Tilapia is a genus in the family Cichlidae. Tilapia species are erroneosly called Talapia or Telapia. All Tilapia cichlids originates from Africa and the Levant region in the Middle East, but wild Tilapia cichlids are today also found in other parts of the world, such as in Taiwan and Indonesia where the genus has been deliberately introduced. Tilapia is a popular food fish, and the fact that it grows rapidly and is easy to breed makes it even more desirable for the fish producers. In several languages (including English) species from two related genera named Sarotherodon and Oreochromis are often called Tilapia as well. The three genera Tilapia, Sarotherodon and Oreochromis all include popular food fish species.
As mentioned above, Tilapia cichlids have been deliberately introduced in several parts of the world to serve as food fish. In other parts of the world Tilapia cichlids have been introduced by irresponsible aquarists that have released their Tilapia cichlids into the wild, probably due to housing problems when the Tilapia grew to big for their aquariums. There are wild Tilapia found in Florida and Texas in the United States, and in several Australian states. Tilapia cichlids are tough and will easily survive in those warm environments. Many biologists fear that the Tilapia population will seriously disrupt the native ecosystems. Australia is particularly vulnerable and is already burdened with the consequences of many other foreign species that has established them selves on the continent.
As long as your aquarium is large enough, keeping Tilapia cichlids is easy. They are sturdy and will survive in many different water conditions. The ideal pH is in the 7.8-8.5 range and the preferred water temperature is from 72 to 82° F. A dH kept between 10 and 15 will be appreciated. Tilapia cichlids are rather aggressive, and if you want to keep them with other species you should pick species that are capable of fending for them selves. The fish should also be of similar size, since smaller fish will be considered prey or at least become bullied by the Tilapia cichlid. Tilapia cichlids have been successfully kept with other big and non-territorial cichlids, large catfish, garpikes and tinfoil barbs. Decorate the aquarium with gravel, rocks and plants. The Tilapia cichlid is easy to feed and will happily gulp down both meaty and vegetable based foods. You can use flake or tablets as a base, and supplement with plenty of Brine Shrimp, Earthworms, Mosquito larvae or other live foods.
Tilapia cichlids frequently spawn in aquariums. All Tilapia cichlids are mouthbrooders, and some species will create a nest at the bottom where the female deposits the eggs before the eggs are picked them up. In the wild, the nest is usually created in shallow parts of Lake Malawi where the water is richer in oxygen. A female Tilapia cichlid produces between 10 and 200 eggs in one batch. A lot of Tilapia species are male mouthbrooders, hence the male will pick up the eggs once he has fertilized them. By carrying the eggs in its mouth, the adult Tilapia cichlid can make sure that the eggs are sufficiently oxygenated and protect them from bacteria and fungus attacks. The mouthbrooding Tilapia cichlid will continuously run fresh water over the eggs and out through the gills. It is naturally also a good way of guarding the eggs from fish and other aquatic animals that would like to eat the offspring.
One of the more commonly kept Tilapia cichlid is the Zebra Tilapia (Buttikoferi Cichlidae). Just like the other Malawi cichlids, it is found in Lake Malawi. The Zebra Tilapia is however also naturally occurring in some of the African river systems. It is called Zebra Tilapia since its body is covered with a series of black and white vertical stripes. You will need at least a 75 gallon aquarium to comfortably house a Zebra Tilapia, since it can reach a maximal length of 12 inches. A young Zebra Tilapia is comparatively docile, but it will become more and more territorial and aggressive as it matures. It should therefore ideally be kept with other fish of similar size and temperament that can fend for them selves. Zebra Tilapia is often kept with other African cichlids, but species aquariums are also popular and convenient. If you like to keep Catfish with your Zebra Tilapia, an African catfish from the genus Synodontis is a good choice. Cover the bottom of the aquarium with medium sized gravel, and decorate with hardy plants and rocks. It is important to create a lot of good hiding places for the Zebra Tilapia. You should also decorate the aquarium in a way that makes it easy for the fish to claim their own territories. Natural borders are a good way to reduce fighting. A Zebra Tilapia will do well on a varied diet that includes both meaty and vegetable based foods. Zebra Tilapia is a female mouthbrooder, and the length of the brooding will depend on the water temperature. Zebra Tilapia cichlids are known to carry their offspring for many weeks if necessary.