Golden Freshwater Clam

Genus Tilapia

Tilapia is a large genus in the family Cichlidae (cichlids). It belongs to the tribe Tilapiini in the subfamily Pseudocrenilabrinae. Many species in this tribe is commonly referred to as tilapia in every day speech even though they belong to other genera than Tilapia.

The name tilapia is a latinization of thiape, the Tswana word for fish. Tswana is an African language belonging to the Bantu language group. The genus name Tilapia was introduced in 1840 by Andrew Smith, a Scottish zoologist and explorer.

The genus Tilapia is home to a lot of popular food fishes that are grown in aquacultures world wide. All Tilapia species are native to Africa, but they have now been introduced to many other parts of the world. When released into the wild, they can cause problems for the local ecosystem.

The genus Tilapia currently contains 40 described species. The genus used to be even larger, but many species have been moved to the genera Oreochromis and Sarotherodon. Recent studies indicate that even more species might be moved to other genera in future. Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequence analysis have been used to shed light on the situation, but interpreting the results is complicated since many Tilapiini cichlids readily mates with each other which results in hybridization. The fast pace of evolution observed in Tilapiini cichlids is another factor that complicates the use of mtDNA sequence analysis.    

A few examples of well known cichlid species belonging to the genus Tilapia are Spotted tilapia (Tilapia mariae), Okavango tilapia (Tilapia ruweti), Otjikoto tilapia (Tilapia guinasana) and Guinean tilapia (Tilapia guineensis).