Information Last Reviewed Spring 2007
Grey vertical bars present on body
Caudal fin may have vertical bars
Grey-blue coloration, darker above and white on belly
May display dark vertical bars on body
Dark and light spots alternating on posterior half of dorsal fin and upper margin vermilion or orange in coloration
White spots on proximal half of caudal fin and posterior portion of anal fin
Caudal fin with broad pink to red margin, anal fin light or with a few spots
Eye with red iris and crossed by a black bar
Broad pink to bright red distal margin on caudal fin
Breeding males exhibit intense bright metallic blue coloration on head, vermilion edge to dorsal fin, increased brightness of coloration on caudal fin, and blue-black chin and chest
Breeding females develop a lighter orange color on edges of dorsal and caudal fins
Maximum length– 37 cm
Blue tilapia is unlikely to be confused with native North American species but is similar to other introduced cichlids (Mossambique tilapia, Tilapia mossambica and Redbelly tilapia, T. zilli).
12–15 dorsal rays (as opposed to higher numbers in similar species)
Lower gill rakers 18-26, compared to 6-12 in Tilapia
Tilapia have little or no breeding coloration in males compared to Oreochromis
A schooling fish, excluding males in breeding condition
Similar to adults but more varied. Insects (Tendipedidae and Ceratopogonidae) and small crustraceans were more important for smaller (< 13 cm) fish
Long gut, 8.0-9.4 times standard length
In Florida high intrapopulation diet variation was observed using stable isotope analysis- indicating food was consumed from both the water column and sediment
May be able to shift feeding habits dependant on food sources available
In Alabama adult (15-22 cm TL) diet consisted primarily of phytoplankton
Other food items of lesser importance included Protozoa, Annelida, Formicidae, Rotifera, Nematoda, Oligochaeta, Trichoptera, Cladocera, Copepoda, Ostracoda, Diptera, inorganic remains, fry of blue tilapia, and unidentified eggs
Found to live up to 5 years and obtain a total length of 315 mm
Males grow faster than females
In native range sexual maturity occurs during second year
Size at first spawn in native habitat is 18-20 cm TL
In Alabama ovaries started to develop in some individuals only 50 days old and 10 cm in length
End of March to end of May in Israel
Begins end of April in US
Minimum spawning temperature 20-220 C, similar in both Israel25 and Alabama
Male establishes breeding territory by excavating substrate and detritus to make nest (nest typically 60 cm deep)
After nest construction male defends the nest against other males and establishes a territory approximately 2-3 meters in radius
Males attract females from schools and lead them back to nest
Eggs and milt are deposited in spawning pit (constructed by male)
Females exhibit mouth brooding behavior and immediately remove the eggs/milt from the spawning pit and leave the male’s territory
The male will then attempt to attract another female and will spawn with multiple females
After releasing young, a female will prepare to spawn again, if the temperature is suitable
2.0 X 3.0 mm when mature
There are typically several size classes of ova in ovaries at any given time
In females 12.8–16.8 cm, egg numbers varied from 64 to 655 per spawn in Alabama
A single female can hold up to 2000 eggs in her mouth
Hatching occurs approximately three days following oviposition
The female retains the young in her mouth subsequent to hatching for approx 13-14 days
After leaving the mother, young remain in tight school near mother for several days and will reenter the mouth if threatened
Has been able to successfully colonize a wide variety of environments including high and low flow areas
Inhabits shallow warmer water during day and moves to deeper water at night
Appear to prefer soft mud/muck substrate
Establish quickly in eutrophic lakes/reservoirs
Congregate in warm-water habitats from either artificial (power plants) or natural (thermal springs) sources during winter in United States
Adults could tolerate temperatures as low as 3 deg C for short time periods in Alabama
Young were affected at temperatures as low as 9 deg C and adults at 7 deg C in Alabama
Behavioral changes (reduced feeding) were seen between 13–16 deg C when acclimated to 28 deg C
In Israel, fingerlings began to die at 9–11 deg C, depending on acclimatization temperature
Death rate at 11 deg C was twice as high in freshwater as it was in 5-ppt seawater
Able to withstand low dissolved oxygen by utilizing atmospheric oxygen
Growth rates were similar for blue tilapia held at freshwater, 6.5, 10 and 15.5% NaCl, although mortality was higher at higher salt concentrations
Blue tilapia can spawn at 50% seawater, however survival of young is reduced
Can survive transfer from freshwater to 60-70 percent seawater
Can tolerate ammonia levels of 11 ppm at pH of 8 and 27 deg C
Israel, Lower Nile, West Africa
North American Distribution
Arizona- Colorado River drainage
Arkansas- lower Arkansas River
California- Colorado River drainage
Florida- multiple rivers, streams, lakes, and private ponds; considered the most widespread exotic in the state
Nevada- Muddy River
North Carolina- cooling impoundment
Oklahoma- North Canadian River drainage
Texas- several impoundments and Rio Grande, San Antonio and Guadalupe drainages
Probable Means of Introduction
Pennsylvania- Escape from an aquaculture facility and subsequent establishment in warm water effluent
For control of aquatic vegetation such as duckweed
Purposeful release into waterways by private citizens
Accidental escape from aquaculture facilities
Ability to spread rapidly and in large numbers in suitable habitat
In southwest United States and Florida, significant threat to native endemics in warmwater springs
Competition with native shads for food may have resulted in shad population declines in lakes and reservoirs in Florida and Texas
Competition with native cichlid species in Texas
Potential competition for nest sites with native centrarchids
Increased blue tilapia densities resulted in decreased largemouth bass populations in Texas, underlying cause unknown but attributed to either aggression or overcrowding
Dispersal of exotic diseases and parasites
Florida- introduction of blue tilapia has resulted in a substantial commercial fishery, providing jobs and increased revenue
Cold shock in situations where tilapia have colonized warm waters from thermal effluents
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