The convict cichlid is often the first fish a budding aquarist breeds — they are almost impossible to keep from reproducing. Often the first signs that a convict cichlid family is underway will be the convicts taking over at least half of the tank, depending on how big it is and the other fish all cowering in the corners at the opposite end.
The convict cichlid is not a community tank fish under normal circumstances. When breeding this fish becomes an absolute terror, having no compunction about taking on fish twice its size or the hand of the aquarist if it comes too close. Males get long extensions to the dorsal and anal fins, and are generally larger. Females, when they are ready to breed, get a reddish glow to their stomachs.
The convict is available in a number of color varieties. Blackish-brown striped is the normal wild type. There is also something called the “pink convict,” which is a xanthic form and just as hardy and nasty as the normal color. Because the convict is so easy to breed, all of the fish seen in stores are commercially (or hobbyist) raised and there are many variations on the theme.
The convict is not a fussy eater, and will consume anything offered, and also that which is not, such as the fins of other fish. The convict should be provided with a significant amount of vegetable matter in its diet, which it will also obtain by chewing up any plants in the tank.
Every aquarist should keep the convict cichlid at least once. It is the easiest introduction to the world of cichlid behavior and parenting.