Keeping Tilapia in aquariums

Tilapia species are ideal inhabitants for aquariums with other large semi-aggressive fish. They have a very interesting behavior, are hardy and easy to breed. (Some of the same qualities that made them popular farm fish.) This makes them very suitable to keep in any aquarium that is large enough to comfortably house them. The smaller tilapia species can be kept in a 40 gallon aquarium (150L) while the larger species require at least 70 gallon (250L) to do well.

Many tilapia species are hardy enough to be kept by beginners who never kept aquarium fish before. They also do well in garden ponds as long as the water doesn’t get too cold. In colder regions tilapia can only be kept in ponds during the warmest months of the year.  Most tilapias eat small fish and should not be kept with fish small enough to be considered food. Good tank mates include other similar sized cichlids and catfish.

Most tilapia species can be and are kept in aquariums by hobbyist around the world. The most common species in aquariums are Zebra tilapia / Tiger tilapia (Tilapia buttikoferi) and Spotted tilapia (Tilapia mariae).  Different species of tilapia have different requirements on the environment. You should therefore make sure that you know the preferences of the species you want to keep before getting the fish in question. You can learn more about keeping different true tilapia species by clicking the species name in the list below or by searching for information on the species online.   Remember, to create the perfect environment for your tilapia species you need to know its preferences and max size. It is not possible to give any general rules about how to make a perfect environment for all tilapia species and hybrids.

Using plants in tilapia aquariums can be problematic. This is due to the fact that many tilapia species eat plants and are fond of digging. This means that they uproot the plants they don’t eat. Most aquarists house tilapia with only a few hardy plants like java ferns, crinum and anubias species. Tilapias do appreciate a few plants even if they are not always nice to them. The rest of the aquarium is normally decorated using rocks, roots and other fixed decorations to create more hiding places for the tilapia (making them feel more secure) and to make the tank look more esthetically pleasing. (The first reason is the main reason; at least most aquarists will tell you so.) Cover the bottom of your aquarium with gravel or sand and include a few flat rocks in the setup. The flat rocks are used by some tilapia species to breed.

It is possible to house more than one tilapia fish together in the same aquarium. It is however advisable to create territorial borders when decorating the tank so that each fish can claim its own territory. This will help reduce aggression. Tilapia species can be very aggressive during the spawning period.  True tilapia fish are more aggressive then members of the genera Sarotherodon and Oreochromis which are often referred to as tilapia even though they aren’t really tilapias. These two genera often live in schools and are therefore more sociable.

Most tilapia species can adapt to a wide variety of different water conditions but it is still recommend that you research and mimic the water conditions preferred by your particular species. The fish will reward you for your work with more vibrant colors and frequent spawning, and the risk of poor health will decrease. Most tilapia species tolerate slightly acidic and slightly alkaline water. They do best between pH 6 and 8. The water temperature should always be kept above 23 degrees C / 74 degrees F.