Convict cichlids are popular fish for beginners because they are easy to raise and also fairly easy to breed. If you have never bred convict cichlids, however, you may not be familiar with their behaviors and you might not know whether they've laid eggs. There are telltale signs to watch for.
General Breeding Info
If you place a male and a female convict cichlid together in the same tank, the chances are good that the fish will spawn at some point. To increase the likelihood of spawning you may also purchase a group of juvenile convict cichlids and raise them together -- they should pair off naturally at some point. There are several ways to tell male convict cichlids apart from the females. Males of the species tend to grow slightly larger and develop more pointed dorsal and anal fins. Female convict cichlids are typically easy to identify by the dark spots on their dorsal fins. Females may also be more colorful than males.
If you know what to look for, observing your convict cichlids for pre-spawning cues should give you an idea when the first are likely to spawn. If you see these signs, it shouldn't be long before your fish lay eggs. One of the most obvious signs that your cichlids are about to breed is when their colors intensify. This may be more noticeable in the female since female convict cichlids typically take the lead in breeding, preparing a spawning site in the tank and enticing the male to join her there. The female will typically prepare a nesting site in a dark, secluded area of the tank by cleaning it and then guarding it until she is ready to spawn.
Once the female convict cichlid prepares the spawning site, she will guard it against other fish in the tank. When she is ready, the female will display her colors to the male, inviting him into her territory. After a successful mating, the female will lay up to 300 eggs and will immediately begin to guard them. At this point, the male convict cichlid will guard the perimeter of the territory, aggressively attacking any fish that come too near. If you witness some kind of courtship display followed by this type of guarding behavior, your convict cichlid has probably laid eggs. You may be able to see the eggs if the female laid them on a flat stone rather than in a cave or depression in the gravel.
Caring for Eggs
Convict cichlids are a biparental species, which means that both parents care for the eggs and fry after spawning. Though it is typically the female who guards and fans the eggs, both parents will be active in raising the fry. Convict cichlid eggs usually hatch within three to four days of spawning, and the fry will remain in a pit the female digs in the substrate for another few days until their yolk sacs are fully absorbed. Once the fry become free-swimming, the parents may begin to herd them around the tank. Though the parents will continue to guard their fry for several weeks, if there are other fish in the tank most of the fry will likely not survive. To increase the chances of raising fry to maturity, breed your convict cichlids in a separate tank.
Katherine Barrington has written on a variety of topics, from arts and crafts to pets, health and do-it-yourself projects. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English with a creative writing concentration from Marietta College.