Blue Tilapia Species Overview, Care & Breeding Guide

Most of the world wrinkles their noses because it’s a “pest” to foreign ecosystems. But honestly, these fin babies deserve a lot of love for being so adjusting.

So, if you feel interested in this species, let’s dive right in!

What is a Blue Tilapia?

The blue tilapia is one of the most beginner-friendly freshwater fish for your aquarium because it literally has the bare minimum needs.

OriginNorth Africa, West Africa, Middle East
Scientific NameOreochromis aureus
Common NamesBlue tilapia, Israeli tilapia, Golden tilapia, Kurpertilapia, Blue kurper, Jordan St. Peter’s fish
IUCN Red List StatusLeast Concern
AppearanceBluish grey oval compressed body, pointed mouth, white belly, pink margined tail fins
SizeUp to 13-20 cm (5-8 in)
WeightUp to 5-6 lbs (2.3-2.7 kg)
LifespanUp to 5 years or more
TemperamentSchooling species, aggressive and territorial
Tank LevelPrimarily bottom-dwellers, occasionally mid-level
Water TemperatureComfortable within 68-86 °F (20-30 °C); Naturally can withstand extremes of 46-105 °F (8-41 °C)
pH Level7.2-8.2
Water Hardness10-25 dGH
Care LevelEasy
Minimum Tank SizeFor common-sized fish: 30 gallons for one; for larger specimens: 180 gallons for one
Tank EnvironmentSpacious tank, only sturdy plants, normal lighting, and sandy substrate
DietYoung fish – Omnivorous, Adult fish – Herbivorous
Tank MatesOwn species, semi-aggressive, similar-sized species

What is the Natural Habitat for Blue Tilapia?

Naturally, blue tilapia is found in various areas of West and North Africa. For instance, it has been found in the Lower Nile and Chad basins of Benue, the Senegal River, and the upper and middle Niger Rivers of Africa.

You’ll also see the fish in the Jordan Valley and other parts of Middle Eastern Asia or Eurasia.

In its native water bodies, the fish is also often spotted in small drainages, lakes, creeks, and streams of brackish or freshwater.

The fish has been introduced to many other areas in the world and has become an invasive species or potential pest.

California, Alabama, Colorado, Arkansas, Florida, Arizona, Kansas, Georgia, Nevada, Hawaii, Oklahoma, Idaho, Texas, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania are only a few of the affected areas.

Since the species can withstand a wide range of natural environments, it has negatively affected the fish, shrimp, mollusk, and vegetation of foreign areas.

It was introduced to foreign countries for the following reasons:

  • For stocking and experimental purposes
  • To naturally cross it with other species and create hybrids
  • As bait for predatory fish
  • As a source of food for humans
  • As aquatic plant control

However, they failed to consider the possibility of this species overpowering and damaging the existing ecosystem.

According to the 2009 assessment of The IUCN Red List Status of Threatened Species, this species was labeled Least Concern.

Which family do Blue Tilapia belong?

The species belongs to the Cichlidae family under the Perciformes order and is known by the binomial name Oreochromis aureus.

It is mainly popular in the aquarium trade by the name blue tilapia. It also got a bunch of other names like golden tilapia, Israeli tilapia, Kurpertilapia, blue kurper, and Jordan St. Peter’s fish.

But of course, it also has many other common names based on locality.

Fun Fact: Though blue tilapia is a freshwater fish, it can survive well in saltwater, especially in marine water.

How does a Blue Tilapia look?

Group of blue tilapia

Blue Tilapia has a combination of blue and grey on its body and is around the 6 inch mark. Now, if you want to get to know this fish better, let’s get on with the details here!

What is the Size of Blue Tilapia?

Commonly, the adult blue tilapia grows up to 13-20 cm (5-8 in) with an average weight of around 2.3-2.7 kg (5-6 lbs).

The biggest caught blue tilapia is reported 61 cm (24 in) in length and 9.57 lbs (4.34 kgs) in weight.

What is the Color of Blue Tilapia?

The blue tilapia sports a bluish-grey body and a clear white belly. The tail fin has a pink or red margin but has no dark stripe.

The fish has other color variants formed from selective breeding.

What are the Features of Blue Tilapia?

The adult blue tilapia has a pointed mouth and a bilaterally symmetrical oval deep and compressed body. The fish has joined spiny and soft dorsal fins that stretch until just a little before the tail fin begins.

The fish has several (3-5) rows of fine teeth on its jaw. The upper jaw protrudes. It also has fine pharyngeal teeth and 20-26 gill rakers.

The young fish has striped anal, dorsal, and caudal fins. The stripes on the dorsal fins are oblique, while those on the caudal fin are longitudinal.

The blue tilapia is often mistaken for Nile tilapia. But blue tilapia have no tail fin banding, unlike Nile tilapia. Blue males have a metallic blue breeding color, while Niles are red. And blues have a vermillion dorsal fin margin, unlike the black dorsal fin margin of Niles.

How are male and female Blue Tilapia different from each other?

This tilapia isn’t easy to differentiate sexually. And different farms, breeders, and organizations have different ways to tell them apart.

Most people follow the idea that males are bigger than females, but some males don’t grow to their best potential, while some females grow as large as males.

So, here are the most popular identification methods:

1. During the breeding season, the male fish head turns metallic blue, his dorsal fin edges show a vermillion hue, and his tail fin margins show pink pigmentation. But the dorsal and tail fin edges of the female fish show orange coloration.

In my experience, this coloration is not always consistent. The pigment may vary, leading to misidentification.

2. The adult male has two holes – anus and urogenital aperture. The mature female fish has three holes – anus, oviduct, and a urinary pore.

However, the size of these pores is so small that you can observe that clearly only under a microscope.

3. So the other way is to dry the fish’s genitals with paper towels and apply a high-contrast stain around the genital papilla while holding the fish with a soft net.

Next, investigate the papilla using a magnifying visor and bright lights. If you notice a dented region, that’s a female, and if there’s no dent, it’s a male.

How do Blue Tilapia behave in the fish tank?

Blue tilapia is pretty aggressive and territorial towards other species. It is usually seen in loose schools, but it can be hostile towards its own kind if several of them are housed in a small tank.

Compared to most cichlids, this species is only moderately aggressive. However, during mating season, they can be extremely aggressive and territorial.

What is the Lifespan of Blue Tilapia?

Usually, the blue tilapia lives up to 5 years, but it may live longer with proper care. The life of this fish depends a lot on your aquarium maintenance routine.

Author’s Note: Many people introduce tilapia to their domestic ponds to control toxic algae, green algae, and filamentous algae growth.

how to Take Care of Blue Tilapia?

Blue tilapia juveniles

Now, if you are interested in housing blue tilapias, let’s get right to the care guide here!

What is the recommended Tank Size for Blue Tilapia?

If you have a blue tilapia of the usual size (13-20 cm), a 30-gallon tank is enough for one, and a 65-gallon tank works for a pair. You can go bigger as you add more specimens. A community tank of this fish must be about a 125-gallon tank.

If your fish grows to be of unusually big size (about 50 cm or more), invest in a 180-gallon tank for one. You need to level up the size based on how many of them you have.

What is the Water Chemistry for Blue Tilapia?

Though the fish can survive in a range of water parameters, keep it in its best conditions by maintaining these levels.

  • pH Levels: 7.5-8.2
  • Water Temperature: 68-86 °F (20-30 °C)
  • Water Hardness: 10-25 dGH
  • Carbonate Hardness: 6-20 dKH
  • Ammonia: 0 ppm
  • Nitrite: 0 ppm
  • Nitrate: Below 20 ppm
  • Dissolved Oxygen: 5 to 8 mg/L

What Tank Environment should be there for Blue Tilapia?

Next, let’s see what else you must put inside your tank here!

Does Blue Tilapia need Substrate?

Use soft and fine sand to cover your aquarium bottom. This will mimic the natural habitats of the fish perfectly. The fish also enjoys moving the sand around and playing with it.

Does Blue Tilapia need Plants?

The fish has a poor reputation for uprooting and eating plants. So, it’s better to avoid using any sort of plant in the tank. If you want, you can use floating plants for aesthetic purposes.

If you don’t mind getting some plants destroyed, you can add them to give them shelter and to play around with.

For this, choose affordable plants and conceal the roots with heavy stones so the fish can’t uproot them.

Some compatible plants for this tank are Anubias, Cryptocryne, and Crinum.

What type of Lighting does Blue Tilapia need?

Always use normal lighting and even ensure access to natural lighting in the aquarium. This can speed up the growth of your blue tilapia.

What Décor is needed for Blue Tilapia?

You can use roots, branches, rocks, or caves as hiding spots for your blue tilapia. You can also add pipes big enough for the adult fish to hide in.

What Filtration does Blue Tilapia require?

Invest in a strong heavy-duty oxygenating filtration system. Regularly clean the filter media to keep it in its best shape and protect your pet fish from potential diseases.

What should be the Water Flow Rate for Blue Tilapia?

Go for a slow to moderate flow. Avoid strong and turbulent currents as they might disturb the swimming patterns of the fish.

Fish Care Tip: Though the fish can tolerate extreme water conditions, never neglect the fish intentionally. Otherwise, it will fall prey to sickness and won’t live long enough.

What does Blue Tilapia eat?

Tilapias are voracious eaters, and they eat just about everything in the wild and in the tank. To keep them healthy, feed them a balanced diet of high-quality live, frozen, or dried food.

The mature ones are usually herbivores, but they can adjust to any kind of diet you put them on. You can feed them different types of vegetables and fruits chopped into bite sizes.

But young ones need a varied omnivorous diet of the following:

  • Algae wafers
  • Cichlid pellets
  • Fish flakes
  • Copepods
  • Clacerons
  • Shrimps
  • Snails
  • Crustaceans
  • Chopped vegetables

Which Tank Mates can Blue Tilapia be kept with?

Compared to any other kind of tilapia, blue tilapias form the most peaceful schools among themselves. So, the best option is to form a species-specific tank for them.

But, if you want to build a tank for different kinds of tilapias, make sure you create enough space for them to have their own territory.

Other than that, some possible tank mates for them are:

  • Catfish of similar size
  • Barbs
  • Semi-aggressive cichlids
  • Bottom-dwelling fish: Like Corydoras catfish, as they generally stay away from the tilapia’s territories.

Which Tank Mates to Avoid with Blue Tilapia?

Some bad tank mates for blue tilapia are the following:

  • Small species (shrimps, snails, small fish): they’ll get preyed on
  • Extremely aggressive species: they’ll break out in a fight
  • Large species: they’ll eat your tilapias
  • Timid species: they’ll get harassed until they die

Which Common Diseases can Blue Tilapia Catch?

Blue tilapia, though hardy, may still get sick. They may get infected by the following diseases, so always be prepared to handle them!

Disease NameCausesSymptomsTreatment
IchParasitic InfectionFin fraying, grey or white patches, weakness, poor appetiteRaise water temperature, add ich medicine
Clinostomum spp.Parasitic InfectionYellow or white grubs on skin, skin hemorrhageGet rid of snail infestation, don’t let birds access the tank
Dactylogyrus spp.Parasitic InfectionDarkened skin, fin disintegration, excess mucus secretion, rapidly moving operculumGive formalin or hydrogen peroxide bath
Argulus sp.Parasitic InfectionSkin irritation, weakness, secondary infectionsTreat with organophosphates
Trichodina spp.Parasitic InfectionErratic swimming, itching, flashing, fin erosion, skin ulcer, gill hyperplasia, open operculumBathe the fish in saltwater, hydrogen peroxide, potassium permanganate, or formalin
Amyloodinium spp.Parasitic InfectionPoor appetite, flashing, itching, accumulated mucusGive your fish freshwater baths
Lernaea spp.Parasitic InfectionWhite spots with curly worms, flashing, itchingTreat with organophosphates
LeechesParasitic InfectionWeakness, anemia symptomsTreat with organophosphates
Fin rotBacterial InfectionFin disintegration, fraying, discoloring, and/or reddening, lethargy, poor appetiteImprove water quality, take out objects that may injure fish, add antibiotics
ColumnarisBacterial InfectionFlashing, small white spots, lethargy, poor appetiteImprove water quality, reduce stress, add antibiotics
StreptococcusBacterial InfectionEye lesions, eye hemorrhage, hemorrhage near mouth and fin base, redness near anus, abnormal swimming patterns, body bending, lethargy, abdominal dropsyOxygenate the water appropriately, drop water temperature, reduce crowds, fast the fish Add antibiotics only as a last resort (or it might suppress the signs only for a while to return again)

Can Blue Tilapia have Parasitic Diseases?

All kinds of tilapias are most susceptible to parasitic diseases. So, follow these tips to avoid it as much as you can.

  • Maintain a stable water environment
  • Keep the fish on a balanced diet
  • Don’t crowd the tank
  • Use separate apparatus for different tanks
  • Disinfect all tools regularly
  • Quarantine new fish before adding them to the main tank
  • Ensure snails and birds can’t access the tank
  • Avoid using brackish water

Quick Tip: Get your blue tilapias vaccinated by a vet to eliminate their chance of getting sick and reduce the possibility of the same for non-vaccinated ones.

How to breed a Blue Tilapia?

The blue tilapia being so adjustable to all conditions, can also breed in all kinds of environments. However, the brood might not survive till the end. So, to increase your chances for a successful breeding process till the end, follow these steps:

What type of Tank Preparation is required to breed Blue Tilapia?

In a 65-gallon tank, add soft sand substrate and flat rocks, and some vegetation. (Note: they may nibble on the plants).

Maintain a water temperature of 68-72 °F (20-22 °C) to induce mating. Any lower temperature range will reduce the chance of the fry’s survival.

Fish Conditioning & Mating

The blue tilapia takes 5-6 months to mature sexually. Though some mature early, wait until the specified time just to be sure.

You don’t need a bonded pair as the fish is not monogamous. Instead, keep one male with multiple females. The male will attract a female fish of choice by himself.

You must condition all the fish in a high-protein and filling diet. Take care of the female fish’s health, especially, because she may not eat for a while (will be explained later).

Introduce the pair to the breeding tank. The pair courts each other by tail-flapping and nipping. When the pair feels ready to mate, the male builds a nest for the female to lay her eggs.

The female lays about 160-2000 eggs in a single breeding session. The male fertilizes them, and the female takes the fertilized eggs away in her mouth down to the deeper levels of the tank while the male seeks another female to mate.

Incubation & Fry Development

The female keeps the fertilized eggs in her mouth until the eggs hatch and the fry grows to 1 cm (0.4 in) long. This is because she is a mouthbrooder, so for the entire time, she may not accept any food just to protect her eggs.

The eggs usually hatch after 70-90 hours. However, the incubation period often varies depending on the temperature range. It takes 13-14 days for a temperature range of 77-81 °F (25-27 °C). And at 84 °F (29 °C), it reduces to 8-10 days.

She releases the young swimmers about 6-10 days after the hatching. After that, they follow the mother fish around for 5 days.

If the juvenile fish feels any danger, they can enter the mother’s mouth whenever they want. After these 5 days, this close relationship naturally ends.

You can then feed the fry copepods and cladocerans and slowly move to bigger meals.

Breeding Tip: Though blue tilapias breed throughout the year, they breed the best from January to May. So, if there’s any issue in breeding, mimic these seasons.

What to look for while buying Blue Tilapia?

Since the blue tilapia can be sustained in wide water parameters, talk to your seller about their tank conditions. Try to mimic the same in your tank to avoid stressing the fish.

A word from FishInAquarium

The blue tilapia is a hardy fish that knows how to protect itself. This species will keep you entertained for hours… whether it’s the territorial fight among males or the mating rituals!

With that said, if you’re intrigued to get a few blue tilapia fingerlings, don’t forget to share this with other fish enthusiasts. And if you face any obstacles in this fishkeeping journey, mail us, and we’ll help you out in the best way possible!

Minnie B Miller - Professional aquarist and owner of FishInAquarium

About Minnie B Miller

Minnie B. Miller, a professional aquarist and owner of FishInAquarium, has over 8 years of expertise in fish breeding and care, gained through her roles at AquaticTX and Sea Lion Landing. Having honed her skills with various aquatic species, she is dedicated to empowering fellow enthusiasts by sharing her knowledge and experience.