Sam Borstein's Cichlid Page

Archocentrus nigrofasciatus
(Günther, 1867)

Convict Cichlid
Synonyms: Amatitlania nigrofasciatum, Cryptoheros nigrofasciatum

Convict Cichlid
Above: A male Convict Cichlid. Photo by Sam Borstein.


Genus- Arch= anus (Greek), kentron= sting (Greek), Referring to the anal fin spines.
Species- nigro= black (Greek), fasciatus= striped (Greek).


The Convict Cichlid is a very common fish in the hobby due to their availability and excellent parental behavior. The Convict Cichlid is a classic. It gets its name because of its color. The first Convicts in the U.S. were gray with black stripes, like a criminal in a convict suite. This fish was first typed by Günther in 1867.

There has been much debate about this fish and where it stands taxonomically speaking. Allgayer in 2001 created the genera Cryptoheros, with the type being Archocentrus spilurus. This description was poorly done. Schmitter-Soto published a paper that came out in 2007, Convicts were given their own genera, Amatitlania, composed of the four species and one undescribed species. Off the bat the genus Amatitlania was rejected by many scientists. Although there may be more than one species of Convict, the descriptions for the three new species are poorly done and in doubt. Because of this I leave this fish in Archocentrus until a proper review of the Convict Cichlid and its allies is completed.

The four species described in Schmitter-Soto's paper are:

Although I highly doubt these represent valid species and believe that the Convict Cichlids are just one diverse species, many hobbyists have sucked up these names and use them at present. Because of this you will see them on my site as different species. This may be a good thing as Convict Cichlids are quite diverse in coloration throughout their large range and because they may or may not represent different species they are different enough that one should never keep more than one location of convict in their aquarium for fear of hybridization. These new names are nice as hobbyists have been paying much more attention to where these fish are from and some new location variants of this species have since made it to the hobby.

There are a few man made line bred varieties of Convict Cichlids as well:

Pink Convict with fry
Above: A pink Convict over fry. Photo by Sam Borstein. This fish is not an albino, as is usually thought, but rather amelanistic.


This fish ranges from Southern Guatemala to Northern Honduras. The fish is found in lakes, rivers, and streams throughout its range.

Size, Maturity, and Sexual Dimorphism:

Size: Males- 6 inches, Females- 4 inches
Maturity: 1.5 inches
Sexual Dimorphism: Males are larger and may have longer fins. Males also have a more rounded head profile. Females have an orange belly, but some males may get a fair amount of orange as well, so it can't always be used to sex the fish, but is usually a fairly reliable method.

Female Convict Cichlid
Above: A female Convict Cichlid. Photo by Sam Borstein.


Small Convicts can be put in a ten gallon tank for grow out or for breeding but should be moved to a larger tank when they get larger. Really a 20 gallon is the best for a pair. Convicts are aggressive, so be careful. There reputation precedes them.


Convicts are omnivorous and will eat anything. In the wild they feed opportunistically. Typical aquarium flakes and pellets work well.


This is an easy fish to breed....just add water! Convicts are substrate spawners so give them a cave or a flower pot to spawn in. This fish will protect its fry ferociously, and keep larger fish at-bay.

Convict Cichlid spawns can be large, anywhere from 200-750 eggs. The eggs hatch in about three days post spawn and by eight days are free swimming. They grow fast and are easy to raise on baby brine shrimp or crushed flake. Parents will defend the fry vigorously and it is ok to leave the fry with the parents for a week or more. During this time it is important to watch the fish and the pair bond and make sure that one of the fish is not beating on its partner!


Convicts are great fish. They are dirt cheap and easy to find. Although if you're an accomplished fish breeder your friends may make fun of you, you should still keep this fish just to see its parental care! This is a great beginner's fish if you are just getting into cichlids.