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10 Best Convict Fish Cichlid Tank Mates (Compatibility Guide)

Choosing Convict Fish Cichlid tank mates can be a bit of a challenge. These feisty cichlids are large enough to kill or eat many small community fish. And when breeding they sometimes lay claim to the entire aquarium, harassing and trying to evict everything in sight!

Convict Cichlid Species Profile

Convict Cichlid

Convict Cichlid. Zebra Cichlid. It’s easy to see how this aquarium favorite gets its name! The combination of grey to white background with deep black stripes is very striking, as are the faint patches of blue and pink that both sexes display on their fins and bellies!

Zebra Cichlids hail from Central America; from Guatemala down to Costa Rica. Some ichthyologists (scientists who study fish) think that Convict Cichlids are actually a part of a species complex; an interrelated group of closely related species that are a lot closer than other animals. 

In this same region of the world you will also find other similar looking fish, such as the intensely beautiful Honduran Red Point, a more peaceful and colorful relative. But the Convict Cichlid is by far the most common of the Amatitlania group to be found in the hobby. 

Zebra Cichlids are found in streams with gently flowing water and moderate to high pH. These parameters are ideal but aren’t entirely necessary since tank bred Convicts have been raised in all kinds of conditions over the decades and are some of the hardiest fish you’ll ever keep! That said, Convict Cichlids do have a few quirks worth discussing, so settle in while we take a deep dive into the world of Convict Cichlid care!

  • Scientific Name: Amatitlania nigrofasciata
  • Origin: Central America
  • Length: 3 to 4 inches
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive to Aggressive
  • Aquarium Size: 10 to 20 gallons
  • Ease of Care: Very Easy

Convict Cichlid Aquarium Size

When choosing an aquarium for Zebra Cichlids we want to balance out their desire for turf with our budget. Convicts are quite small for cichlids. In fact, a breeding pair can be kept singly in aquariums as small as 10 gallons. 

Convict Cichlid Aquarium Size

But anytime there are tank mates you’ll need to give your cichlids some space. 20 gallons is a better minimum aquarium size if you’re keeping a community tank. And 30 gallons is better still! An adult male Convict Cichlid will easily clear 4 inches fully grown but it has the personality of a fish three times its size. 

Convict Cichlids rarely give their tank mates too much trouble except when breeding, which we will get into below. But they may give chase occasionally, nipping a fin here and there. They tend to save their aggression for each other and fish that look like cichlids. Unfortunately, this can include very peaceful fish like Pearl Gouramis, who want nothing to do with a feisty Convict Cichlid.

One counter-intuitive way to mitigate fights among cichlids is to keep a large number of them together! This approach is most commonly done in African cichlid community tanks, replicating the dynamics of their natural rocky lake reefs. Central American cichlids can also be kept this way. 

You may find that a large colony of Convict Cichlids gets along much better than two pairs; instead of focusing all of their attention on fighting each other, a colony arrangement allows subdominant fish to escape attention while others vie for the rank of Top Dog! If you choose to take this approach then you’ll need an aquarium at least 40 to 55 gallons in size.

Water Conditions for Convict Cichlids

As I said before, Zebra Cichlids are extremely hardy! Part of the reason for this is that they favor the water chemistry found in most tap water straight from the source! Slightly hard (higher GH + KH) water has increased levels of dissolved minerals contained in it. Some fish, such as Tetras and Discus, prefer soft water free of minerals, but not Convict Cichlids.

Convicts also enjoy a moderate to high pH; in the wild they are found in waters ranging from pH 6.6-7.8. But they will not only tolerate but breed in both more acidic and alkaline conditions than this!

Ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate should always be as low as possible since these chemicals induce stress and disease in all fish. But Zebra Cichlids, having been tank raised for decades in less than clean pet stores, are very resistant to these agents. In fact, they are some of the best fish for cycling a new tank if you don’t want to fishless cycle using ammonia. Lastly, water temperatures can fall anywhere between 72-82℉ for them!

You should also think about providing Convict Cichlids with a little water flow! They don’t require it but their native waters are flowing streams that are well aerated from the current and splash zones. Extra flow can come from a powerful filter outflow, a powerhead, or something else!

That’s why it’s best to choose either large and fast or equally aggressive tank mates when keeping Convict Cichlids. Here are the 10 best fish to keep alongside them!

10 Best Convict Cichlid Tank Mates

Here are 10 of our favorite tank mates for convict cichlids:

Giant Danio

giant danio

Giant Danios are some of the best dither fish for aggressive species because they’re too large to be easily eaten. As a schooling species they should be kept in groups of at least 6 individuals.

They are a little unusual in that they can be semi-aggressive on occasion, nipping at slow moving, long finned fish like Gouramis and Angelfish. Adult Giant Danios will also eat tiny tank mates like Neon Tetras or Guppies so choose carefully..

While both sexes are large male Giant Danios are slightly smaller and slimmer than females. The species breeds easily in aquariums when well fed but unless you remove the eggs they scatter across plants the young are likely to be eaten.

Giant Danios are undemanding when it comes to feeding and water conditions but prefer temperatures around 72-80F and a moderate pH (6.5-7.5). Since nearly all are tank bred nowadays they accept a wide variety of prepared and frozen foods.

  • Scientific Name: Devario aequipinnatus
  • Origin: Southeast Asia
  • Length: 4 to 6 inches
  • Minimum Aquarium Size: 30 gallons
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive; Schooling

Firemouth Cichlid

firemouth cichlid

Firemouth Cichlids are an attractive species hailing from the same region as Convicts. Both species prefer tropical temperatures and neutral to slightly alkaline water (pH 7.0-8.0).

Firemouths will accept prepared food but as carnivores they should be given fresh and frozen meaty items regularly.

When fully grown Firemouths tend to be slightly longer than Convicts but not as bulky. Both species are also very evenly matched in terms of temperament.

Firemouths tend to be less aggressive towards their tank mates but won’t back down if harassed by Convicts. And when spawning Firemouths are just as aggressive as other Cichlids in defending their eggs and fry.

And like most medium to large Cichlids Firemouths love to dig but tend to be gentler on plants than other Central American species!

  • Scientific Name: Thorichthys meeki
  • Origin: Mexico, Central America
  • Length: 6 inches
  • Minimum Aquarium Size: 30 Gallons
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive

Jack Dempsey

Jack Dempsey cichlid

Temperament-wise, Jack Dempseys are mean but no more aggressive than other similarly sized Central American Cichlids.

They are great Convict Cichlid tank mates but will outgrow them and need larger aquariums. If kept in too small an aquarium your Jack Dempsey will claim the entire tank as its territory and likely bully the smaller Convicts to death.

There is also a popular Electric Blue color morph that’s almost entirely covered in iridescent blue scales. Do note that Electric Blue Jack Dempseys tend to be more sensitive as youngsters to poor water conditions and disease, possibly due to inbreeding. However when fully grown they are spectacular to look at!

If you’re interested in getting to know them better here is my list of 15 Tank Mates for Jack Dempseys!

  • Scientific Name: Rocio octofasciata
  • Origin: Mexico, Central America
  • Length: 12 inches
  • Minimum Aquarium Size: 75 Gallons
  • Temperament: Aggressive

Pictus Catfish

Pictus Catfish are sometimes sold as Freshwater Sharks because of their sleek profile, forked tails, and fast swim speed. They also share the predatory nature of Sharks, hunting for smaller fish, shrimp, and worms to prey upon. However they are peaceful towards anything they can’t swallow whole.

As tank mates for Convict Cichlids, Pictus Catfish are a good match because both species are around the same length but have very different habits and personalities.

Breeding Convict Cichlids may find Pictus Catfish troublesome because their fry are vulnerable to being eaten, especially at night.

  • Scientific Name: Pimelodus pictus
  • Origin: South America
  • Length: 5 inches
  • Minimum Aquarium Size: 20 Gallons
  • Temperament: Peaceful; Predatory


bristlenose pleco

Choosing a Pleco can be a bit of a challenge. Common Plecostomus will reach nearly 2 feet in length but Dwarf Otos are too small to be Convict Cichlid tank mates.

Rubber Plecos and Bristlenose Plecos are ideal because they are medium sized, hardy, and able to fend off occasional aggression from Convicts. While rather shy they do a great job of removing most types of algae from aquarium hard surfaces and plants.

Since there is rarely enough algae to keep Plecos constantly fed you should have a supply of vegetarian based prepared food (like algae wafers) on hand. Mixing in blanched vegetables like spinach and zucchini also ensures your Plecos get the roughage they need!

  • Scientific Name: Chaetostoma formosae
  • Origin: South America
  • Length: 4 inches
  • Minimum Aquarium Size: 20 Gallons
  • Temperament: Peaceful

Clown Loach

Chromobotia macracanthus - clown loach

Boldly striped and continually active, Clown Loaches are popular for good reason! As Southeast Asian natives they should be kept in warmer temperatures (75-84F) and slightly acidic water (pH 6.0-7.0). However they will adapt well to the neutral to alkaline waters Convicts prefer.

Clown Loaches are surprisingly fast for hefty bottom dwellers. Despite being scaleless they can easily avoid occasional Cichlid aggression so long as the tank is spacious enough. While they are unpicky when eating they prefer worms and other meaty invertebrates.

The only real issue with keeping Clown Loaches is their eventual size. While not fast growers they will reach 10 to 12 inches. Clown Loaches also prefer being kept in schools, making them suitable only for the largest of aquaria.

  • Scientific Name: Chromobotia macracanthus
  • Origin: Southeast Asia
  • Length: 12 inches
  • Minimum Aquarium Size: 100 Gallons
  • Temperament: Peaceful; Schooling

Tricolor Cichlid

Cichlasoma Salvini

When seen as 1 inch juveniles in pet stores Tricolor Cichlids don’t look especially impressive. However as they mature they take on a bold yellow background, with a pattern of deep black blotches and a scarlet red belly.

Like most of their cousins in the genus Nandopsis, Tricolor Cichlids are piscivores, meaning they eat mostly smaller fish. They should be given a mixture of presoaked carnivore pellets and live prey like worms and feeder guppies.

And as Central American Cichlids they are plenty aggressive and will fight with Convicts if kept in too small of an aquarium. Give both species plenty of room to claim territories, dig, and explore when keeping them together!

  • Scientific Name: Nandopsis salvini
  • Origin: Mexico, Central America
  • Length: 6 inches
  • Minimum Aquarium Size: 40 Gallons
  • Temperament: Aggressive

Tiger Barb

tiger barb

Like Giant Danios, Tiger Barbs are infamous fin-nippers and will cause problems for slow targets like Bettas. However they are excellent Convict Cichlid tank mates and by actively schooling they create an environment that encourages Convicts to be bolder.

Tiger Barbs also come in a rainbow of colors, including Albino, Green Tigers, and even a genetically engineered Globarb! All have identical care requirements: tropical temperatures (75-84F), moderate pH (6.5-7.5), and a good variety of prepared and frozen food sized for their small mouths.

Like most Barbs they may sample softer plants on occasion but won’t dig and will leave tougher plants like Java Fern and Anubias alone!

  • Scientific Name: Puntigrus tetrazona
  • Origin: Indonesia
  • Length: 3 inches
  • Minimum Aquarium Size: 20 Gallons
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive; Schooling


yellow lab african cichlid

Mbuna is a general term for rock dwelling Cichlids from Lake Malawi, in Africa. They graze on the algae and biofilms that grow on submerged rocks and nearly all species are only found in Lake Malawi.

There are dozens of compatible species however some popular, easy to care for species include the Electric Yellow Cichlid (Labidochromis caeruleus), Zebra Mbuna (Maylandia zebra), and the Bluegray Mbuna (Pseudotropheus johannii).

Mbuna prefer the same alkaline water conditions as Convicts (pH 7.5-8.2) as well as a high GH and KH (general and carbonate hardness). Companies nowadays make fortified salts that replicate Rift Lake water chemistry for optimal breeding conditions.

Cichlid Lake Salt, 250 g / 8.8 oz
  • Non acidic. Manufactured in United States
  • Will not impact Ph
  • Will not impact skimmers

Mbuna should also be kept in fairly crowded groups, which diffuses their aggression among the complex social lines that develop. Convict Cichlids are hardy and aggressive enough to fit perfectly in a rock aquascaped Mbuna setup.

  • Origin: Lake Malawi, Africa
  • Length: 4 inches
  • Minimum Aquarium Size: 20 Gallons
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive

Redeye Tetra

Redeye tetra (Moenkhausia sanctaefilomenae)

Redeye Tetras are the smallest fish on this list of Convict Cichlid tank mates. However they are still large enough to go uneaten even by an adult male Convict and are fast enough to avoid aggression.

These peaceful South American tetras prefer being kept in groups and prefer a mixture of small prepared and frozen foods like Bloodworms, Brine Shrimp, and Tubifex worms. Redeye Tetras are also fine with plants and aren’t fin nippers like Giant Danios or Tiger Barbs.

Their coloration is on the subtle side but they are an attractive compliment to the similar grey and black tones of Convict Cichlids!

  • Scientific Name: Moenkhausia sanctaefilomenae
  • Origin: South America
  • Length: 2½ inches
  • Minimum Aquarium Size: 10 Gallons
  • Temperament: Peaceful; Schooling

Feeding Your Convict Cichlids

Feeding a Zebra Cichlid is as easy as it gets because they will eat just about anything! Prepared foods can form the foundation of their diet, including appropriately sized pellets and flakes. Since they have smaller mouths make sure you choose pellets that aren’t too large for them to swallow. I prefer pre soaking pellets as well to make them more digestible.

Using prepared foods as a base we can then add richer sources of protein, vitamins, and minerals to their diets! Convict Cichlids are mostly carnivorous so we want to include items like frozen brine shrimp, blood worms, and tubifex worms. These sources of invertebrate protein also add fat to their diet in a form that’s healthy for them!

Breeding Convict Cichlids

Aquarists often choose Convict for their first cichlid breeding experience. Cichlids are famous for their caregiving instincts. Instead of simply scattering their eggs around like other fish they carefully watch over them and aggressively defend them from predators.

But believe it or not, breeding Convict Cichlids is both easy and difficult to do. Easy because once they pair off, eggs are inevitable. But also difficult because Convict Cichlids are extremely aggressive parents!

Getting your Zebra Cichlids to pair off can be a little challenging but they aren’t too picky when choosing mates. Males and females look fairly similar but there are some easy ways to tell them apart. For starters, females are significantly smaller and rounder than males. They also have bright orange scales on their bellies and more black around both their stomach and face compared to males. 

Male Convict Cichlids, on the other hand, have less color but more pointed dorsal and anal fins. Fully grown males may even show a nuchal hump; a forehead growth commonly found in other male Central American cichlids. It’s not as impressive as that of a Midas Cichlid or Flowerhorn but it is still an impressive coming of age show for a Convict Cichlid!

Once a pair decides to breed they will start digging into the substrate, pulling up any plants they don’t like, and pick clean a hard surface to lay their eggs on. They prefer laying their eggs in cavities like caves so an overturned flower pot is perfect for your newlyweds! But even a flat rock will do in a pinch.

Zebra Cichlid eggs develop over the course of 3 days. Any that are infertile or infected will be removed by the parents. And once the fry hatch they subsist entirely on their yolk sac for the first 48 hours of their lives. 

Once they start swimming freely they stay close to their parents for the first few days, feeding on infusoria, baby brine shrimp, and other tiny invertebrates! Once they start exploring beyond their nest you can then net them up and share your baby Convict Cichlids with friends!

Convict Cichlid FAQ

How Aggressive are Convict Cichlids?

Convict Cichlids are a little on the more aggressive side of the spectrum. They aren’t as mean as some of their larger Central and South American cousins. But their size is what holds them back, more than anything!

How Many Convict Cichlids Can I Keep Together?

You’ll want to keep either one, a mated pair, or a sizable group together. The problem with keeping a small group is that it becomes too easy for a dominant fish to pick on his or her rivals. 

And the defeated fish can’t escape their attention easily. By keeping large groups of Zebra Cichlids a dominant fish will have their attention divided enough that subdominant fish can easily escape constant harassment.

Will Convict Cichlid Eat Other Fish?

Convict Cichlids are a little aggressive but they aren’t predatory. These cichlids have small mouths meant for snatching up tiny invertebrates and other food. They may pick at a dead fish but they aren’t out to eat their tank mates!

Do Convict Cichlids Need Current?

Do Convict Cichlids need current? No. Do they like currents? Yes, they do. They are found in moving waters throughout Central America and enjoy flowing, well oxygenated water!

Jason Roberts
About Jason Roberts
Jason is an aquarium fanatic that has been a fish hobbyist for almost three decades.

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