Freshwater Fish

Tilapia fish in the aquarium: Care guide

Join us and don’t miss this beginner’s guide on the basic care of tilapia fish. We show you step by step the fundamental knowledge to successfully care for your fish.

Several of the reasons tilapia are such a popular fish with aquarists around the world is that they are robust, adaptable, and can eat just about anything.

They have a very interesting behavior, they are resistant and easy to breed. These traits make it an excellent aquarium fish, provided you have a large enough tank.

Many species of tilapia are hardy enough to be kept by beginners who have never had aquarium fish before.

It can also be kept in outdoor ponds as long as the water does not get too cold. Most species are sensitive to cold and can only be housed outdoors during the warmer months of the year unless they live in the tropics.

Tilapia fish

Tilapia is the common name used to refer to the fish of the genus Oreochromis composed of several species from Africa.

All the fish belonging to this group are collectively identified as having the same characteristics and being native to the rivers of Africa.

They are basically a type of cichlid and among the most popular species of this group are the Blue Tilapia (Oreochromis aureus), the Red Tilapia (Oreochromis mossambicus) and the Nile Tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus).

Pond farming of tilapia has been around for thousands of years, when the ancient Egyptians began keeping these fish in ponds along the Nile.

They are easy to maintain without requiring a lot of attention, making them popular with beginners tofreshwater fish, as some common bugs are unlikely to harm them.

Tilapias in the aquarium

Different species of tilapia have different requirements in the environment. The species most commonly kept in aquariums are the zebra/tiger tilapia (T. buttikoferi) and the spotted tilapia (Tilapia mariae).

To create the perfect aquarium, you need to know more about the natural habitat of the specific species you are interested in preserving. It is impossible to provide guidelines that are valid for all types of tilapia.

Before buying fish for your aquarium it is also very important to find out about their temperament and maximum size.

The smallest species can be housed in 150-litre tanks, while larger tilapias will require at least 250 litres. It is also important to note that it is more difficult to maintain water quality in a small aquarium than in a large one.

An experienced aquarist might be able to house them in a fairly small aquarium, but if you are a beginner you should always go for a tank larger than the absolute minimum as it will give you a margin of safety.

Aquarium water

Most species will tolerate both acidic and alkaline waters, with a pH between 6 and 8 being best. Poor water quality will make fish more prone to disease.

The recommended water temperature is 28-30 C. The growth rate will drop dramatically if the water is colder than 20 degrees C and the fish will normally start to die at around 10 C.

Two key elements in water management are aeration and waste removal. This is normally achieved through continuous or frequent water changes, as this will dilute the waste and also provide the water with dissolved oxygen.

Plants and tilapias

Using plants in a tilapia aquarium can be problematic because many species eat plants and also like to dig. This means that they uproot plants that they do not eat.

If you are willing to risk the lives of a few plants, your pet will greatly appreciate it. Choose cheap, hardy plants, and cover their roots with rocks to prevent them from being dug up.

Examples of plant types that have been successfully kept with tilapia in aquaria include Java Fern, Anubias, Crinum, and some species of Cryptocoryne and anubias.

Tank decoration

The rest of the aquarium is usually decorated with rocks, roots, and other types of fixed decorations to create hiding places for the tilapia. This makes them feel more secure and also makes the tank look nicer.

Line the bottom of your aquarium with gravel or sand and include some flat rocks in the setup. Flat rocks are used by some species to reproduce.

Tilapia feeding

Tilapias have an omnivorous diet, allowing them to subsist on a wide range of aquarium foods.

They lean more towards plant matter, so you should include green foods in their diet. This can include nori seaweed, available at pet stores and specialty stores, and spirulina-based flake or pellet foods.

It also likes the occasional animal food, such as brine shrimp or bloodworms. You can buy them live or frozen at many pet stores.

Compatibility with other fish

Tilapia species are ideal aquarium inhabitants with other large semi-aggressive fish. They can be combined with catfish, barbel and semi-aggressive cichlids.

Most eat small fish and therefore should not be kept in the aquarium with fish small enough to be considered food.

It is possible to house more than one tilapia fish together in the same aquarium, but they are territorial, especially they can be very aggressive during the spawning period.

It is advisable to create territorial limits, natural borders when decorating the tank so that each fish can claim its own territory. This will help reduce aggression.

Tilapias in the genus Tilapia tend to be more territorial than members of the genera Sarotherodon and Oreochromis (these fish are still called tilapia for historical reasons). Sarotherodon and Oreochromis species tend to live in schools and are therefore more social and less territorial.

Tilapia in Aquarium Vs. Pond


It is easier to meticulously control the environment in a tank than in a pond, for example, in terms of water temperature, pH level, and oxygen content.

It is also easier to keep the tank free of birds and snails compared to a pond. Birds and snails can harbor parasites capable of infesting tilapia fish.

Feeding usually requires less work in tanks than in ponds.

In ponds where both males and females breed, uncontrolled breeding can easily become a problem. When tilapias are stocked in high-density aquariums, natural breeding behavior is disrupted. Adult fish can put more energy into growth when they don’t have to compete for food with their young.


Tilapia in ponds can make use of natural food, while tilapia farmed in aquariums do not have access to a natural food source. The food provided in the fish tank must be complete, for example, it must contain adequate amounts of all the necessary vitamins and minerals.

When kept in tanks, a high stocking density can create a stressful environment for the fish and therefore the risk of poor health is high. The risks will increase even more if the aquarist does not provide the fish with optimal water conditions and a satisfactory diet.

To strictly control the environment in the tank, you have to use really efficient pumps and aeration equipment that can be expensive to buy and run.

Conclusions about tilapia

Most tilapia species can adapt to a wide variety of different water conditions, but it is still recommended to 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 ill health will decrease.

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