What Is A Tilapia – The Full Breakdown of This Interesting Fish

By Get Fishing •  Published: 04/09/23 •  6 min read

“Tilapia” is an umbrella term for almost one hundred species of cichlid. There’s a large variety of characteristics in these species, but most Tilapia have a similar appearance and taste. They are popular across many cultures as a low-cost and delicious food item.

What is a Tilapia

What is a Tilapia? 


Tilapia is a freshwater fish that has spread throughout the world and, in some places, is considered invasive. Tilapia is a common name for an entire group of cichlids, species popular as food, game, and hobby fish. They are popular fish for aquaculture (fish farming). 

Why is it Called a Tilapia?

The word Tilapia is derived from tlhapi, the Tswana word for “fish.” It’s the perfect name for a huge family of similar fish that can be separated with scientific accuracy, but share enough similarities to be considered one big group.

What Type of Fish is a Tilapia? 

Tilapia are freshwater fish that can sometimes handle brackish waters depending where they live. They thrive in warm waters and are therefore considered invasive in some areas of the world. 

What Does a Tilapia Look Like?

Tilapia really vary when it comes to physical characteristics. Cichlids come in so many different shapes, sizes, and colors depending on where they’re found. However, most have compressed and rounded bodies – like many panfish species like Bluegills. A Tilapia’s mouth stands out in a sort of pout, protruding outward and giving them a swollen-lipped appearance. 

One thing that makes this group of fish stand out is their jaw structure. They have both a “true jaw” and “pharyngeal jaw.” Their teeth are conical shaped. 

Tilapia Habitat

These fish love warm waters, so you can find them in almost any water source with higher temps. This includes streams, rivers, lakes, ponds, and even salinated water sources (small seas, usually landlocked). They can withstand brackish water and are a hardy group of fish that adapt quickly. Tilapia are native only to Africa, but they’ve spread throughout the world due to their mild taste, quick growth, and low cost. 

Where Can I Find Tilapia? 

Most Tilapia in the US can be found in aquaculture farms, being raised as a food source. However, they have also been released into water sources that are warmer and they thrive there. Florida, Texas, and other southern states have small populations of Tilapia. They can also be found in Arizona, where they’re used as a control method to combat algal growth. 

One of the more common and popular species of Tilapia found in the US is the Mayan cichlid. They prefer brackish, hypoxic, or warm waters and therefore call parts of South Florida home.

What Do Tilapia Eat? 

Tilapia naturally feed on algae. In aquaculture, they’re usually raised on soybean or corn meal to promote growth and size. Water sources populated with a healthy amount of vegetation and algae will attract this species. 

How to Catch a Tilapia? 

Tilapia can be a real challenge to catch, making them an interesting game fish. Since they don’t go after the “usual” prey – insects, smaller fish, etc. – and are herbivores, you’ll need to get creative. 

Successfully catching Tilapia is all about the right gear and bait. First, skip the bait shop and hit up the grocery store. Anglers have found that they’re able to lure Tilapia with corn, peas, or even pieces of bread. 

Therefore, live bait rigs will be useless on this fishing excursion. Instead, make sure you’re carrying light gear (Tilapia are on the smaller side) with tackle that can withstand weeds and heavy vegetation.

Let’s take a closer look at gear made for Tilapia fishing.

Best Fishing Rod for Tilapia

13 Fishing Defy Black Spinning Rod

13 Fishing Defy Black Spinning Rod

$59.99 Buy Now Disclaimer – This website uses affiliate links and get a small commission at no additional cost to you.

We highly suggest using the Medium Light 13 Fishing Defy Black rod when going after Tilapia. These fish aren’t hard hitters, so you don’t need to worry about heavy gear. The Defy Black is a rod made for sensation, so you’ll be able to feel the smallest nibble on your line. Fishermen who have used the Defy Black are more than happy with its versatility and sensitive touch.

Best Fishing Reel for Tilapia

Shimano Nasci Spinning Reel

Shimano Nasci Spinning Reel

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The Shimano Nasci 1000 is a spinning reel that holds up against hardy outdoor use. It’s an affordable option that’s great for both salt and freshwater. Shimano has designed this reel to be well-balanced, but smooth in pulling in line.  

Best Fishing Line for Tilapia

Zebco Omniflex Monofilament Fishing Line

Zebco Omniflex Monofilament Fishing Line

My go-to Monofilament line for anything other than 2lb test. It's always available and super cheap. Buy Now Disclaimer – This website uses affiliate links and get a small commission at no additional cost to you.

Because Tilapia vary in size, but don’t get massive, you can use anywhere from a 4 to 8lb monofilament line. This size guarantees you’ll be able to keep a larger size Tilapia on the line, but won’t need the support of an abrasion-resistant focused line. Pair the 4 to 8lb line with a #4 hook. 

How Big Do Tilapia Get?

Tilapia can reach 10 lbs in weight, especially on farms. However, most Tilapia average in the 1.5 – 2.5lb range. 

How Fast Do Tilapia Grow?

Part of what makes them a favorite in aquaculture is how quickly these fish grow. Within 240 days, Tilapia can reach over 1lb in weight. They grow roughly 2 inches per week depending on the type (as juvenile fish) or 3 inches per month (as adults). 

What is the World Record Tilapia Fish?

The following Tilapia are three of the most sought after in the fishing world. Here are their record sizes: 

What is the Lifespan of a Tilapia

Tilapia, on average, can live up to 10 years of age, especially as hobby fish.

Are Tilapia Good to Eat?

Yes, Tilapia are some of the most sought-after food fish due to their pleasantly mild taste and flaky flesh. Tilapia are considered a good source of protein that is also low in sodium, calories, and total fat. 

Do Tilapia Reproduce?

tilapia in a net

All cichlids are able to reproduce and practice mouthbrooding. Parent fish will hold the fry in their mouth to protect them from predators until they reach an appropriate size and age to set off on their own.

Are Tilapia Invasive?

In some parts of the world, specifically areas with warm waters, Tilapia are considered invasive. These fish adapt quickly to their surroundings and, because they’re vegetarian, can almost always find enough of a food source to thrive. Australia in particular considers this family of fish invasive. Introduction of Tilapia can happen intentionally or accidentally.


The group of fish known as Tilapia are some of the favorites in the world, and for good reason. Whether you’re looking for a new hobby, a challenging catch, or a cheap but delicious dinner, Tilapia are a great option. Happy fishing!

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