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.

Tilapia buttikoferi
Tilapia buttikoferi
(zebra tilapia)

Copyright Info
Tilapia buttikoferi (Hubrecht, 1881)

Common name: zebra tilapia

Synonyms and Other Names: Hornet tilapia

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).

Size: 30.8 cm SL (Teugels and Thys van den Audenaerde 1992). Photo available in Baensch, H.A. and R. Riehl (1985).

Native Range: Western Africa: Lower reaches of coastal rivers from Guinea-Bissau (Geba and Corubal Rivers) to west Liberia (St. John River) (Teugels and Thys van den Audenaerde 1991).

Hydrologic Unit Codes (HUCs) Explained
Interactive maps: Point Distribution Maps

Nonindigenous Occurrences: In Florida, the zebra tilapia was first collected in 2005 and is now established in Snapper Creek Canal. It has been collected in Tamiami Canal where its status is unknown (Shafland et al. 2008). However, as those two canal systems are linked, it is likely to be established in Tamiami Canal as well.

A single large fish, identified by two experts, was collected from the Rappahannock River near Fredericksburg, in Virginia in July 2000 (W. Wieland, personal communication). This was the first report of this species in the USA.  A second fish was collected from a park in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 2004 (Guerin 2004).

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 Tilapia buttikoferi are found here.

StateFirst ObservedLast ObservedTotal HUCs with observations†HUCs with observations†
FL199920222Everglades; Florida Southeast Coast
VA200020001Lower Rappahannock

Table last updated 5/23/2024

† Populations may not be currently present.

Ecology: Prefers freshwater lakes and coastal rivers in tropical/subtropical areas.  Male-female pairs cooperatively excavate a depression or pit in the sediment until they reach a solid substrate. Both pairs guard nest and young.

Means of Introduction: Aquarium releases, despite being illegal to keep in FL.

Status: Established in Florida. Failed in Virginia and Michigan.

Impact of Introduction: Unknown. Likely to be similar to closely related T. mariae in Florida.

Remarks: Although one expert informs us that they are illegal in Florida, he also observed them in 1999 for sale at a pet shop in South Florida. Those fish were confiscated by FL Wildlife Officers.

References: (click for full references)

Baensch, H.A. and R. Riehl. 1985. Aquarien atlas. Band 2. Mergus, Verlag für Natur-und Heimtierkunde GmbH, Melle, Germany. 1216 p.

Guerin, M. 2004. Strange Fish Identification The Jump [online]. http://www.thejump.net

Shafland, PL, KB Gestring, and MS Stanford.  2008.  Florida's Exotic Freshwater Fishes - 2007.  Florida Scientist 71(3):220-245.

Teugels, G.G. and D.F.E. Thys van den Audenaerde. 1991. Tilapia. p. 482-508. In J. Daget, J.P. Gosse, G.G. Teugels and D.F.E. Thys van den Audenaerde (eds.) Check-list of the freshwater fishes in Africa (CLOFFA). ISNB, Brussels; MRAC, Tervuren; and ORSTOM, Paris. Vol. 4.

Teugels, G.G. and D.F.E. Thys van den Audenaerde. 1992. Cichlidae. p. 714-779. In C. Levêque, D. Paugy and G.G. Teugels (eds.) Faune des poissons d'eaux dounces et saumâtres d'Afrique de l'Ouest. Tome 2. Coll. Faune Tropicale n° 28. Musée Royal de l'Afrique Centrale, Tervuren, Belgique and ORSTOM, Paris. 902 p.

Werner Wieland, Mary Washington College, Fredericksburg, VA

FishBase Summary

Author: Pam Fuller, Bill Loftus, and Matt Neilson

Revision Date: 3/31/2020

Peer Review Date: 11/1/2012

Citation Information:
Pam Fuller, Bill Loftus, and Matt Neilson, 2024, Tilapia buttikoferi (Hubrecht, 1881): U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?SpeciesID=481, Revision Date: 3/31/2020, Peer Review Date: 11/1/2012, Access Date: 5/23/2024

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. [2024]. Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. Gainesville, Florida. Accessed [5/23/2024].

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For general information and questions about the database, contact Wesley Daniel. For problems and technical issues, contact Matthew Neilson.