Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide


Tilapia zillii
(redbelly tilapia)



Tilapia zillii (redbelly tilapia)


  • Last modified
  • 08 November 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Host Animal
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Tilapia zillii
  • Preferred Common Name
  • redbelly tilapia
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Metazoa
  •     Phylum: Chordata
  •       Subphylum: Vertebrata
  •         Class: Actinopterygii
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • Redbelly tilapia is a species of fish that has been introduced globally, mainly for aquaculture purposes or as a food fish. Native to Africa and southwest Asia, it is a highly successful species, capable of outcompeti...

  • Principal Source
  • Draft datasheet under review

Don't need the entire report?

Generate a print friendly version containing only the sections you need.

Generate report


Top of page
Tilapia zillii (redbelly tilapia); adult. Lake Köyceğiz, Muğla, Turkey. September, 2013.
CaptionTilapia zillii (redbelly tilapia); adult. Lake Köyceğiz, Muğla, Turkey. September, 2013.
Copyright©Ali Serhan Tarkan-2013
Tilapia zillii (redbelly tilapia); adult. Lake Köyceğiz, Muğla, Turkey. September, 2013.
AdultTilapia zillii (redbelly tilapia); adult. Lake Köyceğiz, Muğla, Turkey. September, 2013.©Ali Serhan Tarkan-2013


Top of page

Preferred Scientific Name

  • Tilapia zillii (Gervais, 1848)

Preferred Common Name

  • redbelly tilapia

Other Scientific Names

  • Acerina zillei Gervais, 1848
  • Acerina zillii Gervais, 1848
  • Chromis andreae Günther, 1864
  • Chromis caeruleomaculatus (Rochebrune, 1880)
  • Chromis caeruleomaculatus Rochebrune, 1880
  • Chromis coeruleomaculatus Rochebrune, 1880
  • Chromis faidherbii Rochebrune, 1880
  • Chromis melanopleura (Duméril, 1861)
  • Chromis menzalensis Mitchell, 1895
  • Chromis mossambicus (non Peters, 1852)
  • Chromis niloticus (non Linnaeus, 1758)
  • Chromis tristrami (Günther, 1859)
  • Chromis zillii (Gervais, 1848)
  • Coptodon zillei (Gervais, 1848)
  • Coptodon zillii (Gervais, 1848)
  • Coptodus zillei (Gervais, 1848)
  • Coptodus zillii (Gervais, 1848)
  • Glyphisidon zillei (Gervais, 1848)
  • Glyphisidon zillii (Gervais, 1848)
  • Haligenes tristrami Günther, 1860
  • Sarotherodon zillei (Gervais, 1848)
  • Sarotherodon zillii Günther, 1862
  • Tilapia caeruleomaculatus (Rochebrune, 1880)
  • Tilapia christyi (non Boulenger, 1915)
  • Tilapia faidherbi (Rochebrune, 1880)
  • Tilapia melanopleura Duméril, 1861
  • Tilapia menzalensis (Mitchell, 1895)
  • Tilapia multiradiata Holly, 1928
  • Tilapia shariensis Fowler, 1949
  • Tilapia sparrmani multiradiata (Holly, 1928)
  • Tilapia sparrmanii (non Smith, 1840)
  • Tilapia tristrami (Günther, 1859)
  • Tilapia zillei (Gervais, 1848)
  • Tilapia zilli (Gervais, 1848)

International Common Names

  • English: cichlid; mango fish; St. Peter’s fish; zill's tilapia
  • Spanish: mojarra; mojarrita; tilapia
  • French: pastenague boulée

Local Common Names

  • Algeria: balti zillii; haderi; taferfara
  • Australia: zille’s cichlid
  • Burkina Faso: disiwulen; tegr-pere
  • Chad: bere; biare; biering; guring; sohn; tihil
  • Côte d'Ivoire: gbatchekede; kpro ibre; obrouyou
  • Finland: punavatsatilapia
  • Germany: zilles buntbarsch
  • Ghana: akpadi sila; akpadi sila; akpasila; akpasila; akpatsu; cichlid; didee; mango fish; silla
  • Israel: amnun matzui; amnun matzui
  • Japan: jiru-tirapia
  • Kenya: kido; kokine; loroto; ngege; redbelly tilapia; sili; zill’s tilapia
  • Mexico: mojarra; mojarrita; tilapia
  • Nigeria: bugu; epia; falga; garagaza; gargaza; ifunu; karfasa; karwa; mpupa; tome; tsokungi; ukuobu; wesafun
  • Philippines: zill’s tilapia
  • Senegal: njabb; pastenague boulée; waas; wass; wass gnoul
  • Sierra Leone: a-sannoh; gba gba ferah; ka-yainkain; ka-yalnkain; ngipie; ngorkei; tha thompo
  • Sudan: bulti; kuda
  • Tanzania: ngege; perege; sato
  • Turkey: tilapya
  • Uganda: engege; engege; erihere; isiswe; ngege
  • UK: redbelly tilapia
  • USA: redbelly tilapia; zill’s tilapia

Summary of Invasiveness

Top of page

Redbelly tilapia is a species of fish that has been introduced globally, mainly for aquaculture purposes or as a food fish. Native to Africa and southwest Asia, it is a highly successful species, capable of outcompeting both native and non-native species for food, habitat and spawning sites. Its ability to easily switch food sources allow for populations to continue to grow in the absence of a depleted food source (e.g. macrophytes in North Carolina). Redbelly tilapia may also compete with centrarchid fishes (sunfish) for nesting sites and through aggressive interactions it may alter the composition of fish communities. It is a voracious herbivore and may negatively impact plant density, decreasing abundance and altering the composition of native plants. This can then negatively affect native organisms that depend on such plants for spawning, protection or foraging (Spataru, 1978).

Specifically, redbelly tilapia is thought to have outcompeted or genetically subsumed two native species, Oreochromis variabilis and Oreochromis escuelentes. It is implicated with the decline of desert pupfish (Cyprinodon macularius) in the Salton Sea and can also hybridize with introduced Tilapia species.

Taxonomic Tree

Top of page
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Metazoa
  •         Phylum: Chordata
  •             Subphylum: Vertebrata
  •                 Class: Actinopterygii
  •                     Order: Perciformes
  •                         Family: Cichlidae
  •                             Genus: Tilapia
  •                                 Species: Tilapia zillii

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

Top of page

Tilapia zillii was first described by Gervais in 1848 and was given many synonyms throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century. Some sources recognize Coptodon zillii as the accepted name for the species following a molecular phylogenetic study by Dunz and Schliewen (2013).  


Top of page

Non-breeding individuals are dark olive on top and light olive to yellow-brown on the sides, often with an allochrous blue sheen. The chest is pinkish and lips are bright green. Breeding individuals are shiny dark green on the top and sides, red and black on the throat and belly, and have obvious vertical bands on the sides. Six to seven dark vertical bars cross two horizontal stripes on the body and caudal peduncle. Fins are olivaceous. They are covered in yellow spots with the dorsal and anal fins displaying an outline of a thin orange band. Caudal fins are often grey with pale interstices and dots covering the entire fin. Redbelly tilapia usually weigh 300 g and can be up to 40 cm in length with a total of 13 to 16 dorsal spines. Adults show a black spot outlined in yellow. Redbelly tilapia individuals that are from 2 to 14 cm standard length (SL) have an entirely yellow to grey caudal fin with no dots, developing a greyish caudal fin with dots with increasing size (Williams and Bonner, 2008; Froese and Pauly, 2014).


Top of page

Its native range includes tropical and subtropical Africa, and southwest Asia (Froese and Pauly, 2014).

Its non-native distribution includes Antigua and Barbuda, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guam, Iran, Japan, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mexico, New Caledonia, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Sri Lanka, Syria, Taiwan, Tanzania, Turkey, UK, USA, Australia, Fiji, Hawaii and Thailand (Froese and Pauly, 2014).

Distribution Table

Top of page

The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes

Sea Areas

Pacific, Western CentralPresentNativeFroese and Pauly, 2004


ChinaAbsent, formerly presentIntroduced1978Welcomme, 1988
IranPresentIntroducedCoad, 1995; Froese and Pauly, 2004
IsraelPresentNative Not invasive Pullin, 1988; Froese and Pauly, 2004
JapanPresentIntroduced1962Basiao and Taniguchi, 1984; Froese and Pauly, 2004
JordanPresentNative Not invasive Krupp and Schneider, 1989; Froese and Pauly, 2004
LebanonPresentNative Not invasive Krupp and Schneider, 1989; Froese and Pauly, 2004
MalaysiaAbsent, formerly presentIntroducedWohlfarth and Hulata, 1983; Froese and Pauly, 2004
PhilippinesPresentIntroduced1970Guerrero, 1997; Froese and Pauly, 2004
Saudi ArabiaPresentIntroducedBartley, 2006
SingaporePresentIntroducedNg et al., 1993
Sri LankaPresentIntroduced1969Pethiyagoda, 1991; Froese and Pauly, 2004
SyriaPresentIntroducedCoad, 1996; Froese and Pauly, 2004
TaiwanPresentIntroduced1963Shen, 1993; Froese and Pauly, 2004
ThailandPresentIntroduced1949Bartley, 2006
TurkeyLocalisedIntroduced1995Tarkan et al., 2014


AlgeriaPresentNative Not invasive Pellegrin, 1921
BeninPresentNative Not invasive Teugels and Thys, 2003; Froese and Pauly, 2004
CameroonPresentNative Not invasive Vivien, 1991
Central African RepublicPresentNative Not invasive Teugels and Thys, 2003; Froese and Pauly, 2004
ChadPresentNative Not invasive Teugels and Thys, 2003; Froese and Pauly, 2004
Congo Democratic RepublicPresentNative Not invasive Thys Audenaerde DFEvan den, 1964; Froese and Pauly, 2004
Côte d'IvoirePresentNative Not invasive Teugels et al., 1988; Froese and Pauly, 2004
EgyptPresentNative Not invasive Philippart and Ruwet, 1982; Froese and Pauly, 2004
EritreaPresentIntroduced1989Hillman, 1993; Froese and Pauly, 2004
EthiopiaPresentIntroduced1975Tedla and Meskel, 1981; Froese and Pauly, 2004
GambiaPresentFroese and Pauly, 2004
GhanaPresentNative Not invasive Teugels and Thys, 2003; Froese and Pauly, 2004
GuineaPresentNative Not invasive Teugels and Thys, 2003; Froese and Pauly, 2004
Guinea-BissauPresentNative Not invasive Paugy et al., 1994; Froese and Pauly, 2004
KenyaPresentNative Not invasive Seegers et al., 2003; Froese and Pauly, 2004
LiberiaPresentNative Not invasive Paugy et al., 1994; Froese and Pauly, 2004
MadagascarPresentIntroduced1955Welcomme, 1988; Froese and Pauly, 2004
MaliPresentNative Not invasive Teugels and Thys, 2003; Froese and Pauly, 2004
MauritaniaPresentNative Not invasive Mohamed Fall KO, 2005. Fishes of Mauritania. Unpublished compilation of K.O. Mohamed Fall
MauritiusPresentIntroduced1956Welcomme, 1988; Froese and Pauly, 2004
MoroccoPresentNative Not invasive Philippart and Ruwet, 1982; Froese and Pauly, 2004
NigerPresentNative Not invasive Teugels and Thys, 2003; Froese and Pauly, 2004
NigeriaPresentNative Not invasive Teugels and Thys, 2003; Froese and Pauly, 2004
SenegalPresentNative Not invasive Teugels and Thys, 2003; Froese and Pauly, 2004
Sierra LeonePresentNative Not invasive Kamara, 1977; Froese and Pauly, 2004
SudanPresentNative Not invasive Bailey, 1994; Froese and Pauly, 2004
TanzaniaPresentIntroduced1965Eccles, 1992; Froese and Pauly, 2004
TogoPresentNative Not invasive Teugels and Thys, 2003; Froese and Pauly, 2004
TunisiaPresentNative Not invasive Philippart and Ruwet, 1982; Froese and Pauly, 2004
UgandaPresentNative Not invasive Pullin, 1988; Froese and Pauly, 2004
Western SaharaPresentNative Not invasive Philippart and Ruwet, 1982; Froese and Pauly, 2004

North America

MexicoPresentIntroduced1945Welcomme, 1988; Froese and Pauly, 2004
USAPresentIntroduced1960-1969 Invasive Robins et al., 1991; Froese and Pauly, 2004Modification of natural benthic communities
-AlabamaAbsent, formerly presentIntroducedUSGSNAS, 2014
-ArizonaPresentIntroducedUSGSNAS, 2014
-ArkansasAbsent, formerly presentIntroducedUSGSNAS, 2014
-CaliforniaPresentIntroduced Invasive Costa-Pierce, 2003Modification of natural benthic communities
-FloridaEradicated1975Introduced Invasive Taylor et al., 1986Eradicated from a small borrow pit, about 0.2 hectares in size
-HawaiiPresentIntroduced1955Yamamoto, 1992; Froese and Pauly, 2004
-IdahoPresentIntroducedUSGSNAS, 2014
-NevadaAbsent, formerly presentIntroducedUSGSNAS, 2014
-North CarolinaPresentIntroduced Invasive USGSNAS, 2014Modification of natural benthic communities
-South CarolinaPresentIntroducedUSGSNAS, 2014
-TexasPresentIntroducedEdwards, 2001

Central America and Caribbean

Antigua and BarbudaPresentIntroduced1943Welcomme, 1988; Froese and Pauly, 2004


Russian FederationAbsent, formerly presentIntroducedBogutskaya and Naseka, 2002
UKPresentIntroduced1963Welcomme, 1988; Froese and Pauly, 2004


AustraliaPresentIntroducedHoese et al., 2006
FijiPresentIntroducedSeeto and Baldwin, 2010
GuamPresentIntroduced1956 Not invasive Welcomme, 1988; Froese and Pauly, 2004Economic/Livelihoods: Tilapia zillii has had a beneficial socio-economic impact on this location and has created a small recreational fishery
New CaledoniaPresentIntroduced1954Welcomme, 1988; Froese and Pauly, 2004

History of Introduction and Spread

Top of page

Redbelly tilapia was introduced to most locations by state agencies, private companies, universities or government based institutions; mainly for control of aquatic plants, mosquitoes, chrinomid midges, as forage or food fish or for aquaculture evaluation (Grabowoski et al., 1984; Courtenay and Robins, 1989). From the 1980s, it was often introduced as an aquaculture species, typically farmed in cages in open bodies of water. This has resulted in fish escapes when cages were damaged due to environmental forcing, such as storms, human actions, or hurricanes. There have been both authorized and illegal releases. For example, introductions into Dade County, Florida, probably resulted from escapes from nearby fish farms or aquarium releases (Hogg 1976a, b). Documented cases of redbelly tilapia introductions are usually reported because of both release and escape (ISSG, 2014). 


Top of page
Introduced toIntroduced fromYearReasonIntroduced byEstablished in wild throughReferencesNotes
Natural reproductionContinuous restocking
Antigua and Barbuda 1943 Yes Froese and Pauly (2014)
Australia North Africa   No Froese and Pauly (2014)
China Thailand 1978 No Froese and Pauly (2014)
Egypt Japan 1962 Yes Froese and Pauly (2014)
Eritrea Ethiopia 1989 Yes Froese and Pauly (2014)
Ethiopia Uganda 1975 Yes Froese and Pauly (2014)
Guam Hawaii 1956 Yes Froese and Pauly (2014)
Hawaii 1955 Yes Froese and Pauly (2014)
Hawaii Fiji 1957 No Froese and Pauly (2014)
Iran   Yes Froese and Pauly (2014)
Madagascar Mauritius 1956 Yes Froese and Pauly (2014)
Madagascar Kenya 1955 Yes Froese and Pauly (2014)
Malaysia   Froese and Pauly (2014)
Mexico USA 1945 Yes Froese and Pauly (2014)
New Caledonia Hawaii 1954 Yes Froese and Pauly (2014)
Philippines Israel 1970 Yes Froese and Pauly (2014)
Russian Federation   No Froese and Pauly (2014)
Saudi Arabia   Yes Froese and Pauly (2014)
Singapore   Froese and Pauly (2014)
Syria   Yes Froese and Pauly (2014)
Tanzania 1965 Yes Froese and Pauly (2014)
Thailand Malaysia 1949 Yes Froese and Pauly (2014)
Turkey 1995 Aquaculture (pathway cause)Tarkan et al. (2014)
UK 1963 Yes Froese and Pauly (2014)
USA 1960-1969 Yes Froese and Pauly (2014)

Risk of Introduction

Top of page

Throughout this species introduction, redbelly tilapia has been introduced into lakes, reservoirs and streams, predominantly as escapees and releases; however, its spread and colonization of new waters beyond the point of release or escape is of major concern. Therefore, accidental aquarium releases, stocking in open water and biocontrol all pose serious environmental risks. For example, its introduction into the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem, as well as to many other areas of the USA is largely for aquatic weed control, to control noxious aquatic insects, and for culture as a food fish (Molnar, 2008), however there is a high risk to native fauna through eliminating native flora and through impacts on ecosystem functioning (Pelzman, 1973; Spataru, 1978).


Top of page

Redbelly tilapia can be found in lakes, water courses, wetlands, estuaries and marine habitats but it mostly occurs in freshwater and can occasionally be found in marine waters (Froese and Pauly, 2014). It occasionally forms in schools but is mainly diurnal. They prefer tropical environments with water temperatures of 25-30ºC, and optimal temperatures of 20-32ºC. However, it can tolerate temperatures between 11 and 36ºC, becoming lethargic and vulnerable to predators and disease below 16ºC (ISSG, 2014). It generally prefers shallow, vegetated areas in a tropical climate but will live over sand, mud, or rock; tolerating a pH range of 6-9 (Eccles, 1992). Fry are common in marginal vegetation and juveniles are found in the seasonal floodplain (Froese and Pauly, 2014). Sensitivity to salinity varies greatly, but it is able to tolerate salinity levels of up to 45 ppt (Costa-Pierce, 2003). 

Habitat List

Top of page
Inland saline areas Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Estuaries Present, no further details Natural
Terrestrial – ManagedCultivated / agricultural land Present, no further details Productive/non-natural
Terrestrial ‑ Natural / Semi-naturalWetlands Principal habitat Natural
Coastal areas Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Irrigation channels Present, no further details Productive/non-natural
Lakes Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Lakes Principal habitat Natural
Reservoirs Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Reservoirs Present, no further details Productive/non-natural
Rivers / streams Principal habitat Natural
Ponds Principal habitat Natural
Inshore marine Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Inshore marine Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural

Biology and Ecology

Top of page


Redbelly tilapia has a diploid (2n) chromosome number of 44 and haploid/gametic (n) of 22 (Klinkhardt and Greven, 1995). It is known to hybridize with other Tilapia species (Taylor et al., 1986). 

Reproductive Biology

Redbelly tilapia is a substrate spawner (Bailey, 1994) and larvae develop in close association with substrate but it is not a mouth brooding fish like some other congeneric species. Redbelly tilapia form monogamous pairs and exhibit biparental guarding behaviour. Both parents help in nest building, constructing nesting depressions 20-25 cm in width and 5-8 cm in depth, often in bottoms with sand or pebbles and ample vegetation. Nests are primarily small, saucer-shaped depressions in the substrate, but show some variation in morphology depending on the environmental conditions (Bruton and Gophen, 1992). Breeding season is dependent on climate but usually they begin courtship and mate selection in waters above 20ºC. They can breed in warm and temperature-stable equatorial conditions year-round, and those in areas with more defined seasons, breed during the summer months (Siddiqui, 1979; Bruton and Gophen, 1992). Eggs are green, sticky, 1-2 mm in diameter, and are usually found in waters of 20-28ºC. The adhesive eggs are laid directly on the substrate within the excavated nest. They spawn in lake bottoms with pebbles or sand and abundant vegetation (Philippart and Ruwet, 1982). Males externally fertilize the eggs. Females have been reported to lay up to 6000 eggs at one time. Both parents fan water over the eggs with their fins and pick debris and dead eggs from the nesting depression. Nests are variable, often simple nests are constructed at exposed sites where there is limited parenting and complex nests are set up with brooding chambers in sheltered areas (Williams and Bonner, 2008; Froese and Pauly, 2014).

Physiology and Phenology

Redbelly tilapia has been introduced to a variety of places worldwide (Welcomme, 1988) and outside its native range, this freshwater fish has the ability to establish itself even in highly saline waters, only being held back by a low tolerance to cold water (ISSG, 2014).


This species can live for up to 7 years (Noakes and Balon, 1982).


Redbelly tilapia is primarily herbivorous. Adults are especially herbivorous, consuming mainly aquatic macrophytes, algae, and diatoms generally comprising >80% of its diet and the remainder including aquatic insects, crustaceans and fish eggs. Juveniles are more carnivorous, consuming a number of different zoobenthos. The proportion of the diet made up from animal sources is generally size-related, with larger fish consuming more animal-based food items (Khallaf and Alnenaei, 1987). This species is found to be omnivorous based on the results of Agbabiaka, (2012) from southeastern Nigeria.

Environmental Requirements

Redbelly tilapia is a highly tolerant species, adapted to a range of environments, including estuarine habitats, lakes, marine habitats and water courses. It is capable of coping with a wide range of salinities (29-45 ppt), temperatures (11-36ºC) and pH (6-9) (Costa-Pierce, 2003; Froese and Pauly, 2014; ISSG, 2014). However, it cannot survive in colder water temperatures <11 ºC). In some regions where it has been introduced, populations have not survived winter temperatures and have required annual restocking (Smith-Vaniz 1968). 


Top of page
A - Tropical/Megathermal climate Preferred Average temp. of coolest month > 18°C, > 1500mm precipitation annually
Af - Tropical rainforest climate Preferred > 60mm precipitation per month
Am - Tropical monsoon climate Preferred Tropical monsoon climate ( < 60mm precipitation driest month but > (100 - [total annual precipitation(mm}/25]))
As - Tropical savanna climate with dry summer Preferred < 60mm precipitation driest month (in summer) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
Aw - Tropical wet and dry savanna climate Preferred < 60mm precipitation driest month (in winter) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
B - Dry (arid and semi-arid) Preferred < 860mm precipitation annually
BS - Steppe climate Preferred > 430mm and < 860mm annual precipitation

Latitude/Altitude Ranges

Top of page
Latitude North (°N)Latitude South (°S)Altitude Lower (m)Altitude Upper (m)
35 10

Air Temperature

Top of page
Parameter Lower limit Upper limit
Mean annual temperature (ºC) 11 36

Water Tolerances

Top of page
ParameterMinimum ValueMaximum ValueTypical ValueStatusLife StageNotes
Ammonia [unionised] (mg/l) 0.02 0.5 Optimum
Ammonia [unionised] (mg/l) 7.1 Harmful
Depth (m b.s.l.) 1 7 Harmful
Dissolved oxygen (mg/l) >3 Optimum
Dissolved oxygen (mg/l) 0.1 Harmful
Salinity (part per thousand) 10 15 Optimum
Salinity (part per thousand) 45 Harmful
Turbidity (JTU turbidity) 30 35 Harmful
Water pH (pH) 3.7 11 Optimum
Water pH (pH) 6 9 Harmful
Water temperature (ºC temperature) 25 30 Optimum
Water temperature (ºC temperature) 11 36 Harmful

Natural enemies

Top of page
Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Carasobarbus canis Predator All Stages to species
Diplozoon paradoxum Parasite All Stages not specific
Gymnarchus niloticus Predator All Stages to species
Lates niloticus Predator All Stages to species
Micropterus salmoides Predator All Stages to species
Mormyrops anguilloides Predator All Stages to species
Tetraonchus Parasite All Stages not specific

Notes on Natural Enemies

Top of page

There are several natural enemies of the species reported from its native range; including Micropterus salmoides (Centrarchidae) in Kenya, Carasobarbus canis (Cyprinidae) in Israel, Gymnarchus niloticus (Gymnarchidae) and Lates niloticus (Latidea) and Mormyrops anguilloides (Mormyridae) in Nigeria (Froese and Pauly, 2014).

Redbelly tilapia may be infected with a wide range of diseases and parasites, including Diplozoon paradoxum and Tetraonchus species (Yildirim et al., 2010).

Means of Movement and Dispersal

Top of page

Accidental Introduction

Accidental introductions have been reported via aquaculture, the aquarium, pet and water garden trade. Escapees from enclosed facilities (i.e. fish farms) are also common (Hogg 1976a, b; Courtenay et al., 1986; Crutchfiled, 1995).

Intentional Introduction

Intentional introductions have been done for the purposes of recreational stocking, aquaculture and biological control of weed, mosquitoes, and chironomid midges (Page and Burr, 1991; Molnar, 2008Froese and Pauly, 2014).

Impact Summary

Top of page
Economic/livelihood Positive
Environment (generally) Negative

Economic Impact

Top of page

Redbelly tilapia is an important food fish and aquaculture species. It provides up to 70% of Egypt’s fish production and is a hardy species, easy to grow and popular with consumers (white-fleshed and mild-flavoured) (Canonico et al., 2005). 

Environmental Impact

Top of page

Impact on Habitats

Redbelly tilapia can alter ecosystems processes (e.g. nutrient cycling, disturbance, productivity, etc.) and ecosystem services (e.g. waste decomposition, water supply, soil regeneration and protection). Detrimental effects on native aquatic plants can lead to habitat destruction for native aquatic species that seek shelter. This species is considered to be one of the most destructive fish to submerged vegetation, known next to the grass carp (Hogg 1976a).  

Impact on Biodiversity

It is a highly successful species; capable of outcompeting both native and non-native species for food, habitat and spawning sites (Pelzman, 1973; Reinthal and Stiassny, 1991; Leveque, 1997; Balierwa et al., 2003). It’s ability to easily switch food sources allow for populations to continue to grow in the absence of a depleted food source. For example, redbelly tilapia was reported to eliminate all aquatic macrophytes from Hyco Reservoir, North Carolina, within a two year period that coincided with declines in populations of several native fishes (Molnar, 2008). However, populations of redbelly tilapia continued expanding in the absence of macrophytes because of its ability to switch to alternate food sources (Crutchfield et al. 1992; Crutchfield, 1995).

Redbelly tilapia is a voracious herbivore and may negatively impact plant density, decreasing their abundance and changing the composition of native plants. This can then negatively affect native organisms that depend on such plants for spawning, protection, or foraging (Spataru, 1978).

The species is thought to have outcompeted or genetically subsumed two native species, Oreochromis variabilis and Oreochromis escuelentes (Balirwa et al., 2003). Introduction of this species has been correlated with declines of native species (Reinthal and Stiassny, 1991; Leveque, 1997) and it has also been implicated with the decline of the desert pupfish (Cyprinodon macularius) in the Salton Sea (Costa-Pierce, 2003).

It may compete with centrarchid fishes for nesting sites and through aggressive interactions it may alter the composition of fish communities (Molnar, 2008). Redbelly tilapia is also able to hybridize with introduced Tilapia species (Taylor et al., 1986). 

Social Impact

Top of page

Redbelly tilapia is a highly sought after, important recreational fishing species as well as important commercially. 

Risk and Impact Factors

Top of page Invasiveness
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Has a broad native range
  • Abundant in its native range
  • Highly adaptable to different environments
  • Is a habitat generalist
  • Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
  • Capable of securing and ingesting a wide range of food
  • Benefits from human association (i.e. it is a human commensal)
  • Has high genetic variability
Impact outcomes
  • Altered trophic level
  • Damaged ecosystem services
  • Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
  • Modification of natural benthic communities
  • Modification of nutrient regime
  • Modification of successional patterns
  • Threat to/ loss of native species
Impact mechanisms
  • Competition - monopolizing resources
  • Herbivory/grazing/browsing
  • Hybridization
  • Interaction with other invasive species
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally accidentally
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally illegally
  • Difficult to identify/detect in the field


Top of page

Economic Value

Redbelly tilapia is an economically important food fish and important to aquaculture and commercial aquarium trade in its native range (Mehanna, 2004).

Social Benefit

It is also an important fish species for recreational fishery (ISSG, 2014). In addition to its value for commercial fishermen, recreational fishing and tourism may create a demand not only for food, accommodation and transportation but also for related recreational activities such as camping, boating, etc. All of these activities may provide economic incomes. 

Environmental Services

Redbelly tilapia is used for controlling species of aquatic plants. It was determined that Chara sp. and Najasmarina could be controlled by redbelly tilapia in small lakes and ponds (Saeed, 1986). It has also been used to control noxious aquatic insects, mosquitos and chrinomid midges (Molnar, 2008).

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

Top of page

Cichlids are easily separated from the similar looking sunfishes and black basses (Lepomis and Micropterus; family Centrarchidae) by a single nostril opening on each side of the head (there are two in centrarchids) and the presence of a discontinuous or two-part lateral line (there is a continuous lateral line in centrarchids). Hybrids are frequently reported (Courtenay et al., 1984; Taylor et al., 1986; Howells, 1991) and identification of redbelly tilapia in the USA has been problematic. Therefore, some reports in the literature may be misidentifications (Lee et al., 1980). 

Redbelly tilapia is almost identical to redbreast tilapia Tilapia rendalli hence many reports or specimens of redbelly tilapia may have been T. rendalli. Redbelly tilapia is also similar to another North American introduced cichlid, Tilapia mariae. However, T. mariae lacks the deep red ventral colouration present in redbelly tilapia, has lateral bars that extend onto the dorsal fin, and 5-6 square black blotches along the side, which is lacking in redbelly tilapia

Prevention and Control

Top of page

Due to the variable regulations around (de)registration of pesticides, your national list of registered pesticides or relevant authority should be consulted to determine which products are legally allowed for use in your country when considering chemical control. Pesticides should always be used in a lawful manner, consistent with the product's label.


Public Awareness

There is little awareness on the invasion of redbelly tilapia, as it is still stocked and reared illegally.


It was reported that rotenone was used by the Florida Freshwater and Game Commission in 1975 to eradicate redbelly tilapia from a small borrow pit, about 0.2 hectares in size (Taylor, 1986).


As established populations of redbelly tilapia could be very difficult and costly to control, further stocking and introductions should be avoided.

Physical/Mechanical Control

Electrofishing and seine/gill netting have been used to catch redbelly tilapia in both its native and non-native ranges; however, there have been no reports of using these methods to physically or mechanically control the species (Agbabiaka, 2012; Dadebo, 2014).

Movement Control

The species is a very demandable food fish so it is moved widely all over the world.

Biological Control

There is potential to use the natural enemies reported from its native range to control redbelly tilapia.

Chemical Control

The piscicide, rotenone has been used to eradicate populations in the past. However, this can also be toxic to non-target species.

Monitoring and Surveillance (Incl. Remote Sensing)

Both telemetry and radio telemetry could be used.

Gaps in Knowledge/Research Needs

Top of page

Further research could gain an insight into the management and control of this species, especially the role of public awareness. Given the detrimental impact this species can have on native fauna, flora and ecosystem functioning, public awareness is important to prevent further introductions and stocking of this species in new environments. 


Top of page

Agbabiaka LA, 2012. Food and feeding habits of Tilapia zillii (Pisces: Cichlidae) in River Otamiri South-eastern Nigeria. Bioscience Discovery, 3:146-148.

Bailey RG, 1994. Guide to the fishes of the River Nile in the Republic of the Sudan. Journal of Natural History, 28:937-970.

Balirwa JS; Chapman CA; Chapman LJ; Cowx IG; Geheb K; Kaufman L; Lowe-McConnell RH; Seehausen O; Wanink JH; Welcomme RL; Witte F, 2003. Biodiversity and fishery sustainability in the Lake Victoria basin: an unexpected marriage? BioScience, 53(8):703-715.

Bartley DM, 2006. Introduced species in fisheries and aquaculture: information for responsible use and control. Rome, Italy, FAO: unpaginated.

Basiao ZU; Taniguchi N, 1984. An investigation of enzyme and other protein polymorphisms in Japanese stocks of the Tilapias Oreochromis niloticus and Tilapia zillii.. Aquaculture, 38(4):335-345.

Bogutskaya NG; Naseka A, 2002. An overview of nonindigenous fishes in inland waters of Russia. Proc. Zool. Inst. Russ. Acad. Sci, 296:21-30.

Bruton MN; Gophen M, 1992. The effect of environmental factors on the nesting and courtship behaviour of Tilapia zillii in Lake Kinneret (Israel). Hydrobiologia, 239:171-178.

Canonico GC; Arthington A; McCrary JK; Thieme ML, 2005. The efferts of introduced tilapias on native biodiversity. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, 15:463-483.

Coad BW, 1995. Freshwater fishes of Iran. Acta Sci. Nat. Acad. Sci. Brno, 29(1):1-64.

Coad BW, 1996. Exotic fish species in the Tigris-Euphrates basin. Zoology in the Middle East, 13:71-83.

Costa-Pierce BA, 2003. Rapid evolution of an established feral tilapia (Oreochromis spp.): the need to incorporate invasion science into regulatory structures. Biological Invasions, 5:71-84.

Courtenay Jr WR; Hensley DA; Taylor JN; McCann JA, 1984. Distribution of Exotic Fishes in the Continental United States. In: Distribution, biology and management of exotic fishes [ed. by Courtney Jr WR, Stauffer Jr JR] Baltimore, USA: Johns Hopkins University Press, 41-77.

Courtenay Jr WR; Robins CR, 1989. Fish introductions: good management, mismanagement, or no management? CRC Critical Reviews in Aquatic Sciences, 1:159-172.

Courtenay WRJr; Hensley DA; Taylor JN; McCann JA, 1986. Distribution of exotic fishes in North America. In: The zoogeography of North American freshwater fishes [ed. by Hocutt CH, Wiley EO] New York, NY, USA: John Wiley and Sons, 675-698.

Crutchfield Jr JU, 1995. Establishment and expansion of redbelly tilapia and blue tilapia in power plant cooling reservoir. American Fisheries Society Symposium, 15:452-461.

Crutchfield JU Jr; Schiller DH; Herlong DD; Mallin MA, 1992. Establishment and impact of redbelly tilapia in a vegetated cooling reservoir. Journal of Aquatic Plant Management, 30:28-35.

Dadebo E; Kebtineh N; Sorsa S; Balkew K, 2014. Food and Feeding Habits of the Red-Belly Tilapia (Tilapia zillii Gervais, 1848) (Pisces: Cichlidae) in Lake Ziway, Ethiopia. Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, 3:17-23.

Dunz AR; Schliewen UK, 2013. Molecular phylogeny and revised classification of the haplotilapiine cichlid fishes formerly referred to as "Tilapia". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 68:64-80.

Eccles DH, 1992. FAO species identification sheets for fishery purposes. Field guide to the freshwater fishes of Tanzania. Prepared and published with the support of the United Nations Development Programme (project URT/87/016). Rome, Italy: FAO, 145 pp.

Edwards RJ, 2001. New additions and persistence of the introduced fishes of the upper San Antonio River, Bexar County, Texas. The Texas Journal of Science, 53. The Texas Journal of Science, 53(1):3.

Froese R; Pauly D, 2004. FishBase DVD. Penang, Malaysia: Worldfish Center. Online at

Froese R; Pauly D, 2014. FishBase.

Grabowski SJ; Hiebert SD; Lieberman DM, 1984. Potential for introduction of three species of nonnative fishes into central Arizona via the Central Arizona Project - A literature review and analysis. REC-ERC-84-7, REC-ERC-84-7. Denver, Colorado, USA: US Dept of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation.

Guerrero RDIII, 1997. Freshwater fishes of the Philippines: How many are there? Paper presented at the Symposia on the Inventory and Assessment of Species Diversity in the Philippines, 27 August 1997, Diliman, Quezon City. Quezon City, Phillipines: Symposia on the Inventory and Assessment of Species Diversity in the Philippines, 17 pp.

Hillman JC, 1993. List of introduced species of Eritrea. Massawa, Eritrea: Ministry of Marine Resources.

Hoese DF; Bray DJ; Paxton JR; Allen GR, 2006. Fishes. In: Zoological Catalogue of Australia, 35(2) [ed. by Beasley, O. L. \Wells, A.]. Victoria, Australia: ABRS and CSIRO Publishing, 1472.

Hogg RG, 1976. Ecology of fishes of the family Cichlidae introduced into the fresh waters of Dade county, Florida. Coral Gables, FL, USA: University of Miami, 142 pp.

Hogg RG, 1976. Established exotic cichlid fishes in Dade county, Florida. Florida Scientist, 39(2):97-103.

Howells RG, 1991. Electrophoretic identification of feral and domestic tilapia in Texas, Management Data Series 62. Austin, Texas, USA: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

ISSG, 2014. Global Invasive Species Database (GISD). Invasive Species Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission.

Kamara AB, 1977. A list of the estuarine and marine fishes and some shellfishes of Sierra Leone, with their common names in either Krio or English. Bull. Inst. Mar. Biol. Oceanogr., Fourah Bay Coll., Univ. Sierra Leone, 2:47-53.

Khallaf EA; Alnenaei AA, 1987. Feeding ecology of Oreochromis niloticus (Linnaeus) and Tilapia zillii (Gervais) in a Nile Canal. Hydrobiologia, 146:57-62.

Klinkhardt M; Tesche M; Greven H, 1995. Database of fish chromosomes. Westarp Wissenschaften.

Krupp F; Schneider W, 1989. The fishes of the Jordan River drainage basin and Azraq Oasis. Fauna of Saudi Arabia, 10:347-416.

Lee DS; Gilbert CR; Hocutt CH; Jenkins RE; McAllister DE; Stauffer JRJr, 1980. Atlas of North American freshwater fishes. Raleigh, NC, RC: North Carolina State Museum of Natural History,.

Leveque C, 1997. Biodiversity Dynamics and Conservation: The freshwater fish of tropical Africa. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 438 pp.

Mehanna SF, 2004. Population dynamics of two cichlids, Oreochromis aureus and Tilapia zillii, from Wadi El-Raiyan lakes, Egypt. Sultan Qaboos University Journal for Scientific Research - Agricultural and Marine Sciences, 9(1):9-16.

Molnar JL; Gamboa RL; Revenga C; Spalding MD, 2008. Assessing the global threat of invasive species to marine biodiversity. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 6(9):485-492.

Ng PKL; Chou L; Lam T, 1993. The status and impact of introduced freshwater animals in Singapore. Biological Conservation, 64:19-24.

Noakes DGL; Balon EK, 1982. Life histories of tilapias: an evolutionary perspective. ICLARM Conf. Proc. In: The biology and culture of tilapias, 7 [ed. by Pullin and Lowe-McConnell, R. S. V. R. H.]. 61-82.

Page LM; Burr BM, 1991. A field guide to freshwater fishes of North America north of Mexico. Boston, USA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 432 pp.

Paugy D; Traore K; Diouf PS, 1994. Faune ichtyologique des eaux douces d'Afrique de l'Ouest. In: Biological diversity of African fresh-and brackish water fishes. Geographical overviews presented at the PARADI Symposium, Senegal, 15-20 November 1993. Ann. Mus. Afr. Centr., Sci. Zool, 275 [ed. by Teugels, G. G. \Guegan, J. F. \Albaret, J. J.]. 35-66.

Pellegrin J, 1921. Les poissons des eaux douces de l'Afrique du Nord francaise (Maroc, Algerie, Tunesie, Sahara). Mem. Soc. Sci. Nat. Maroc, 1:1-217.

Pelzman RJ, 1973. A review of the life history of Tilapia zillii with a reassessment of its desirability in California. Administrative Report. California, USA: California Department of Fish and Game Inland Fisheries Branch, 74-1.

Pethiyagoda R, 1991. Freshwater fishes of Sri Lanka. Colombo, Sri Lanka: The Wildlife Heritage Trust of Sri Lanka.

Philippart JC; Ruwet JC, 1982. Ecology and distribution of tilapias. ICLARM Conf. Proc. The biology and culture of tilapias. ICLARM Conf. Proc, 7:15-60.

Pullin RSV, 1988. Tilapia genetic resources for aquaculture. ICLARM Conf. Proc, 16:108.

Reinthal PN; Stiassny MLJ, 1991. The freshwater fishes of madagascar: a study of an endangered fauna with recommendations for a conservation strategy. Conservation Biology, 5:231-242.

Robins CR; Bailey RM; Bond CE; Brooker JR; Lachner EA; Lea RN; Scott WB, 1991. Common and scientific names of fishes from the United States and Canada. Am. Fish. Soc. Spec. Pub, 20:183.

Saeed MO; Ziebell CD, 1986. Effects of dietary nonpreferred aquatic plants on the growth of redbelly tilapia (Tilapia zilli). Progressive Fish-Culturist, 48(2):110-112.

Seegers L; Vos LDe; Okeyo DO, 2003. Annotated checklist of the freshwater fishes of Kenya (excluding the lacustrine haplochromines from Lake Victoria). J. E. Afr. Nat. Hist, 92:11-47.

Seeto J; Baldwin WJ, 2010. .

Shen SC, 1993. Fishes of Taiwan. Taipei, Taiwan: Department of Zoology, National Taiwan University, 960 pp.

Siddiqui AQ, 1979. Reproductive biology of Tilapia zillii (Gervais) in Lake Naivasha, Kenya. Environmental Biology of Fishes, 4:257-262.

Smith-Vaniz WF, 1968. Freshwater fishes of Alabama. Alabama, USA: Auburn University Agricultural Experiment Station Auburn, 960 pp.

Spataru P, 1978. Food and feeding habits of Tilapia zillii (Gervais) (Cichlidae) in Lake Kinneret (Israel). Aquaculture, 14:327-338.

Tarkan AS; Marr SM; Ekmekci FG, 2014. Non-native and translocated freshwater fishes in Turkey. FISHMED (in press).

Taylor JN; Snyder DB; Courtenay; Jr WR, 1986. Hydridization between two introduced, substrate-spawning tilapias (Pisces: Cichlidae) in Florida. Copeia, 1986:903-909.

Tedla S; Meskel FH, 1981. Introduction and transplantation of freshwater fish species in Ethiopia. SINET: Ethiop. J. Sci, 4:69-72.

Teugels GG; Leveque C; Paugy D; Traore K, 1988. Etat des connaissances sur la faune ichtyologique des bassins cotiers de Cote d'Ivoire et de l'ouest du Ghana. Rev. Hydrobiol. Trop, 21:221-237.

Teugels GG; Thys van den Audenaerde DFE, 2003. Cichlidae. In: The fresh and brackish water fishes of West Africa Volume 2 [ed. by Paugy, D.\Lévêque, C.\Teugels, G. G.]. Paris, France: Institut de recherche de développement, 521-600. [Coll. faune et flore tropicales 40.]

Thys Audenaerde DFEvan den, 1964. Révision systématique des espèces congolaises du genre Tilapia (Pisces, Cichlidae). Ann. Mus. R. Afr. Centr., Sér. In-8°, Sci. Zool, 124:155.

Trewavas E, 1982. The biology and culture of tilapias [ed. by Pullin, R. S. V. \Lowe-McConnell, R. H.]. Manila, Philippines: International Center for Living Aquatic Resources Management, 3-13.

USGS NAS, 2014. Nonindigenous aquatic species database. Gainesville, Flordia, USA: USGS.

Vivien J, 1991. Faune du Cameroun. Guide des mammifères et des poissons. Paris, France: GICAM et Ministère de la Coopération et du Développement, 271 pp.

Welcomme RL, 1988. International introductions of inland aquatic species. FAO Fisheries Technical Paper 294. Rome, Italy: FAO.

Williams C; Bonner TH, 2008. Texas Freshwater Fishes: Tilapia zillii Redbelly Tilapia. Texas, USA: Texas State University.

Wohlfarth GW; Hulata G, 1983. Applied genetics of tilapias. ICLARM Stud. Rev, 6(2nd edition):26.

Yamamoto MN, 1992. Occurrence, distribution and abundance of accidentally introduced freshwater aquatic organisms in Hawaii. State of Hawaii, Freshwater Fisheries Research and Surveys, Proj. No. F-14-R-16.

Yildirim YB; Zeren A; Genc E; Erol C; Konas E, 2010. Parasitological investigation on commercially important fish and crustacean species collected from the TIGEM (Dortyol Turkey) ponds. Journal of Animal and Veterinary Advances, 9(11):1597-1602.

Links to Websites

Top of page
Global Invasive Species Database GISD aims to increase awareness about invasive alien species and to facilitate effective prevention and management. It is managed by the Invasive Species Specialist Group (ISSG) of the Species Survival Commission.
USGS NAS Database

Principal Source

Top of page

Draft datasheet under review


Top of page

24/09/15 Original text by: 

Ali Serhan Tarkan, Mugla Sitki Koçman University, Turkey

Distribution Maps

Top of page
You can pan and zoom the map
Save map