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Tilapia Foods and Feeding

Tilapia feed on a wide range of food which makes them a very favorable fish to grow. Juvenile tilapia are omnivorous, meaning that they are opportunistic feeders that ingest both plants and animals without specialization. Adult tilapia are primarily herbivorous (vegetarians).

Tilapia can be raised successfully using the natural food that is available in farm ponds and other water bodies. The nutritional material in farm ponds can be enhanced with the addition of manures. Organic fertilizers introduce detrital material and promote the growth of plankton and algae. These materials can be consumed by tilapia and provide nutrition for their growth. Rural farmers using organic fertilizers can grow tilapia fingerlings to marketable size in 6 months.

Tilapia diets show differences depending on their life stage. The table outlines some of the dietary differences between fry, fingerlings, and adults.

Fry – newly hatched tilapia, 0.25 to 0.75 inches long Detritus & Neuston (organisms   that float on the top of water)
Fingerlings (Juvenile) 0.75 to 1.5 inches long Detritus & Periphyton (a complex mixture of algae,   cyanobacteria, heterotrophic microbes, and detritus that are attached to   submerged surfaces in aquatic ecosystems)
Adults Algae, bacteria, detritus, duckweed, other plants

Because tilapia feed on food sources that are lower on the food chain, they do not have issues with mercury concentration like higher-level predatory fish, such as swordfish, pike, halibut, and albacore. Tilapia have the potential to be a highly sustainable food resource.

The table outlines some of the differences in dietary habits for popular farmed tilapia groups.

Nile tilapia Phytoplankton and detritus
Mozambique tilapia Vegetation and bottom algae
Blue tilapia Zooplankton and detritus

When raising tilapia in tanks or intensive recirculating systems, natural foods will need to be supplemented or replaced with formulated foods. Newly hatched fry require smaller food particles. They can be fed a specially formulated powder that can meet their nutritional requirements at this crucial stage of growth. Fingerlings can be fed larger, formulated foods that contain digestible proteins and fats to promote growth.

As tilapia increase in size, they can be feed a pelleted diet that contain key nutrients such as proteins (amino acids), fats, minerals, and vitamins. Tilapia raised in tanks cultures benefit from having a consistent diet compared to tilapia that depend on natural foods in native water bodies.

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