Oreochromis mossambicus
Oreochromis mossambicus
(Mozambique Tilapia)
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Oreochromis mossambicus (Peters, 1852)

Common name: Mozambique Tilapia

Synonyms and Other Names: Sarotherodon mossambicus, Tilapia mossambica, Mozambique mouthbrooder, Java tilapia, largemouth kurper

Taxonomy: available through www.itis.govITIS logo

Identification: In general, cichlids (Cichlidae) are superficially similar to sunfishes and black basses (Lepomis and Micropterus; family Centrarchidae). Cichlids can be distinguished from centrarchids by a single nostril opening on each side of the head (vs. two openings in centrarchids) and the presence of a discontinuous or two-part lateral line (vs. a continuous lateral line in centrarchids). Mozambique tilapia are similar to, and could be mistaken for, two other introduced cichlids: blue tilapia O. aureus and Nile tilapia O. niloticus. Distinguishing characteristics, synonyms, an illustration, keys, and a discussion of hybrids were provided by Trewavas (1983); for identification also see Wieland et al. (1982) and Page and Burr (1991). Color photographs appeared in Axelrod et al. (1985).

Size: 40 cm SL (Skelton 1993).

Native Range: Tropical and subtropical Africa. Southern Africa from lower Zambezi to Brak River, and Limpopo system (de Moor and Bruton 1988). Occurs in both fresh and brackish waters.

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Puerto Rico &
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Guam Saipan
Interactive maps: Point Distribution Maps

Nonindigenous Occurrences: This species was stocked annually by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Auburn University in lakes and farm ponds in Alabama during the late 1950s and 1960s (Rogers 1961; Smith-Vaniz 1968), but such stockings reportedly have not been carried out for some time now (Wieland et al. 1982). Boschung (1992) reported Mozambique tilapia from Pickwick Lake in the northwestern part of the state. However, Mettee et al. (1996) did not mention the species as still occurring in Alabama. The species was introduced into several agricultural drains and mitigation ponds in Arizona near Yuma, Yuma County, and has been considered established in the state since the early 1960s (Hoover and St. Amant 1970; Hoover 1971; Minckley 1973; Courtenay et al. 1986). The species also occurs and is established in the Colorado River drainage, mainly the Gila River, from Phoenix to just north of Yuma (Minckley 1973; Lee et al. 1980 et seq.; Courtenay and McCann 1981; Barrett 1983; Grabowski et al. 1984; Courtenay et al. 1986). Populations established at Warm Springs on the San Carlos River, in Gila and Graham counties, and in the Salt River in Tempe, Maricopa County, reportedly were destroyed by floods (Minckley 1973).  Populations are established in Bill Williams National Wildlife Refuge and in springs in The Nature Conservancy's Ramsey Canyon Preserve in the Huachuca Mountains (USFWS 1997, 2005).  The first record of this species in California was that of a population found in a small pond and its tributary near the Hot Mineral Spa on the east side of the Salton Sea near Niland, Imperial County, on 3 January 1964; more than 5,000 tilapia in the pond were killed with rotenone in an eradication attempt (St. Amant 1966). The species is now broadly established in the southern part of the state and has been in the Santa Ana, San Gabriel, and Los Angeles rivers since 1974 (St. Amant 1966; Hoover and St. Amant 1970; Moyle 1976; Knaggs 1977; Lee et al. 1980 et seq.; Shapovalov et al. 1981; Courtenay et al. 1984, 1991; Grabowski et al. 1984; Courtenay and Robins 1989; Swift et al. 1993). Two specimens were taken from Lake Success in the San Joaquin Valley, Tulare County, in 1989 (Heyne et al. 1991). This species is also established in Riverside and Imperial Counties (Shapovalov et al. 1981).  The species was found to be locally established in high-altitude, warmwater ponds in Colorado in the Upper Rio Grande River system in Conejos County, in 1977. These fish had escaped from a local farm where they were being cultured for food in warm artesian waters at a 7,500-ft elevation (Zuckerman and Behnke 1986).  They are established in the San Luis Valley, Alamosa County (Courtenay et al 1986).  The Mozambique tilapia was first introduced into and became established in Florida in Dade County during the 1960s (Courtenay and Stauffer 1990). It is now established or has been reported in five counties including Brevard, Dade, Indian River, Palm Beach, Lee and possibly Hillsborough (Ogilvie 1969; Courtenay et al. 1974, 1984, 1986, 1991; Hogg 1976a, 1976b; Courtenay and Hensley 1979; Courtenay and McCann 1981; Dial and Wainright 1983; Loftus and Kushlan 1987; Charlotte Harbor NEP 2004). Reports of this species from Six-Mile Creek, Hillsborough County (Courtenay et al. 1974), were probably based on misidentifications of O. aureus (Courtenay and Hensley 1979). It has also been collected in Everglades National Park (Tilmant 1999).  Specimens have been reported the Everglades drainage (Hogg 1976 Individuals of this species were released into a pond in Georgia near Athens, but failed to survive (Dahlberg and Scott 1971b). It was indicated that this tilapia may be established in golf course ponds on Sea Island and St. Simons Island, Glynn County (Courtenay and Hensley 1979; Courtenay et al. 1986); however, O. mossambicus was not collected on St. Simons Island during 1980 sampling efforts and as of 1992 the Georgia Department of Natural Resources had concluded that this species was no longer present in state open waters (Gennings, personal communication). This species is established and has large populations in many streams, estuaries, low wetlands, and reservoirs or ponds of Hawaii; it is found on all the major islands including Oahu, Kauai, Maui, Hawaii, and Molokai (Brock 1960; Maciolek 1984; Randall 1987; Devick 1991a, 1991b; Bishop Museum 2000; Coles 1999). It is established in Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park (Courtenay 1989; B. Farm, personal communication; Tilmant 1999). A reproducing population was found in Idaho in Barney Hot Springs and at the upper end of Barney Creek in Custer County, Little Lost River Valley, in September 1985 (Courtenay et al. 1987). The species was listed by Idaho Fish and Game (1990) as being introduced into and confined to geothermal waters of the Snake River below Shoshone Falls. A red hybrid of this species, possibly a cross between O. mossambicus and O. urolepis, was found in thermally heated sections of the Bruneau River near Bruneau Hot Springs, Owyhee County, after it had escaped from a local aquaculture facility (Courtenay et al. 1987; Courtenay and Stauffer 1990). This species was introduced into ponds in Illinois, probably during the early 1960s, but there was no evidence of overwintering (Smith 1965).  Specimens were reported inArrowhead Pond, Allerton Park of the University of Illinois near Monticello and were taken indoors over the winter (Courtenay et al 1986).  Four specimens were taken from a high-altitude, thermal spring fed pond of the Pend Orielle drainage in Montana in Bearmouth, Granite County, during 1962-1963 surveys (Brown and Fox 1966), but the pond habitat was later destroyed during highway construction (Brown 1971; Courtenay et al. 1986). In North Carolina, the species was introduced into and temporarily established in the Julian Reservoir (formerly Skyland Lake) in French Broad-Tennessee drainage, south of Asheville, Buncombe County, in 1965 (Courtenay and Hensley 1979), but that population reportedly did not survive beyond the early 1970s (Courtenay et al. 1986). There are unconfirmed reports that this species was introduced into Hyco Reservoir, Roanoke River drainage, in Person and Caswell counties (Menhinick 1991, but see Crutchfield 1995). In New York, a single adult fish was seined by state personnel from Hall's Pond in Hall's Pond Park, West Hempstead, Nassau County, in the summer of 1976 (Briggs, personal communication). Probably in reference to the same collection, the species was reported as having been collected in the state by Lee et al. (1980 et seq.). This species has been found in Texas in the headwaters of the San Antonio River within the San Antonio Zoo, in Bexar County, since the late 1950s; the first specimen-based record was of a juvenile fish trapped in the San Marcos River in San Marcos, Hays County, in 1959 (Brown 1961). Populations of this species have been identified from several areas along the Balcones fault zone, including tributaries of the San Antonio River within and near the San Antonio Zoo; at the Spring Lake headwaters and in the vicinity of the state fish hatchery of the San Marcos River; and in Canyon Reservoir on the Guadalupe River (Brown 1961; Hubbs et al. 1978, 1991; Muoneke 1988; Howells 1991, 1992a, 1992b).

Oreochromis mossambicus has been introduced to Puerto Rico to control algae (Erdsman 1984).  It has been reported from mangrove lagoons, creeks, and bays on both eastern and western portions of the island (Burger et al. 1992), and from other non-specific locations (Lee et al. 1983). Also established in a variety of places worldwide, including Asia, Australia, and South America (Tongnunui and Beamish 2009; Russell et al. 2012).

Ecology: Considered a hardy species and very tolerant of high salinities, including growth and reproduction at 35‰ and survival up to 120‰ (Brock 1954; Dial and Wainright 1983; Stickney 1986). However, the Mozambique tilapia reportedly does not survive temperatures below about 10°C (Talwar and Jhingran 1992). A true detritivore, with the ability to assimilate free nonprotein amino acids directly from detritus (Bowen 1980).

Means of Introduction: Similar to O. aureus, this species has been introduced for a wide variety of reasons. Most introductions have been the result of intentional stockings for aquatic plant control by state and federal agencies and private companies, but introductions have also come about from stockings for potential use of the species as an insect control agent (e.g., to control mosquitoes and chironomids), as a sport fish, as a bait fish, and as a food or commercial fish, and through aquarium releases; the species also has been introduced through releases or escapes from fish farms, hatcheries, and zoos (Shapovalov et al. 1981; Dial and Wainright 1983; Courtenay et al. 1984, 1986; Grabowski et al. 1984; Courtenay and Stauffer 1990). This species was brought to Hawaii from Singapore in a small shipment of fish in 1951 (Brock 1960; Maciolek 1984; Randall 1987). The Mozambique tilapia was introduced with the expectation that it would be useful for aquatic plant control in irrigation systems, as a food fish, as a sport fish, and as live bait for tuna fishing (Brock 1960); results were only partially successful (Randall 1987). In California, introductions resulted from escapes or releases from fish farms and from intentional stocking by the state (Shapovalov et al. 1981). The Mozambique tilapia's initial introduction into Dade County, Florida, is believed to have been the result of escapes or releases from aquarium fish farms that cultured the species in the 1960s (Courtenay and Stauffer 1990). In some areas of Florida, this species may have been introduced by local anglers to create a commercial fishery (Dial and Wainright 1983), or intentionally stocked by aquarists (Courtenay and Stauffer 1990). In New York, introduction was probably due to aquarium release (Briggs, personal communication). In Texas, this species was introduced as a result of escapes from the San Antonio Zoo in 1956 and also from state and federal hatcheries during the late 1950s and early 1960s (Brown 1961; Courtenay and McCann 1981). Sources and reasons for many of the introductions have been reviewed by Courtenay and McCann (1981), Wieland et al. (1982), and Courtenay and Stauffer (1990).

Status: Established or locally established in seven states including Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, and Texas. Formerly considered locally established but no longer extant in Georgia, Montana, and North Carolina. Reported from Alabama, Illinois, and New York.

Impact of Introduction: In Hawaii, this species is suspected as a threat to native species such as striped mullet Mugil cephalus (Randall 1987; Devick 1991b). Tilapia also have been considered a major factor in the decline of the desert pupfish Cyprinodon macularius in the Salton Sea area (Courtenay and Robins 1989; Swift et al. 1993). 

Mozambique tilapia may impact native fishes through competition for food and/or space, or through secondary effects. Martin et al. (2010) found that redspotted sunfish (Lepomis miniatus) occupied structured habitat (artificial seagrass) less often in the presence of Nile tilapia Oreochromis niloticus (a related species to Mozambique tilapia) than in single species laboratory trials. In addition, predators (largemouth bass Micropterus salmoides) consumed significantly more sunfish than tilapia when structure was present, compared to trials without structure.

Remarks: Some records of this species apparently are based on incorrect identifications. For instance, recent electrophoretic evidence indicated that populations in the San Marcos River and in Canyon Reservoir were O. mossambicus x O. aureus hybrids (Howells 1991, 1992b). With the aid of W. Smith-Vaniz, we examined preserved juveniles catalogued as O. mossambicus from the San Marcos River (TCWC 2073.01) and determined them to be O. aureus based on their caudal fin patterns and scale and gill raker counts. Some California records of this species may actually be those of O. urolepis (= O. hornorum) or of hybrids between O. mossambicus and O. urolepis (Swift et al. 1993). The occurrence of O. mossambicus in the United States was reviewed by Courtenay and McCann (1981), Wieland et al. (1982), and Courtenay et al. (1986). The history of this species introduction into the southwestern United States was reviewed by Hoover (1971), Courtenay and Robins (1989), Shapovalov et al. (1981), and Swift et al. (1993). Oreochromis mossambicus has largely replaced redbelly tilapia Tilapia zillii in the Salton Sea and possibly other areas in southern California (Swift et al. 1993). Collection sites and reported localities are mapped for the United States (Courtenay and Hensley 1979; Lee et al. 1980 et seq.), and for the states of Arizona (Minckley 1973; Grabowski et al. 1984) and Florida (Courtenay et al. 1974; Hogg 1976b; Courtenay and Hensley 1979; Kushlan 1986; Loftus and Kushlan 1987).

Because of its presence in Dade County, Florida, Courtenay (1989) indicated that the Mozambique tilapia may eventually enter Everglades National Park.

Electrofishing was an effective way to remove adults from a population during a project in Australia, but the removal was met with questionable success because the number of juveniles greatly increased as the adult numbers decreased (Thuesen et al. 2011).

Bowen (1980) suggested that different detrital nonprotein amino acid concentrations may help to explain variable establishment success and growth of O. mossambicus.

Voucher specimens: Alabama (AUM 24075); California (AUM 24653); Florida (UF 34908, 92216), Idaho (UMMZ 213374).

References: (click for full references)

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FishBase Summary

Author: Leo Nico, and Matt Neilson

Revision Date: 7/28/2015

Peer Review Date: 4/1/2016

Citation Information:
Leo Nico, and Matt Neilson, 2018, Oreochromis mossambicus (Peters, 1852): U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?SpeciesID=466, Revision Date: 7/28/2015, Peer Review Date: 4/1/2016, Access Date: 1/19/2018

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Citation information: U.S. Geological Survey. [2018]. Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. Gainesville, Florida. Accessed [1/19/2018].

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