Native to West Africa, the Spotted Tilapia has been introduced in Florida, Arizona, Nevada, and California. In the U.S. it was first collected in 1974 in Florida. It has since rapidly became the most abundant fish in the canal system of Miami-Dade County and is now widespread south of Lake Okeechobee.
Spotted tilapia prefers slow-flowing canals, ponds, and lakes. This species feels most secure near structure, such as aquatic vegetation, vegetation lined shores or other cover. They are tolerant of brackish water and have rapidly expanded their range in the box-cut canals of South Florida and thrive in the warm springs of Nevada.
This cichlid sports a short rounded nose and three anal spines. While similar in body shape to native sunfish, they tend to be stouter. Coloration is light yellowish to greenish bronze with six to nine bars or spots on the sides. The tail fin is fan shaped. Frequently they have reddish markings on the chin or throat area. This tilapia can grow over a foot and up to three pounds.
Spotted tilapias are substrate spawners, preferring the clean underside of rocky surfaces to lay up to 400 bluish eggs. Like other cichlids, both parents guard the nesting area and young aggressively. They can spawn year around, but the cooler months between November and March account for most spawning activity. Spotted tilapias typically form breeding colonies.
This species is omnivorous, feeding on wide variety of food items, although mostly on detritus, diatoms, and algae. In productive environments, spotted tilapia also feed on phytoplankton.