Blue Tilapia are native to Africa and has become established in Texas and Florida and possibly Arizona, as a result of accidental releases from aquaculture operations. It is found in fertile lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, and canals and is saltwater tolerant. They prefer tropical environments with water temperatures over 75 degrees Fahrenheit and relatively intolerant of temperature below 50. Tilapia are primarily herbivores, but will occasionally consume zooplankton and small invertebrates.
Tilapia are compressed, deep bodied fish, similar to our native sunfish. Adults are generally a blue-gray along the back, fading to white on the belly. Sides may have vague irregular markings, or be unmarked. Dorsal and caudal fins have reddish borders. The spiny dorsal fin is joined with the soft dorsal fin. They may live over five years. Fish over 20 inches and approaching ten pounds are possible.
Spawning occurs when the water temperatures near 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Large circular nests are dug by the males in shallow water over a sandy bottom. Males lead passing females to the nest for courtship. After the eggs are laid and fertilized, the female takes the eggs into her mouth and swims off. The eggs are hatched in the female's mouth, over a period of three weeks or so, the female releases the fry occasionally to feed. When threatened they return to her mouth. This is referred to as mouth-brooding.
Blue Tilapia in Florida
Courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Appearance: Adults are blue-gray shading to white on the belly; borders of dorsal and caudal fins are edged with red or pink.
Habitat: Blue tilapia are established in central and south Florida with isolated populations further north, including in some inshore marine habitats. Native to north Africa and the Middle East.
Behavior: Males dig large nests with their mouths in the shallows. Females lay eggs and then, after fertilization, take the eggs into their mouths. Eggs hatch in her mouth. Fry are released to feed, but when threatened return to the mother's mouth. Tilapia eat plankton and small organisms living in or on bottom detritus.
State Record: 10 lbs (qualifying weight-no record). Big Catch: 18 inches or 3.75 lbs
Fishing Tips and Facts: Anglers use pieces of hot dogs, bread balls, dog food, or live worms. Bow anglers also target this species. They can be a very good eating fish; take as many as you like, but do not live release them.