding the eggs; don’t worry, this is normal.

After 4 days or so, you eggs should begin to hatch. The small fry will eventually fall to the bottom of the flowerpot.

At this stage, they are called “wigglers” because they cannot yet swim. The wigglers will sit at the bottom of the flowerpot for about a week, absorbing their egg sac and gaining strength.

During this time, it is normal for the parents to pick up the wigglers in their mouth and move them around the tank. Don’t be alarmed by this! (As a note, your Convict Cichlid pair may eat their babies the first few spawns. They are new parents and are still trying to figure everything out, this is normal.)

Feeding The Fry

After about seven days they fry should be swimming on their own. Having hundreds and hundreds of tiny Convicts swimming around your tank is quite an amazing sight!

Once the fry begin swimming on their own, you can be sure the egg sac was absorbed and they are ready to start feeding of real food.

The best possible food you can feed your new babies is newly hatched brine shrimp. This will give them all the nutrients they need and lead to a MUCH higher survival rate.

That being said, hatching new brine shrimp on your own can be quite time consuming and isn’t always a realistic option. If it is, though, I would highly recommend going this route.

If hatching brine shrimp on your own is too much work, it is possible to raise your baby Convicts on other, easier to prepare foods.

For years, I fed my baby Convict ground up flake food. Grind it up as TINY as you possibly can and mix it in with a little bit of water before you give it to you baby Convicts. You won’t have an extremely high success rate with this, as its not as nutritious as brine shrimp, but it is much easier to prepare as doesn’t require a whole setup.

Your fry need too eat small amounts often. Try to feed them every other hour in small amounts.

Any levels of ammonia or nitrates can be lethal to such tiny fish, so make sure to remove any uneaten food. If you decide to keep the fry away from the parents in a separate tank, make sure you ONLY use water from the main parent tank.

Ending Comments

If you follow the steps above, you should successfuly be able to pick out a pair of Convict Cichlids, encourage them to spawn, and raise the fry to adulthood.

Make sure you have a home for all of the baby Convicts you raise. Local fish stores will sometimes take them (and maybe even give you a little money!). Have fun on your new journey, breeding convict cichlids is an amazing process to watch!

The Aquarium Handbook

The Aquarium Handbook is our premium eBook that contains everything you need to know about setting up and maintaining an aquarium the right way.

Click below to check out 90+ awesome pages of illustrated fishkeeping guides!

The Aquarium Handbook Cover

2 thoughts on “Breeding Convict Cichlids: A Comprehensive Guide”

  1. Before I ask a question, I want to say thanks for the great advice! My husband and I were lucky enough to get 1 Male and Female convinct pair about a month ago. We have them set up in a 29 gal tank by themselves. They ate their entire first batch of fry and over half their second. What I was wanting to know is, the fry that is left, is still in the tank with the parents. They’re about a inch long and surprisingly strong swimmers. At what size should I move them to a different tank?

    Reply
    • Hi Ivey, thanks for the kind words! I raised Convict Cichlids from fry for several years so I think I can help out. It is common for a new pair to eat their first few batches. It is great to hear that they’re getting the hang of it!

      Removing the fry from the main tank is completely up to your personal preference. With some pairs, I left the fry in for up to a year, while others I removed right away. If you have a grow out tank, I’d recommend moving them. Too many Convicts in one tank can cause aggression between fish. 29 gal should be enough to house them for a bit longer though.

      Reply

Leave a Comment