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!

18 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
  2. Hey!
    This guide has been very helpful!
    We have some baby cichlids that are about 2 months old now. It seems that some of the babies might be slowly pecking their dad to death. Is this a sign of something more serious? Do the children sense weakness in their parents? The baby cichlids are not in want of sustenance, food is provided at necessary intervals. The father is now in quarantine, in a separate tank. I just didn’t know if this was normal behavior or not.
    Thanks!
    S

    Reply
    • From my experience, it is normal for most male fish to become aggressive towards other males as they mature. I have a few tanks setup, and my convict cichlids, fancy guppies, and tilapia males all get aggressive toward each other, especially in the spring/summer when they are ready to reproduce. Without intervention, you will probably find that the largest male will kill off the other smaller males, so you are left with 1 male and multiple females in your tank. From an evolutionary perspective, this is a “natural” behavior, as the males have an instinct to pass on their own genes to the next generation at the expense of their rivals.
      As some other people have mentioned, I have had luck selling extra fish back to my local pet store (where I bought the parent fish from in the first place). It’s actually a very rewarding feeling to be able to be able to trade some of your fish babies for a new aquarium, fish food or other supplies you would have to buy anyway.
      Out of all the species I have raised, I would say Goldfish are the only ones that you can keep several mature males together without worrying much about aggressive behavior. The only word of warning with Goldfish is they will eat their eggs before they even hatch, so you will need to watch closely for egg laying and remove the parents to give the fry a fighting chance.

      Reply
  3. Hello! I have a 5 gallon tank and have different kinds of fishes on it and also have a pair of polar parrot cichlid. Amazingly my pair of parrot cichlid have fry. Now i would like to ask if i should separate the other fishes?
    Because i think that maybe they will eat the fry or the parents will do it. Because i would really love them to grow. Thank you!

    Reply
    • I would say your 5 gallon tank is probably too crowded. But in a way, it depends on your goals.
      If you want to maximize the number of baby fry that will survive, then yes you should keep the cichlids separate from other fish. If you don’t have space (or desire) for an additional aquarium, maybe you can raise your baby fish in a 5 gallon bucket or a plastic storage container with a cheap air stone/bubbler (~$5 on amazon) until they are large enough to be sold back to your local pet store. You certainly won’t be able to keep the whole family in the 5 gallon tank long term; you should expect your pair to mate several times, so it is good to have a strategy for what you plan to do with all those babies.
      The other (slightly sad) option is just to let nature take its course, and most of your baby fry will end up as tasty (nutritional) snacks for your other fish. Either that or your cichlids will go on the offensive and try to kill the other species in the tank (before potentially turning on one another). Personally I have a bit of emotional attachment to my fish, so I try to keep a close eye on their behaviors and intervene as best as I can when I see aggression.
      It’s easy to want as many fish as possible in your tank, but keep your pets’ well being in mind before putting them in situations where their instincts will make them combative. Do your homework on which species are known to cohabitate with one another peacefully, and keep a close eye on your tank, especially in Spring and Summer when most fish will reproduce.

      Reply
  4. If the 2 convict Cichlids successfully breed and the mother becomes damaged or
    “sick” ………..what could be the reason?

    Reply
  5. Ok so I have a 75 gallon tank with a pair of convicts, a pair of fire mouths, 5 gold fish and a sucker fish oh plus some ugly little feeder that’s still alive lol. But my convicts have eggs. Should I remove the babies as soon as they start to swim or will they be ok if I get some breeding grass for the top. I have a lot of live plants and rocks in my tank plenty of hiding holes. But I want to make sure everyone will be happy as they are now everyone kinda has their own spots. I do have a 10 gallon tank in case I need to move them.

    Reply
  6. Instead of removing the fries, it better to shift the parents into a new tank in preparation for the 2nd lot (If you have a spare tank). But it wont be necessary if the tank is big enough. Because in my experience the fries coexist peacefully along with their parents & siblings from the 2nd and even 3rd lot in the same tank until the tank becomes too crowded.

    Reply
  7. Do I need to remove the male. She beats him relentlessly and he’s bigger and cocky and presses her. I have wrigglers day one

    Reply
  8. I purchased a small 5 gal. tank. The pet shop sold me a Convict male, a male gourmi and fish and a male platy fish. The Convict attacked the gourmi and bit of some of its fins. I had to take it out. It seems so aggressive. Is this normal? Maybe it is because I have males. I am new to this and didn’t know I was sold all males.

    Reply
    • Hi Judy, thanks for your question. A 5 gallon aquarium is far too small for the fish you mentioned here, which is most likely the cause of the aggression. I would recommend upgrading to a larger aquarium. A Convict alone requires at least 25 gallons.

      Reply
  9. First of all thank you for this valuable information about convicds. I have a pair and they had nearly more then 50 babies. They started to swim and there were other fishes but the parents protected them. After 1 week the babies can swim easily and they started to travel in the aquarium together and sure the parents were still guarding. I started to feed them with decapsulated artemia. After that, the quantity of babies decreased. I dont know if the parents started to eat them or any other reason. I just caught only 2 of them and put ine a breeding mini tank inside the main aquarium. But i think they were smaller then the holes of the breeding tank and other fishes suck them. Because i can not find them after 5 hours. Even their dead bodies. After 2 months now my pair has new babies and they are really close to swim again. What do you suggest for me ? Shell i get all babies to a different aquarium with a pipe filter( with the same water). Sure Without parents. And is there a better way to use a standart green net.

    Reply
    • Hello, thanks for your comment. In this case it is most likely that the parents or other fish ate the Convict fry. If your Convicts are new to spawning, this is very common and not something to be concerned about. It usually take a few tries before the parents get the hang of successfully raising fry. If you’re interested in raising the fry, I would recommend removing them from the main tank – a syphon or simple green net should work fine. Make sure you use the same water for the fry tank and try to keep the temperature and other parameters identical to the main tank.

      Reply

Leave a Comment