Tilapia Fish: Characteristics, types, breeding and more….

Tilapia fish is the generic name for a group of fish of African origin, consisting of several species, some with economic interest, belonging to the Oreochromis genus.

Species with commercial interest are bred in professional fish farms in various parts of the world. They live mostly in tropical regions, where favorable conditions for reproduction and growth are met.

The Tilapia Fish’ General Characteristics

Considering that tilapia refers to a group of fish that is made up of several species, general characteristics can’t be specified in detail, since the most highlighting aspects of each species should be studied in depth.

However, in general terms it can be said that each tilapia fish, (regardless of species) is considered a creature that has a high potential in terms of development, presenting characteristics that classify them as fast growth fish in comparison with other species.

Among other highlights of tilapia fish as a genus, it’s worth mentioning that they tend to adapt positively to captivity, therefore the cultivation of these species doesn’t pose a risk to their population. It’s also worth mentioning that the scales of these species have high collagen content.

One of the aspects that stand out most within the characteristics of tilapia fish, relies on its great capacity to adapt to environments where other species of fish could not inhabit, considered to be of extreme conditions for other animals.

The Tilapia Fish’ Anatomy

Among other aspects immersed in the general descriptions, it should be noted that tilapia fish usually has an elongated laterally compressed body, which makes it similar to the snapper fish. In the same way in terms of their anatomy, it also worth mentioning their lower pharyngeal bones that merge into a single tooth-carrying structure.

It can also be said that tilapia fish have a group of muscle structures that allow the upper and lower pharyngeal bones to be used as a second set of very useful jaws when processing food. In this way, their body can process food between the «true jaws» and the «pharyngeal jaws».

Now, all this means that tilapia feed productively and efficiently so they have the ability to capture and process a wide variety of prey as food, and all this thanks to their conical teeth.

Among other highlights it can also be said that the tilapia fish have a relatively long dorsal fin, and a lateral line that usually lengthens towards the end of the dorsal fin can be easily distinguished along their body.

Let’s meet them

Main Species of Tilapia Fish

It should be noted that the genus tilapia consists of several species. In more specific terms these are three large species that make up this recognized and popular genre in trade.

Blue tilapia (Oreochromis aureus),

Blue tilapias are easy to recognize since they have swollen lips, which are quite large compared to other tilapia fish species. In the same way, they possess conical teeth pieces just as the rest of the genus.

Habitat and Distribution

Oreochromis aureus is native to Cameroon, Chad, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Senegal in tropical and subtropical areas of Africa and the Middle East. Since Tilapia Oreochromis aureus became a popular species for consumption, it has been introduced to many other parts or regions of the world, such as Southeast Asia and the Americas. Blue Tilapia, lives in both fresh and salt water, but is more common in freshwater.

Although it comes from tropical and subtropical areas it occurs at temperatures ranging from 8 to 30 degrees C.  They can tolerate a water temperature up to 41 degrees C (106 degrees F.

The Blue Tilapia, can adapt to different and varied types of habitats: in open water as it happens in America, (where governments cultivate them in reservoirs), as well as in densely populated environments or lakes (ponds) to fatten them. This type of Tilapia lives in lakes, streams, lagoons and reservoirs.

Blue Tilapia’s Anatomy

This species has a small size compared to other tilapia fish. Its mouth is protractile and extended, often surrounded by bulging lips while its jaws have cone form teeth. A rather noteworthy aspect of this fish, is given by its discontinuous sideline, and a frontal part that ends around at the end of the back, starting again two or three rows of scales below. Its hind limbs are elongated.

In terms of body color it worth pointing out, that blue tilapias have blue and green metallic tones, especially at the level of the ringleader. These nuances contrast with their light abdomen and the last portions of the fins and back, where a red tone is shown. Blue tilapias measure about 35 cm and weigh 3 kg.

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Nile Tilapia (Oreochromis Niloticus)


The Nile tilapias can live more than 10 years and reach a weight of 5 kg. Their  body shape is usually laterally compressed with an oval and deep shape, although it may vary depending on the environment.

This species is characterized by an interrupted lateral line with 30-34 cycloidal scales as well as terminal mouth and 20-26 licks at the bottom of the first gill arch. The caudal fin has 7-12 distinctive vertical stripes.

Breeding Nile Tilapia males have a red tone on the head as well dorsal and caudal fins. The teeth are set in series of 3 to 7 in the jaws, depending on the size of the specimen. The most distinctive characteristics of this species are the caudal fin’s regular and defined stripes, as well as the red tone of the reproductive male and the dark margin of the dorsal fin.

Habitat and Distribution

Nile tilapia is a tropical species that prefers to live in shallow waters. Although it is native to the Nile River basin, Oreochromis Niloticus is also common in the southeastern Middle East; on the Rivers Niger, Benue, Volta and Senegal, and Lakes Chad, Tanganyika, Albert, Edward and Kivu.


The lethal temperatures are: lower 11-12ºC and above 42ºC, while ideal temperatures range from 31 to 36ºC.

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Red Tilapia (Oreochromis sp)

This species, whose other scientific name is Oreochromis mossambicus, is a hybrid of the crossing of four species of Tilapia: three of them of African origin and a fourth Israeli. Red Tilapia are very aggressive within their territory, which defends against any other fish. Such aggressive behavior is one of their most distinctive habits.

However, it should be noted that this trait only occurs when the red tilapia fish is in its natural habitat, since several studies have indicated that in captivity they usually change their aggressive behavior.

In the same way it’s necessary to note that within this species there are some differences in appearance between the genera, since males usually have a larger size than females due to their accelerated growth rate

Habitat and Distribution

Red tilapias prefer rocky areas close to sandy ones although they can also inhabit underwater meadows. You can see them swimming between two waters near the coast.

here they are

How do Tilapias Reproduce?

Tilapias are known as very fertile and easily paired fish, which mature between 3-4 months of life. When the breeding season begins, the male makes a round nest at the bottom of the pond by wagging the tail from side to side. Then, he attracts the female to lay her eggs in the nest.

The male fertilizes the eggs and then the female collects them and cares for them in her mouth to protect them. After several weeks the eggs hatch into fry that start swimming but close to the mother’s mouth in case of danger. They abandoned the mother two weeks later.

The female can reproduce 3 or 4 times a year, laying up to 1,000 eggs at a time, which makes it easy to understand how a pond can be congested with tilapia breeding.

Another aspect worth mentioning is that all females of Oreochromis carry out maternal care, protecting the eggs (and then the larvae) in their mouth during the first days and even weeks of their lives. Most females of Oreochromis protect their young aggressively until several weeks after the fry swim freely.

Tilapia fish: tilapias' lyfe cycle

What Do Tilapias Feed On?

Tilapias are omnivorous animals, which feed on plants or vegetables and meat from other animals although their diet is mainly based on phytoplankton and a few other portions of zooplankton.

Once they reach their young hood, tilapias usually feed on a variety of prey, including copepods, invertebrate and other crustaceans that they can process thanks to the teeth they have.

Let’s watch how they feed them

How to Cultivate Tilapias?

Tilapias are fish of good taste and fast growth that can be grown in ponds, plastic vats or cages specially designed for this purpose.Nowadays their consumption, price and future prospects have increased significantly. In addition, aquaculture is today one of the most important food production activities in the world that is directly related to food security, especially in rural areas.

Tilapias withstand high densities, adverse environmental conditions, low oxygen concentrations, are able to use the food potential of the water where they live and can be genetically manipulated, i.e. varieties of tilapia can be produced from commonly known species that have better growths, taste, color and fish size.

Important aspects to consider for a successful tilapia crop.

Water source, quantity and quality.

A successful aquaculture project requires a good source of water which must be permanent throughout the year, flowing to the production units preferably through channels or pipes . Such a  source can be rivers, streams, natural springs, lakes, water eyes and last but not very safe, it would be the water from runoff from the rains.

In all cases, this water must be rich in oxygen, of good chemical quality, without contaminants (agrochemicals) and with the appropriate temperature for tilapia which is at 20 to 32 ° C. In some cases and depending on the type of culture it is necessary to use additional oxygen sources such as paddle aerators, blowers and others.

Characteristics of the land.

Once the adequate water source has been found, it should be considered a suitable land for cultivation, which should be semi flat with some slope to facilitate drainage. As for its location it must be lower than the water source to be used by gravity, the area must be devoid of forests to avoid felling, it must be covered with weeds that can be easily removed.

The soil must be loamy so that it retains the water and losses by filtration are avoided. Sandy soils are not recommended for this activity unless geomembrane is used on the bottom of the pond. The location of the project must be in an area that allows to be monitored to prevent theft later, likewise, the site should not be at risk of flooding.

Types of Cultivation

Depending on the system, management, water availability and amount of fish per area, the crop can be considered in the following ways:

Extensive system:

Ideal for small subsistence projects, with low or no water replenishment, low planting density of 0.5 to 2 fish per m2, without using concentrated food.  The fish feed on plankton.

Semi-intensive system:

With a greater water exchange than the previous one, a greater number of fish per area, some concentrated feed is used and its density of sowing is 3 to 5 fish per m2. It’s considered a semi-commercial crop.

Intensive System:

Here the density of sowing is a little more than 6 to 20 fish per m2 and only concentrated food is used. The water exchanges are greater than 50% per day and the density of sowing is in the range of 21 to 50 fish per m2.  This system is ideal for purely commercial projects. They usually develop in concrete pools, earthen ponds and low volume cages.

Super intensive system:

This type of crop is purely commercial and industrial, planting densities are greater than 50 fish / m2 and are developed in cages, ponds and circular tub systems. This system (like the previous one), requires a permanent technical assistance and the exclusive use of concentrated feed in conjunction with a complete technical management. Water replenishments are normally given with 100 to 300% of the total water of the productive unit. This system is recommended more for culture in cages of low volume that allows the greater spare part.

Fingerlings’ Sowing

The fingerlings are selected, counted and packed in plastic bags with industrial oxygen, in orderto be transported by the producers to the farm where the crop will be grown. The fry should be transported in the morning preferably, preventing the water from being heated by the sun, which would kill the fish.

When arriving at the ponds, the bags should be left floating in the water for about 60 minutes until the temperatures are equalized and then allow the fry to come out of the bag to meet their new environment. If the acclimatization process isn’t  followed, there may be a massive death of the fry, produced by a «thermal shock», because the bag’s temperature is always greater than that of the recipient pond.


Tilapias feed initially on plankton, compensating the consumption of balanced feed, and this is why the pond is fertilized before sowing the fry.

The use of concentrated feed will depend on the type of crop that is used, and the food ration will be determined by the fish’s size, being in its initial stage (fish from 1 to 2 gr) with ground food or fine grained so that the fish can capture the food granule more easily and so on.

As the fish grows, the amount of food to be supplied and the size of the particle in the form of pellets must be increased and it cannot be in few or in large quantities. The concentrate should be supplied at least twice a day, starting early in the morning after sunrise and then at dusk. It isn’t advisable to feed the fish during rainy and cloudy days, since the lack of sunlight causes a decrease in dissolved oxygen in the water due to the photosynthetic process.

As a preventive measure to maintain the quality of the concentrated feed, it must be housed in dry, well ventilated places and avoid the presence of rodents.

In intensive and super intensive systems, the feeding is solely based on food specially formulated for the species, which varies in terms of percentage of protein and size of the particle for the different stages of growth.

Harvest and Markett

The harvest is the final stage of the crop and must be done at very early hours, to prevent the product from being damaged by high environmental temperatures and to give greater durability to the quality of the fish flesh. Depending on the target market, total or partial harvests can be made, depending on the quantity and frequency with which you want to have product available for commercialization.

The harvests are made when the fish have reached the appropriate weight or size for their consumption or sale. For the harvest they can be used cast nets, trawls, and ropes with hooks.

As a rule of management before harvest, the following procedure is recommended: lowering pond levels one night before, starting harvests early in the morning, using a ½ «mesh eye net, or replacing any type of tissue such as sarán , hand nets, etc.

After the harvest the fish are washed in clean water and then placed in ice water to reassure them, in some cases a cut is made in the gills still alive to cause death by exsanguination and thus a whiter meat is guaranteed. Finally, depending on the market, they can be filleted or only gutted and frozen and for this purpose ice is used in flakes or crushed in a ratio of 2: 1 (2 units of fish for one of ice), to be then transferred to the market .

 General Recommendations for the artificial feeding of tilapia

    •  You must offer the food to the fish at the same time and in the same way every day. Fish are habits organisms and will learn to wait for their artificial foods every day.
    •  It is better to divide the daily ration into several servings a day. It is recommended to provide food at least 2 times a day: morning (7-9 a.m.) and in the afternoon (3-4 p.m.). In this way the efficiency in the utilization of the food can be significantly improved.
    •  Take the time to observe and study the fish in the crop so you can get to know them. Some species are more active at certain times of the day and this is the best time to feed them.
    •  Calculate the amount of food for each crop well, based on the data obtained in the periodic sampling of the population.
    •  Buy the concentrated food, which you will spend in a month. The stored concentrate loses a lot of its nutritional value for a long time and problems can be generated with fungi, insects and rodents.
    •  Suspend feeding if the fish are «gaping» on the surface of the pond.
    •  It is preferable to offer the food when the water quality conditions are good or optimal. The amount of the food must be reduced or the crop must be suspended if the conditions are adverse.

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Properties of Tilapia

This delicious fish can make you maintain your ideal weight or keep you in shape, since it doesn’t have many calories and represents a good option for balanced diets.

It’s also an excellent source of protein, which will help you feel satiated, and in turn, help reduce the desire to eat between meals or reduce appetite and eat less of your dish.

Tilapia is also a fish very rich in omega 3, and like all others of its kind, it helps to keep the cholesterol and triglyceride values ​​low or stable and thus avoid risks of cardiovascular diseases.

Eating tilapia helps the digestive system, since it improves digestion, because thanks to its texture it can be digested quickly without being weighed. In addition, it has a low calorie content, which also allows it to be accompanied with all kinds of vegetables as a single but complete and light dish.

Benefits of Tilapia

Among the many benefits of Tilapia, a portion of this fish will provide enough protein for the body, helping to prevent any virus since it strengthens the immune system.

However, tilapia contains mercury, which is a very dangerous mineral for people’s health that affects the brain development of fetuses. If this is the case, then you should limit the consumption of this fish.

However, this doesn’t mean that you cannot eat tilapia during pregnancy, but you should limit its intake, since it does contain many nutrients that benefit the mother and baby despite the above. We invite you to read our article bonito fish, to learn about the risk of abusing in the conssumption of mercury in fish.

On the other hand, it has been discovered that tilapia has healing properties, on the skin of its scales, especially at the time of suffering burns, so it’s  is an interesting option, as a remedy for this type common injuries  in the kitchen of any housewife.

But if you are looking for more inducements to consume this fish, don’t forget about the large amounts of vitamin D that will contribute to your body.. You just have to find recipes that suit your tastes to cook this delicious and nutritious food. For example , you should try the following one

Baked Tilapia Fillets

If you want to cook tilapia, a delicious, healthy and easy recipe is: tilapia baked with vegetables.  You’ll find following, ingredients and steps to follow in this recipe, whose preparation time is 15 minutes.

Ingredients for a serving:

    • 1 piece of tilapia
    • 1 Sliced Potato
    • 1/3 chopped white onion
    • Small carrots
    • 1/3 red pepper cut into small pieces
    • 1/3 green pepper cut into small pieces
    • Salt
    • Pepper
    • Garlic salt
    • Olive oil

Steps to follow:

    • Spread olive oil in aluminum foil.
    • Add 6 slices of potatoes.
    • Add the carrot.
    • toss onion, salt and pepper.
    • Then, we toss the piece of tilapia and marinate it with salt, garlic salt and pepper.
    • We add the peppers.
    • A layer of potatoes and a little more pepper.

We close well and put in the oven for 40 minutes at 200 degrees and that’s it!

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