Blue tilapia while young, have a nondescript gray with a black spot at the rear of the dorsal fin. As they mature into adulthood, they are generally blue-gray shading to white on the belly. The border of the dorsal and caudal fins is red to pink. A broken lateral line and the spiny dorsal fin is joined to the soft dorsal fin.
Similar with and nearly identical is the female Mozambique tilapia. The differences include they are smaller in size and currently are only found in areas south of Titusville. There is the possibility hybridization between the blue and Mozambique tilapias. The male Mozambique tilapia is easily distinguished by a large mouth and black coloration when breeding.
The blue tilapia is widespread and abundant in Florida. Found in fertile lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, and canals. Tolerant of saltwater they can also be found nearshore marine habitats like Tampa Bay. Blue Tilapia is native to North Africa and the Middle East.
With the water temperature exceeds 68 degrees Fahrenheit spawning occurs. The males will dig a large circular nest with the mouths in shallow water over a sandy bottom. A male will swim out to a passing female and leads her to the nest where courtship occurs. The female will lay eggs immediately puts them in her mouth after the male has fertilized them. She then swims off to mate with another male. A male will continue to guard his nest and may spawn again with another female. An egg will hatch in the female’s mouth, occasionally the fry is released to feed. If they are threatened, they will return to the female’s mouth until they are about three weeks old.
They primarily feed on plankton and small organisms living in or on the bottom of detritus. The three most common foods are diatoms, green algae, and detritus.
Having a rapidly growing period for the first few month, then slow until they reach five to six pounds by age three to five. Commonly, they weigh between two and four pounds.
The blue tilapia is considered a competitor with native species for spawning areas, food, and space. When the species is abundant it has been reported that in certain streams a lost of most vegetation and nearly all native fish.
Blue tilapia is a conditional species in Florida (68-5.002, Florida Administrative Code).