Tilapia – An Important Group for Aquaculture

Tilapia are members of the Cichlids, a large, diverse group of fishes including the perches and wrasses. Although the tilapia are native to Africa, they have been introduced throughout the world for aquaculture purposes. Tilapia are hardy, prolific fish and are reputed to be the fish referred to by the biblical passages about the fish that fed the multitudes.

Favorable Aquaculture Characteristics

Tilapia are tolerant of stressful water conditions and are able to flourish in a variety of freshwater and brackish water environments. They are opportunistic feeders and can feed on a wide range of both plant and animal natural food sources. Tilapia are classified as warmwater aquaculture fish because they cannot tolerate water temperatures below 50° to 52° F for extended periods. Tilapia can be cultivated in high density in ponds, cages, or tanks.


Tilapia are a genus as shown in the following scientific classification.

Taxonomic classification of tilapia







View of tilapia

Image credit: opasstudio / 123RF Stock Photo

However, tilapia is a generic name that is applied to several genera Oreochromis, Sarotherodon and Tilapia that are important for aquaculture. Tilapia are similar in appearance to the sunfish or crappie, but they have an interrupted lateral line that is common in the Cichlids. They are distinguished by a long dorsal fin that is heavily spined along its forward edge.

During the second half of the twentieth century, tilapia emerged as an important farmed fish in tropical and subtropical areas. Outside of Africa, the most commercial viable tilapia belong to the genus Oreochromis. The most widely farmed species is the Nile tilapia, Oreochromis niloticus. This species was formerly known as Tilapia nilotica, which is indicative of some of the revision in taxonomic classification. Other species used in aquaculture include Blue tilapia (O. aureus), Mozambique tilapia (O. mossambicus) and Zanzibar tilapia (O. urolepis hornorum).
Nile Tilapia, Oreochromis niloticus






Source: Fishbase

Aquafarmers have created hybrid tilapia fish which are breed for enhancements, such as faster growth rates or larger fillet size.


Popma, Thomas and Michael Masser, Tilapia: Life History and Biology, Southern Region Aquaculture Center, Pub. No. 283, 4p.

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