Convict cichlid, Zebra cichlid
The convict cichlid is one of few native shes
left in Lago de Atitlàn. It is a moderately elon-
gated, laterally compressed sh with an oval
body shape. The body is white to blue grey, with a grey head and eight or nine dark verti-cal bars across the body. The belly may haveorange or pink scales.Males grow to 15 cm/6 in, females to 12 cm/
5 in. Males generally have longer, more ow
ing dorsal and anal ns, a steeper forehead
and sometimes a head hump. Females have
a rounder belly prole and are usually more
colourful, especially during spawning season, when they develop a yellow-orange belly toattract their young.
Habitat and life cycle
The convict cichlid is found within
Central America from Lake Atitlànand Lake Amatitlan in Guatemala south to lakes in El Salvador, Costa
Rica and Panama.
rocky lake habitat,formed by volcaniccraters, providesdeep, steep, rocky sides and hard,alkaline water.
Life in the Lake
The convict cichlid stays close to cover likeroots, rocks and overhanging banks. Like
most Central American cichlids, it is very
territorial and aggressive. It is omnivorous,
feeding on worms, crustaceans, insects, sh
and plant matter.Males and females form strong pair bonds,pairing off after a mating dance. Bothparents dig a pit in the gravel around theirchosen nest site, which is usually a smallcave or grotto. Spawns range from 50–100
eggs for sh less than a year old while older
pairs may lay 300 eggs or more. Once fertil-ized, eggs are guarded by both parents.Females fan oxygenated water over them while males patrol the outskirts of theterritory, chasing away intruders.The eggs hatch in about 3 days. The wriggling larvae may be moved by the parents to vari-ous pits dug in the lake bottom. A week later,the fry are free-swimming, but parents care
for them for another 3-4 weeks. Convict
cichlids are tireless parents, frequently exhibiting the following behaviours:
: Both parents guard the fry, withthe female staying closer to the fry while themale patrols the perimeter.
Fry retrieval and cleaning
: If a fry straystoo far from the group, a parent will swimto it, take the fry in its mouth and return itto the school. Parents also clean fry by tak-ing them in their mouths and “chewing” a bit before spitting them back out.
Fin-digging and leaf-turning
: Parents stirup food for the fry by wriggling in the gravel.They also turn over leaf litter on the bottomto expose invertebrate food items living onthe undersides.
Because the convict cichlid is veryhardy, thrives in almost any waterconditions, is easy to breed incaptivity and exhibits remarkableparental behaviour, it is one of themost popular cichlids for aquariumhobbyists.