Male vs Female Convict Cichlid: What Are The Differences?

convict cichlid
© Roberto Dani/Shutterstock.com

Written by Kathryn Dueck

Published: August 31, 2022

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Convict cichlids are in high demand among fish enthusiasts, garnering attention with their black-striped bodies and aggressive natures. These fish make unique and lively additions to any aquarium, though they may not get along with every potential tankmate. Although it may be difficult to tell males and females apart before they reach sexual maturity, eventually, the differences begin to manifest themselves. We will compare the male vs female convict cichlid to understand the unique features of each in this article.

Comparing a Male vs Female Convict Cichlid

Male convict cichlids are slightly larger than females.
Male Convict CichlidFemale Convict Cichlid
Size6 inches, 33-36 grams4.5 inches, 33-36 grams
AppearanceLarger nuchal hump; larger dorsal and anal fins; pointed finsSmaller or absent nuchal hump; smaller dorsal and anal fins; rounder fins
ColourGrey with black stripesGrey with black stripes, pink, white, gold
yellow, orange, or red spots on the belly at maturity
ReproductionSexually mature at 4-6 months
Fertilizes eggs after the female lays them
Sexually mature at 4-6 months
Lays up to 300 eggs
BehaviorAggressiveAggressive

The 5 Key Differences Between a Male and a Female Convict Cichlid

Convict cichlids are sexually dimorphic, meaning there are significant, visible differences between the sexes. Below you will find the 5 key differences between male and female convict cichlids, including size, appearance, color, reproduction, and behavior.

Male vs Female Convict Cichlid: Size

Male Pink Convict Cichlid against a black background

Male convict cichlids are larger than females, measuring up to 6 inches in length.

©Timmy Toucan – Public Domain

Compared to other types of cichlids, convict cichlids are fairly small fish, though still large in terms of aquarium pets. Male and female convicts differ somewhat in size. Males are larger, typically growing up to 6 inches in length. Some especially large specimens may exceed this measurement. Females usually don’t get above 4.5 inches in length, though some have been measured at 5 inches. Despite the difference in their sizes, the males and females of this species have little disparity in terms of weight. Either sex can weigh between 33-36 grams (1.2-1.3 ounces).

Male vs Female Convict Cichlid: Appearance

Male and female convict cichlids differ in appearance beyond the disparity in their sizes. Nuchal humps (forehead protuberances) may or may not appear on a given individual. Males typically have noticeable nuchal humps, though not every male has one. Females’ nuchal humps are usually smaller or nonexistent.

There are also differences between the sexes’ dorsal and anal fins. Males’ fins tend to be longer, larger, and more pointed than those of females. Females’ fins tend to be smaller and rounder in shape. This difference may have to do with the male’s need to utilize greater speed and power to defend its territory. Males also often have spots on their fins.

Male vs Female Convict Cichlid: Color

Convict or zebra cichlids earned their name because of the signature black stripes crossing their bodies. Both males and females begin life with these black stripes set against a grey background. However, as they mature, females may change color. While males usually retain the zebra striping throughout their lives, females may acquire a pink, white, or gold coloration. As they reach sexual maturity, yellow, orange, or red spots will appear on their abdomens. Convict cichlids are unusual because females are more colorful than males.

Male vs Female Convict Cichlid: Reproduction

Female convict cichlids can lay up to 300 eggs at a time.

©Deanpemberton / Creative Commons – Original

Convict cichlids usually reach sexual maturity by 6 months of age, though some may reach it by 4 months. Like many other cichlids, convict cichlids are monogamous, taking only one mate. Prior to spawning, the male and female excavate a cave or crevice under a large rock. Here, they spawn.

Females lay up to 300 eggs at one time. Both the female and male will guard the eggs and fan them with their fins to provide ample oxygen. The eggs typically hatch about 72 hours after fertilization; the fries are able to swim on their own after another 72 hours.

Male vs Female Convict Cichlid: Behavior

Like most cichlids, convict cichlids are aggressive by nature. Males are typically more aggressive than females, ardently defending their territory and fighting for potential mates. A tank containing 2 male convict cichlids will be prone to more battles over territory and a higher possibility of injured inhabitants.

Similarly, females can be aggressive toward one another, as they are in competition for mates. Females are especially territorial when defending their fry. It is possible for convict cichlids to live in groups, but they must have ample space in their tank.

Convict Cichlids: Habitat

Convict cichlids make their home along the western and eastern coasts of Central America. Countries hosting this unique species include Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama, and El Salvador. Convicts are freshwater fish inhabiting lakes and rivers, preferring habitats with moderate currents. They enjoy hiding among rocks, roots, and driftwood when not searching for food or mates. Oddly, Australia is also home to populations of convict cichlids, though they aren’t widespread in this country.

Though this species is aggressive and predatory in its own right, it faces threats from a number of other animals, including other fish, birds of prey, and humans. In turn, convict cichlids prey on small fish, insects like mosquitoes, and insect larvae. They also consume plant matter.

Convict Cichlids: Lifespan

Convict cichlids can live as long as 8-10 years. With the proper care and genetics, some individuals may live even longer. Fish lacking the necessary care may not reach the lower end of their natural lifespan, so diligence is needed.

Convicts may suffer from a number of common fish diseases like ich and fin rot. Ich, or white spot disease, is a parasitic condition causing white spots to appear on the fins, body, and gills. Stress may cause or worsen it, especially in aquarium fish. Fin rot is a common bacterial disease causing fins to appear ragged or discolored. Dirty water is usually the cause.

Convict Cichlids: Pet Care

A beautifully decorated wall-mounted aquarium

Convict cichlids need at least a 30-gallon aquarium with a water temperature of 70-82°F.

©iStock.com/Leonid Eremeychuk

Convict cichlids are fairly easy to care for and make good pets for beginners, though potential pet owners should research their needs to ensure they can provide the best care. In terms of an aquarium, convicts need both space to swim and places to hide. A tank with at least a 30-gallon capacity is necessary to keep this species happy and healthy. For more than 2 convict cichlids, a larger tank should be used. This will help reduce aggression and territorial behavior.

Convict cichlids are hardy fish that can endure a range of conditions, but the ideal pH level is 6.5 to 8 with a water hardness of 10-15 dH. A water temperature of 70-82°F (21-27°C) is optimal. Because these fish enjoy digging and rooting, a sandy substrate is best combined with sturdy plants, rocks, and driftwood. A mild current will contribute significantly to their happiness.

As omnivores, convict cichlids eat a variety of foods. Fish flakes or fresh or frozen fish food will provide a good nutritional foundation for any pet fish. Owners may also feed their convicts live foods like brine shrimp or bloodworms. These fish will eat just about anything, so owners should be discerning regarding what they put into the tank. Check out this guide for tips on how to care for your pet convict cichlid,

For a lively and visually attractive addition to your fish tank, the convict cichlid, both male and female, is an excellent option.


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About the Author

Kathryn Dueck is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on wildlife, dogs, and geography. Kathryn holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Biblical and Theological Studies, which she earned in 2023. In addition to volunteering at an animal shelter, Kathryn has worked for several months as a trainee dog groomer. A resident of Manitoba, Canada, Kathryn loves playing with her dog, writing fiction, and hiking.

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