The Nonindigenous Occurrences section of the NAS species profiles has a new structure. The section is now dynamically updated from the NAS database to ensure that it contains the most current and accurate information. Occurrences are summarized in Table 1, alphabetically by state, with years of earliest and most recent observations, and the tally and names of drainages where the species was observed. The table contains hyperlinks to collections tables of specimens based on the states, years, and drainages selected. References to specimens that were not obtained through sighting reports and personal communications are found through the hyperlink in the Table 1 caption or through the individual specimens linked in the collections tables.

Sarotherodon melanotheron
Sarotherodon melanotheron
(Blackchin Tilapia)
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Sarotherodon melanotheron Rüppell, 1852

Common name: Blackchin Tilapia

Synonyms and Other Names: Chromis macrocephalus Bleeker in Günther 1862, Tilapia heudelotii Duméril 1861, Tilapia leonensis Thys van den Audenaerde 1971; blackchin mouthbrooder

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 in centrarchids) and the presence of a discontinuous or two-part lateral line (vs. continuous in centrarchids).

Distinguishing characteristics and illustrations were given by Trewavas (1983) and by Page and Burr (1991). Photographs were provided by Axelrod (1993).

Size: 26 cm.

Native Range: Tropical Africa. Brackish estuaries and lagoons from Senegal to Zaire (Trewavas 1983).

US auto-generated map Legend USGS Logo
Alaska auto-generated map
Hawaii auto-generated map
Caribbean auto-generated map
Puerto Rico &
Virgin Islands
Guam auto-generated map
Guam Saipan
Hydrologic Unit Codes (HUCs) Explained
Interactive maps: Point Distribution Maps

Nonindigenous Occurrences:

Table 1. States with nonindigenous occurrences, the earliest and latest observations in each state, and the tally and names of HUCs with observations†. Names and dates are hyperlinked to their relevant specimen records. The list of references for all nonindigenous occurrences of Sarotherodon melanotheron are found here.

StateYear of earliest observationYear of last observationTotal HUCs with observations†HUCs with observations†
Florida1959201712Alafia; Caloosahatchee; Cape Canaveral; Charlotte Harbor; Florida Bay-Florida Keys; Florida Southeast Coast; Floridian; Hillsborough; Little Manatee; Tampa Bay; Upper St. Johns; Vero Beach
Hawaii197220052Hawaii; Oahu

Table last updated 10/4/2018

† Populations may not be currently present.

Ecology: Sarotherodon melanotheron occurs in estuaries and brackish coastal lagoons in its native range (Trewavas 1983); in Florida, it occurs in coastal lagoons, drainage ditches, canals, and creek mouths with aquatic vegetation and detritus/muddy substrate (Jennings and Williams 1992). This species is planktivorous, primarily consuming phytoplankton (i.e., cyanobacteria, algae, diatoms) and organic detritus with zooplankton comprising a varying portion of the diet among populations (Kone and Teugels 2003; Ayoade and Ikulala 2007).

Sarotherondon melanotheron is a paternal mouth brooder, and is one of a handful of species showing sex-role reversal, with females as the agressive and competitive sex and reproduction relying on male choice and discrimination (Balshine-Earn and McAndrew 1995). Spawning season in the Indian River Lagoon occurs from April to October, with peak activity in April-May coinciding with increasing water temperatures (above 24°C) and favorable conditions for larval development (Faunce 2000).

Means of Introduction: The probable source of Florida fish was Tampa area fish farms, although release of aquarium fish cannot be ruled out (Springer and Finucane 1963). In the eastern part of Florida, this species apparently was introduced or spread by local anglers to create a commercial fishery (Dial and Wainright 1983). Blackchin tilapia were imported into Hawaii in 1962 by the Federal Bureau of Commercial Fisheries (now the National Marine Fisheries Service); coastal and lagoon introductions were the result of escapes from a fish station on Oahu, where the species was being tested as a baitfish for tuna, in or about 1965 (Randall 1987; Devick 1991b). The fish was introduced accidentally into Wahiawa Reservoir, Hawaii, in the mid-1970s; these reservoir introductions probably resulted from bait bucket releases (Devick 1991a, b).

Status: Established in Florida and Hawaii. Evidence indicates it is spreading rapidly in both fresh and salt water around island of Oahu, Hawaii (Devick 1991b), but it does not seem to be expanding its range in Florida.

Impact of Introduction: In Lithia Springs, Florida, S. melanotheron comprised ~90% of the total fish biomass, with a reduction in abundance and condition of native centrarchids and other fishes (Courtenay et al. 1974). An estimated 20,000 tilapia, most of them S. melanotheron and representing about 0.05% or less of the total tilapia population, were killed in Wahiawa Reservoir, Hawaii, by fungal infections in early 1991; populations of this tilapia appear to be a reservoir for fungal disease and may be responsible for spreading infection to other fish species (Devick 1991a).

Remarks: At one time, the species was very popular in the aquarium fish trade (Goldstein 1973). It is very tolerant of high salinities (Dial and Wainright 1983). This species has replaced Oreochromis macrochir as the second most abundant tilapia (after O. mossambicus?) in many Hawaiian reservoirs (Devick 1991b). Distribution maps for the species have been provided for all or parts of Florida by Courtenay et al. (1974), Hensley and Courtenay (1979), Dial and Wainright (1983), Jennings (1991), and Jennings and Williams (1992).

Voucher specimens: Florida (UF 30876, 84981, 86324, 91156, 91822, 91834, 91844, 92151, 93141, 141477, and many others; UMMZ 183969, 192612; USNM 179008.5171313, 179009.5171314;); Hawaii (UF 119743, 119859, 119860, 119868, 119881, 119946).

References: (click for full references)

Ayoade, A.A., and A.O.O. Ikulala. 2007. Length weight relationship, condition factor and stomach contents of Hemichromis bimaculatus, Sarotherodon melanotheron and Chromidotilapia guentheri (Perciformes: Cichlidae) in Eleiyele Lake, southwestern Nigera. Revista de Biología Tropical 55(3-4):969-977.

Axelrod, H. R. 1993. The most complete colored lexicon of cichlids. Tropical Fish Hobbyist Publications, Inc., Neptune City, NJ.

Bishop Museum. 2000. Pearl Harbor Legacy Project. Available URL at http://www.bishop.hawaii.org/bishop/invert/phlegacy.html.

Balshine-Earn, S., and B.J. McAndrew. 1995. Sex-role reversal in the black-chinned tilapia, Sarotherodon melanotheron (Rüppel). Behaviour 132(11/12):861-874.

Buntz, J., and C. S. Manooch. 1969. Tilapia aurea (Steindachner), a rapidly spreading exotic in south central Florida. Proceedings of the Southeastern Association of Game and Fish Commissioners 22:495-501.

Courtenay, W. Personal communication. Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, Fl.

Courtenay, W.R., Jr. 1989. Exotic fishes in the National Park System. Pages 237-252 in L. K. Thomas, ed. Proceedings of the 1986 conference on science in the national parks, volume 5. Management of exotic species in natural communities. U.S. National Park Service and George Wright Society, Washington, DC.

Courtenay, W.R., Jr., and D.A. Hensley. 1979. Survey of introduced non-native fishes. Phase I Report. Introduced exotic fishes in North America: status 1979. Report Submitted to National Fishery Research Laboratory, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Gainesville, FL.

Courtenay, W.R., Jr., and C.C. Kohler. 1986. Exotic fishes in North American fisheries management. Pages 401-413 in R. H. Stroud, ed. Fish culture in fisheries management. American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, MD.

Courtenay, W.R., Jr., and J.R. Stauffer, Jr. 1990. The introduced fish problem and the aquarium fish industry. Journal of the World Aquaculture Society 21(3):145-159.

Courtenay, W.R., Jr., H.F. Sahlman, W.W. Miley, II, and D.J. Herrema. 1974. Exotic fishes in fresh and brackish waters of Florida. Biological Conservation 6(4):292-302.

Devick, W.S. 1991a. Disturbances and fluctuations in the Wahiawa Reservoir ecosystem. Project F-14-R-15, Job 4, Study I. Division of Aquatic Resources, Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Devick, W.S. 1991b. Patterns of introductions of aquatic organisms to Hawaiian freshwater habitats. Pages 189-213 in New directions in research, management and conservation of Hawaiian freshwater stream ecosystems. Proceedings of the 1990 symposium on freshwater stream biology and fisheries management, Division of Aquatic Resources, Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Dial, R.S., and S.C. Wainright. 1983. New distributional records for non-native fishes in Florida. Florida Scientist 46(1):8-15.

Faunce, C.H. 2000. Reproduction of blackchin tilapia, Sarotherodon melanotheron, within an impounded mangrove ecosystem in east-central Florida. Environmental Biology of Fishes 57(4):353-361.

Finucane, J.H., and G.R. Rinckey. 1967. A study of the African cichlid, Tilapia heudeloti Dumeril, in Tampa Bay, Florida. Proceedings of the 18th annual Southeastern Association of Game and Fish Commissioners 18(1964):259-269.

Gilmore, R.G., P.A. Hastings, and D.J. Herrema. 1983. Ichthyofaunal additions to the Indian River Lagoon and adjacent waters east-central Florida. Florida Scientist 46:22-30.

Goldstein, R.J. 1973. Cichlids of the world. Tropical Fish Hobbyist Publications, Inc., Neptune City, NJ.

Goodrich, C. - Goodrich and Son Seafood, Oakhill, Florida. Conversation with Dawn Jennings 1985.

Hensley, D.A., and W.R. Courtenay, Jr. 1979. Tilapia melanotheron (Rüppell). Blackchin tilapia. Page 773 in Lee, D.S., C.R. Gilbert, C.H. Hocutt, R.E. Jenkins, D.E. McAllister, and J.R. Stauffer, Jr, eds. Atlas of North American freshwater fishes. North Carolina State Museum of Natural History. Raleigh, NC.

Jennings, D.P. Personal communication. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Gainesville, FL (formerly).

Jennings, D.P. 1991. Behavioral aspects of cold tolerance of blackchin tilapia Sarotherodon melanotheron at different salinities. Environmental Biology of Fishes 31(2):185-195.

Jennings, D.P., and J. D. Williams. 1992. Factors influencing the distribution of blackchin tilapia Sarotherodon melanotheron (Osteichthys: Cichlidae) in the Indian River system, Florida. Northeast Gulf Science 12(2):111-117.

Kone, T., and G.G. Teugels. 2003. Food habits of brackish water tilapia Sarotherodon melanotheron in riverine and lacustrine environments of a West African coastal basin. Hydrobiologia 490:75-85.

Lachner, E.A., C.R. Robins, and W.R. Courtenay, Jr. 1970. Exotic fishes and other aquatic organisms introduced into North America. Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology 59:1-29.

Maciolek, J.A. 1984. Exotic fishes in Hawaii and other islands of Oceania. Pages 131-161 in W.R. Courtenay, Jr., and J.R. Stauffer, Jr., eds. Distribution, biology, and management of exotic fishes. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD.

Page, L.M., and B.M. Burr. 1991. A field guide to freshwater fishes of North America north of Mexico. The Peterson Field Guide Series, volume 42. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA.

Randall, J.E. 1987. Introductions of marine fishes to the Hawaiian Islands. Bulletin of Marine Science 41(2):490-502.

Snodgrass, J.W. 1991. Winter kills of Tilapia melanotheron in coastal southeast Florida. Florida Scientist 54(2):85-86.

Springer, V.G., and J.H. Finucane. 1963. The African cichlid, Tilapia heudeloti Dumeril, in the commercial fish catch of Florida. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 92(3):317-318.

Trewavas, E. 1983. Tilapiine fishes of the genera Sarotherodon, Oreochromis and Danakilia. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY.

FishBase Summary

Author: Leo Nico, and Matt Neilson

Revision Date: 10/22/2013

Peer Review Date: 2/10/2016

Citation Information:
Leo Nico, and Matt Neilson, 2019, Sarotherodon melanotheron Rüppell, 1852: U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?SpeciesID=477, Revision Date: 10/22/2013, Peer Review Date: 2/10/2016, Access Date: 3/22/2019

This information is preliminary or provisional and is subject to revision. It is being provided to meet the need for timely best science. The information has not received final approval by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and is provided on the condition that neither the USGS nor the U.S. Government shall be held liable for any damages resulting from the authorized or unauthorized use of the information.


The data represented on this site vary in accuracy, scale, completeness, extent of coverage and origin. It is the user's responsibility to use these data consistent with their intended purpose and within stated limitations. We highly recommend reviewing metadata files prior to interpreting these data.

Citation information: U.S. Geological Survey. [2019]. Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. Gainesville, Florida. Accessed [3/22/2019].

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