[tuh-lah-pee-uh, -ley-]
tilapia or St. Peter's fish, a spiny-finned freshwater fish of the family Cichlidae, native chiefly to Africa and the Middle East. Fish of the genera Oreochromis, Sarotherodon, and Tilapia, all commonly known as tilapias, have laterally compressed bodies like those of sunfish, are fast growing, and tolerate brackish water. True tilapias are nest brooders, but species of the other genera incubate their eggs orally; one or both parents carry them in their mouths until (and for a short period after) the young hatch. They are economically important as food fishes, both in their native regions and elsewhere, where they have been introduced or are grown on fish farms. The Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) may have been farmed in ancient Egypt, and the most commercially important tilapia of aquaculture are Oreochromis species and their hybrids. Tilapias have a mild-tasting flesh, but the skin has a bitter flavor. Tilapias are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Osteichthyes, order Perciformes, family Cichlidae.

Tilapia is the common name for nearly a hundred species of cichlid fishes from the tilapiine cichlid tribe. Tilapias inhabit a variety of fresh and, less commonly, brackish water habitats from shallow streams and ponds through to rivers, lakes, and estuaries. Most tilapias are omnivorous with a preference for soft aquatic vegetation and detritus. They have historically been of major importance in artisanal fishing in Africa and the Levant, and are of increasing importance in aquaculture around the world (see tilapia in aquaculture). Where tilapia have been deliberately or accidentally introduced, they have frequently become problematic invasive species (see tilapia as exotic species).


The common name tilapia is based on the name of the cichlid genus Tilapia, which is itself a latinisation of thiape, the Tswana word for "fish". The genus name and term was first introduced by Scottish zoologist Andrew Smith in 1840.

As they have been introduced globally for human consumption, tilapia often have specific names for them in various languages and dialects. Certain species of tilapia are sometimes called "St. Peter's fish." This term is taken from the account in the Christian Bible about the apostle Peter catching a fish that carried a shekel coin in its mouth. However, no species of fish is named in that passage of the Bible. While that name is also applied to Zeus faber, a marine fish not found in the area, one tilapia (Sarotherodon galilaeus galilaeus) is known to be found in Sea of Galilee where the account took place. This particular species is known to have been the target of small-scale artisanal fisheries in the area for thousands of years. In some Asian countries including the Philippines, large tilapia are often referred to as pla-pla while their smaller brethren are still referred to as tilapia. In Hebrew, tilapia are called amnoon (אמנון). In Arabic, tilapia are called bolty (بلطي ).


Tilapia has become the third most important fish in aquaculture after carps and salmonids, with production reaching 1,505,804 metric tons in 2002. Because of their large size, rapid growth, and palatability, a number of tilapiine cichlids are at the focus of major aquaculture efforts, specifically various species of Oreochromis, Sarotherodon, and Tilapia, collectively known colloquially as tilapias. Like other large fish, they are a good source of protein and a popular target for artisanal and commercial fisheries. Originally, the majority of such fisheries were in Africa, but accidental and deliberate introductions of tilapia into freshwater lakes in Asia have led to outdoor aquaculturing projects in countries with a tropical climate such as Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, and Indonesia. In temperate zone localities, tilapiine farming operations require energy to warm the water to the tropical temperatures these fish require. One method involves warming the water using waste heat from factories and power stations.

Non-indigenous populations

Tilapia have been used as biological controls for certain aquatic plant problems. They prefer a floating aquatic plant, duckweed (Lemna sp.) but also consume some filamentous alga In Kenya tilapia were introduced to control mosquitoes which were causing malaria. They consume mosquito larvae, consequently reducing the numbers of adult female mosquitoes, the vector of the disease (Petr 2000). These benefits are, however, frequently outweighed by the negative aspects of tilapia as invasive species.


The larger tilapias are generally not viewed as good community aquarium fish because they eat plants and tend to be very disruptive, digging up the substrate and fighting with other fish. The smaller west African species, such as Tilapia joka, and those species from the crater lakes of Cameroon are, by contrast, relatively popular. Conversely, in cichlid aquariums tilapias can be mixed well with non-territorial cichlids, armoured catfish, tinfoil barbs, garpike, and other robust but peaceful fish. Some species, including Tilapia buttikoferi, Tilapia rendalli, Tilapia joka, and the brackish-water Sarotherodon melanotheron melanotheron, are attractively patterned and decorative fish.



  • FAO Fishery Information, Data and Statistics Service (1993). "Aquaculture production (1985-1991)". FAO Fisheries Circular 815 20–21.
  • (2000): Interactions between fish and aquatic macrophytes in inland waters. A review. FAO Fisheries Technical Papers 396.
  • (1983): Tilapiine fishes of the genera Sarotherodon, Oreochromis and Danakilia. Published by the British Museum (Natural History), London. 583 pages. ISBN 0-565-00878-1

See also

External links

  • Aquaculture consulting firm specializing in tilapia project management

AquaSol, Inc.

  • Tilapia project at Australian Centre for Tropical Freshwater Research, James Cook University
  • Information on two tilapia pest species from the Australian Centre for Tropical Freshwater Research as PDF downloads:
  • Information on selecting, preparing and storing tilapia

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