Tilapia (Coptodon) discolor

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Although they're often overlooked, tilapiines have much to offer the cichlidophile. Matt Clarke managed to find some Tilapia discolor, a first for the UK, at a store near Durham.

Scientific name: Tilapia (Coptodon) discolor

Origin: West Africa. Adults have been collected from the rivers of south-east Ivory Coast and western Ghana. Also found in Lake Iyami in the Ivory Coast and in Ghana's Lake Bosumtwi - a 10km wide crater-lake formed by a meteor impact 1-2 million years ago.

Size: Males can reach around 20cm/8", females are a little smaller.

Water: Depends on collection locality. Data for the Bia River shows that the water is soft and acidic, pH 6.0-7.0, 5-12GH, 21-23C/70-73F. According to Lamboj (2004), Lake Bosumtwi has a temperature of 33-34C/91.5-93F, pH of 9.3-9.4.

Aquarium: My sub-adults are only moderately aggressive for their size. They share a 90cm/36" tank with three Sarotherodon melanotheron melanotheron, from the same region. Eventually, the pair will require a larger tank to themselves.

Sexing: Hard to sex when small. Females initially appear a little smaller than males and slightly less colourful (see Adult colouration). The tilapia-spot on the dorsal of the male is much paler than that of the female, and can be invisible depending on his mood. Apparently, the breast turns red during spawning. Differences in the shape of the genitalia may become apparent during courtship. As adults, they are much easier to sex. Females are substantially smaller and have less pointed dorsal and anal fins than the male.

Breeding: Rarely kept so there are no reports of aquarium spawnings yet. Dr Anton Lamboj tells me that T. discolor lays its eggs on a stone and then deposits the fry in large pits. Both sexes guard the young for about a month. He says it can be quite aggressive during spawning.

Adult colouration: Males turn an attractive metallic green-grey on the upper half of the body and have a jet-black underside. Faint vertical blotches are sometimes present, and on my 8-10cm/3-4" fish, a faint tilapia-spot is still visible on the rear of the dorsal fin. When displaying, the colours reverse so the belly becomes darker and the dorsal surface paler. The female can turn almost black dorsally and gun-metal grey-silver ventrally. My sub-adult male (20cm) has become elongated and has a red edge to his dorsal fin. The male started nest building when around 15cm in length but, as yet, has shown little interest in spawning with the female.

Notes: Tilapia discolor was described in 1991 by Teugels and Thys van den Audenaerde, and is a member of the Coptodon subgenus.

Availability: Although common in nature, these are very rare in the hobby - there are hardly any of these in captivity. I've never seen this species sold before in the UK. I got my pair from specialist cichlid supplier Aqua Blue Zaire in Peterlee, County Durham, who had imported the fish from Ghana.

Price: Only about 5 for a juvenile, which is a bargain!

This article was first published in the November 2004 issue of Practical Fishkeeping magazine.