Matt Clarke on a rarely kept tilapiine cichlid from the Volta, Ubangi and Nile systems of Africa.
Scientific name: Tilapia zillii
Origin: Quite widespread through the Volta, Ubangi and Nile river systems of Africa, and also in Lakes Turkana and Mobutu, and as far north as Morocco. Introduced elsewhere.
Size: Around 30cm/12"
Habitat: Found in a range of habitats.
Water: Lives in just about any type of water from soft, acidic blackwaters to hard, alkaline waters and sometimes even in estuaries. As a result, it will happily live and breed in any condition, making it dead easy to keep. Experimentally, it's been shown to tolerate salinities of as much as 29-45 ppt, which is above that of marine water!
Diet: Aquatic plants. Frozen peas, vegetable-based pellets or spirulina are a good choice.
Aquarium: Juveniles can be kept together with other cichlids in a group, but larger fish benefit from space and fewer tankmates. An adult pair will need a spacious 120cm/48" tank containing heavy decor and a deep sand or gravel substrate to allow nest building behaviour.
Sexing: Not that easy to sex. Females are usually paler and have two white spots on the base of the dorsal. Both may develop red bellies.
Breeding: This species is
a substrate spawner with bi-parental care. Males are aggressive during the mating season and defend 6m/20' diameter territories in open habitats, or 2m/6' 6" territories in weedy areas. Broods are very large and many fry will, unfortunately, need to be culled as the market is small for large fish.
Identification: Variable in colour. Young fish are olivaceous or silvery blue, with blue lips. Adults develop lateral stripes and six vertical bars. The belly turns red during courtship.
Availability: This species is rarely offered for sale in the UK. These were on sale at Wholesale Tropicals, Bethnal Green, London, and were purchased from a specialist breeder in the UK, so more may be available.
Price: On sale for 10.
This article was first published in the June 2004 issue of Practical Fishkeeping magazine.