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Convict Cichlid Breeding Setup and Requirements

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Zach has been an online writer for over seven years. His writing focuses on gardening, cooking, and aquariums.

Discover how to successfully keep and breed the striking convict cichlid.

Discover how to successfully keep and breed the striking convict cichlid.

If you'd like to embark on the process of breeding convict cichlids, you'll first want to make sure that you're up for the challenge. I've cared for many different breeding pairs of convicts throughout my years as a fish keeper and have experienced firsthand the joys and woes of breeding this unique cichlid.

In order to maximize success, you'll want to be certain that your aquarium meets the proper requirements. By the end of this article, you'll know how to properly create a convict cichlid breeding setup that will be easy to maintain and beneficial to your breeding pair and their fry!

Questions to Ask Yourself

Before you begin, take some time to consider the following.

1. Do I really want to breed convict cichlids?

You should be aware that they are prolific breeders and will constantly be rearing new batches of fry (baby fish). This can get overwhelming very quickly as the fish keeper may need to care for and be able to relocate up to 100 new fish at a time.

2. Is my aquarium suitable for breeding convict cichlids?

Not only does the size of your aquarium matter, you'll also have to consider filtration, hiding places, and proper tank mates.

3. Do I have the time?

Although convicts are generally easy to care for, more effort must be spent cleaning and doing water changes. With the added bio-load of the fry, you'll need to maintain a strict regimen of water changes to ensure pristine water conditions.

This is a 30-gallon breeding tank.

This is a 30-gallon breeding tank.

Suitable Aquarium Size

It should first be known that horizontal swimming space is way more important than vertical space. With that being said, any fish tank labeled as "Tall" should be eliminated from the picture. Tall tanks may be aesthetically pleasing, but they tend to favor vertical height over horizontal length. A lack of horizontal swimming space can stimulate elevated aggression between the breeding convicts and could ultimately lead to serious injury or death.

The aquarium in the image above is a 30-gallon breeder, the perfect size for breeding convict cichlids. It offers the proper amount of horizontal swimming space. The decorations are also important since a lack of hiding spaces can stimulate aggression in cichlids. (Learn more about proper hiding spaces and visual barriers later in this article.)

How Much Horizontal Space Is Needed?

So what is the proper length of horizontal space? I would highly recommend that the length of your aquarium to be at least 30 inches, with 36 inches being the ideal minimum length. Here are my suggestions for proper aquariums to breed convict cichlids:

  • 20-Gallon Long: Measuring in with a length of 30 inches, this is the smallest tank that you'll be able to breed convicts in. Personally, I still feel that 20 gallons is too small, but many fish keepers are successful maintaining a single breeding pair in this size aquarium.
  • 30-Gallon Breeder: AKA 30-Gallon Long. This aquarium is the ideal 36 inches in length and my aquarium of choice for keeping a single breeding pair of convicts. The ten gallon step up from the 20 Long is much easier to maintain water quality and will also keep aggression between the pair to a minimum. This particular size tank is usually not sold at chain pet stores, so a specialty fish-only store may have to be contacted.
  • 40-Gallon Breeder: If you're interested in keeping two breeding pairs of convict cichlids, the 40-gallon breeder is the smallest you should go. This tank features a 36 inch horizontal base, but also is wider, allowing for more horizontal space.

What About Larger Aquariums?

If you already have an aquarium larger than these, that's perfect. Just keep in mind that you shouldn't exceed one breeding pair per 20 gallons of water. Following this rule will help to keep aggression between the pairs to a minimum. If you're in the hunt for an aquarium online, offers a huge selection of custom sizes that no chain store can match!

Proper Filtration

It's imperative that you don't skimp on filtration. With new fry constantly being born and raised, the bio-load on your aquarium will be under pressure. A power filter with the capacity to filter at least double your aquarium size per hour is highly recommended. If your aquarium has a capacity of 30 gallons, choose a filter that filters at least 60 gallons per hour. I've always believed that overkill is the way to go with your filtration system. Typically on my 30-gallon tanks, you will find a filter with 240 gallons per hour of filtration power. Always better safe than sorry! Here are the power filters that I have used for years and think very highly of:

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  • MarineLand Bio Wheel Power Filter: When it comes to filters, this is my top choice for aquariums sized up to 55 gallons. The bio-wheel technology is unseen on any other filter and offers the advantage of keeping colonies of nitrifying bacteria healthy by exposing them to the air as filtered water passes through and spins the bio wheel. Having healthy nitrifying bacteria is the key to efficient filtering of harmful toxins from your aquarium's water.
  • Eheim Ecco Pro Series Filters: If your aquarium is larger than 55 gallons, I would highly recommend the use of a canister filter. My recommendation is the Eheim Pro Series. These filters are located external of the aquarium and offer some of the most efficient water filtering capabilities known to aquariums. I personally choose the Eheims over any other canister filter due to their ease of use and reliability. These filters are more expensive than your standard 'hang on the back' power filters but will make your life much easier if you have a large aquarium.

Another important issue to address is the open end of the intake on the filter. These pose a problem because young fry can easily be sucked up and clog your filter motor. To avoid this problem, a filter sponge can be purchased. It will slide right onto the intake and prevent any fry from being sucked in.

Hiding Places and Visual Barriers

I can guarantee that if you tried breeding convicts in a bare tank that either the male or female will end up injured or dead. Why is this? To put it softly, this fish's mentality has aggression at the forefront. Equally important as filtration, visual barriers and hiding places are a must. If the breeding pair can swim around and not be in constant sight of each other, this will greatly reduce the amount of aggression exhibited between the pair, especially after the fry have just hatched. Individually or in combination with one another, any of the aquarium décor below will provide adequate protection for your fish.

  • Driftwood: Naturally found in almost every wild environment, driftwood is my personal favorite addition to the aquarium. With several large pieces, your convicts will be able to find proper shelter. Driftwood is also very easy to set up in a way in which the horizontal line of sight is broken. In other words, when one convict is at one end of the tank, he/she cannot see the other at the other end due to driftwood blocking the line of sight. Personally, I would never breed without driftwood.
  • River Rocks: Convicts will also find shelter in crevasses and nooks between larger rocks. These make for perfect nesting spots, but do not always provide the visual barrier needed. The pitfall to using only rocks is that they are harder to arrange and can get very heavy. (Yes, I've broken a tank before adding too many rocks! It sucks.) I've found that a combination of driftwood and a few river rocks is ideal.
  • Broken Clay Pottery: Broken flower pots make for great spawning sites and are a natural product. Make sure that no harmful fertilizers or chemicals were ever used in the pots, as these could leach into the water and negatively impact the health of your fish. If you do choose to use flower pots, just fork out the few bucks and buy them new just to be sure.
  • PVC Pipes and Plastic Decorations: I'll put these on here just for the reason that many aquarium keepers use them with success. I refuse to use either, not just because a plastic pirate ship looks tacky, but instead out of concern that these materials may leach potentially harmful substances into the water. With the amount of time you've spent preparing a healthy home for your convicts, why risk their health with PVC and plastics?

Many breeders use clay pottery as spawning/hiding places. Personally, I've never used clay pots as I feel they do not offer enough visual barrier and often spark more aggression between the breeding pair. Rocks and driftwood are my top choices.

Tank Mates

If you haven't heard already, I'll be the first to say that a breeding pair of convict cichlids are highly aggressive and will do anything to protect their young. With that said, I would advise not to keep any other fish with your breeding pair unless you have at least a 55-gallon tank. Even then, you'll want to make sure that you choose a species that will be able to hold its own against your terrible two. There are a handful of species that will be compatible with your pair and below you'll find my best suggestions for compatible species.

Oscar Cichlids. Photo Courtesy of Ashish Ghosh

Oscar Cichlids. Photo Courtesy of Ashish Ghosh

  • Jack Dempsey Cichlid: The name should imply it all. As with the boxer, Jack Dempsey, these fish are also aggressive and will be able to hold their own against convicts. Males can reach 8 inches long with females reaching 6 inches. I would recommend the addition of only one Jack Dempsey to a 55-gallon tank housed with one pair of breeding convicts.
  • Oscar Cichlid: These large cichlids will do great with convicts. Don't be surprised to see your convicts harassing these big guys though. Don't buy an Oscar unless you have the proper aquarium! One Oscar may be housed with a pair or two of convicts in a 75-gallon tank, with 90 gallons being ideal. Tanks smaller than 75 gallons do not provide adequate housing for Oscars, NO EXCEPTIONS.
  • Plecostomus: This armored catfish will normally do well with convicts. The only problem that I've seen is that the convicts will attack and gouge out the vulnerable eyes of these fish. To avoid this problem, make sure to buy a Plecostomus the same size or larger that your male convict. These fish can get quite large, so a minimum sized aquarium will be at least 55 gallons for one Plecostomus and a breeding pair of convicts.
Plecostomus Catfish. Photo Courtesy of Petr Kratochvil

Plecostomus Catfish. Photo Courtesy of Petr Kratochvil

Although convicts are generally considered small cichlids only reaching a maximum average of 5.5" in length, they are known to have a very aggressive behavior. Don't be surprised to see convicts harassing fish double or even triple their size! Picking proper tank mates is a must.

Maintaining Your Tank

Breeding convict cichlids need pristine water conditions to reduce stress and ensure healthy conditions for the young fry. You'll need to complete a 25% water change weekly. Make sure that a gravel vacuum is used to remove all waste and uneaten food. Pick a day to clean and stick to it! If you're unsure how to properly clean a tank, refer to the video to the right. Although he's cleaning a goldfish tank, the same concepts will apply to your aquarium of breeding convicts.

A pair of convict cichlids.

A pair of convict cichlids.

Valuable Resources


Online Aquatic Communities

Want to show off your fish? Maybe you have an unusual question. These Forums can help:

Online Aquatic Supplies

If you're looking to find the best deals on supplies for your aquarium, these are my top two places online to purchase all your aquatic needs.

And that just about does it! You should be caught up and ready to go! Please leave any feedback or questions you may have. I'd be glad to help you out.


Wolfman on February 08, 2020:

As for me i would get a pair of bartrams bass,3 pumkinseed sunfish,2medium size loach catfish and1 single male pink convict cichlid.

Paula on November 12, 2018:

Hi i just got a pair of young convicks n my 55 gal one male one female got another female ..they have made the lg castle their spot i have two coryies and two angelfish until i set up tank of own.they seem ok n tank for now how many should i keep togetber for breeding ..pair for each tank ..????

Zach (author) from Colorado on February 26, 2015:

Marvelew - Thanks for the heads up on the typo. You should be fine with three breeding pairs in a fifty gallon tank, as long as you provide plenty of hiding places and decorations to break the field of view for the convicts. Things still might get aggressive, and with that size tank, be prepared to loose a lot of fry to the larger adults.

marvelew on February 26, 2015:

hey joe got a typo up on plecostomus section but other than that I loved it thanks man, and I have a fifty gallon tank do you think I might be able to have three breeding pairs of convicts

John Sarkis from Winter Haven, FL on June 10, 2012:

Hi Joe, and what an exceptional hub this is. I remember a long time ago my brother had two convicts. They bred and he didn't have to worry about anything for about 2 months or so, because, as you know the parents take care of their offspring---better than some humans I might add....

Voted up


Kathy from California on February 15, 2012:

Most interesting and beautiful creatures! I have never even heard of these before. Well done, thanks so much for sharing. Rated up and interesting.

dmsintexas on September 22, 2011:

Good hub! We had some pink convicts for a while...we had fun discovering the newly hatched fish. The kids were dismayed when they quickly disappeared!

american13 on September 22, 2011:

Convicts are one of the easiest cichlids to breed. I had a pair once they mated pretty quickly. The male got a bump on his head and the female after some weeks laid eggs in a flower pot. There were so many of them!

Zach (author) from Colorado on September 21, 2011:

RNMSN - I'm usually only into the larger fish, but when I used to work at a pet store, I found two male bettas that someone had dumped into the same cup. The one I chose to take home was really beat up and nearing death, but now he's a happy camper with long flowing blue fins. Surprisingly, he's two and a half years old now and seems to be doing great. It's hard not to want to fill up every aquarium! At one point, I had a 90, 65, 10 and 2.5 gallon tanks to maintain. Got to be quite time consuming. Good luck selling your's, craigslist is the way to go.

Barbara Bethard from Tucson, Az on September 21, 2011:

hey Joe! my Betta is a gorgeous red

and I had a cory too!! in fact the catfish are so cool, emeralds,albino and Julis they're cool

OK that's it, I Cannot fill that thing back up! a young lady called last night and hoperfully she will coe and take it home!! :)

Zach (author) from Colorado on September 21, 2011:

@RNMSN - I'm actually between large tanks myself at the time being. Moving them can get to be a pain. It's funny because all I have right now is a betta too. Well, a few dwarf corie catfish as well, but they all live happily in a 5 gallon tank. Thanks for reading and for the kind words.

@thebeast02 - Nothing scared my largest Convict male either. I had a 90 gallon with an oscar, JD and pleco. The convict was the ruler of the tank. For most people, breeding Cons is pretty pointless, but I was interested in breeding to get Marbled Convicts. They are pretty cool.

thebeast02 from Louisiana on September 20, 2011:

Great hub, I don't have any desire to breed convicts, but if I did, this would be extremely helpful. I do have 1 convict in my 55 gallon and he can definitely hold his own against the Jack Dempsey. They are neat little fish!

Barbara Bethard from Tucson, Az on September 20, 2011:

wonderful hub! cichlids were beyond me but I love the little ones 'specially the tetra group! sad...

just takes money eh?

had to dismantle the 45 gallon and put it on Craigs list :( dont you need another one? ha

oh well but I love my Betta :)

and welcome, welcome to HubPages! folks round here are the best :)

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