What Does Tilapia Eat?

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Tilapia is a very popular fish species that is consumed in various countries.  It is the fourth-most consumed fish in the United States.  There are over 100 species of fish that are considered as tilapia fish of the cichlid order.  Most of these species are freshwater aquatic animals that live in shallow ponds, rivers, lakes and dams.

Tilapia is also an important fish species in the agriculture sector and is often bred as food.  This fish species is relatively easy to care for.

What Does Tilapia Eat?

Tilapia fish are mostly herbivore animals.  They don’t need too much protein foods to survive. These animals are often kept in ponds or small water bodies to help improve the quality of the water by reducing certain growths like algae.

Pallet foods

Commercial tilapia is usually fed on pellet feeds. The feeds are manufactured by cooking, extruding, and pelletizing a formulation of foods.  Pellet foods for tilapia usually contain 32-40% protein that is introduced by adding ingredients like fish meal or soya-based protein.

Floating pellets are recommended for feeding tilapia fish since these foods stay on the surface so farmers can see how much food is left.  Floating pellets are however more expensive compared to average fish pellets.

Fish pellets are commercially produced in different sizes.  These foods can be small grain forms for fry, bigger particles for fingerlings, or larger pellets for adult fish.


Duckweed is often offered as a supplementary feed to reduce the cost of raising tilapia.  Offering duckweed can also increase the health of this fish species since this food is rich in protein and vitamin C.  Duckweed should however be contained when it is offered as feed because it is an invasive plant that can smother water bodies which can have a devastating impact on the environment.


Many farmers also offer earthworms as supplemental food.  Earthworms have about 60% protein content.  Small red earthworm varieties are the best types to feed tilapia.  This fish species may also consume other worm types such as maggots although many farmers feel that this isn’t a suitable food to offer them due to the high-fat content.


You cannot offer freshly cut Lucerne to your tilapia fish since this can cause bloating.  But dried Lucerne contains lots of protein, vitamins, and minerals and as such is a good substitute food to offer this fish species.


Tilapia also loves to eat algae.  This fish species is often seen nibbling at underwater surfaces where lots of algae growth is found.  Their love for algae is also what draws them to shallow water regions in rivers and ponds.

Aquatic plants

While tilapia nibbles on algae, they might also feed on water plants.  They enjoy eating the leaves, stems, and roots of these aquatic plants.  This fish species love to eat filamentous algae, blue-green algae, rooted plants, water lilies, duckweed, and many other types.


Tilapia also eats small insects.  They are especially fond of earthworms but will also feed on zooplankton or phytoplankton that they find living in their natural environment.  Other insects like fly larvae and aquatic larvae like the mayfly can also be a tasty morsel for the tilapia.

List Food

This fish species may show various diet variations because they may eat little bits of almost anything.  One of their biggest diet variations is that they may eat smaller fish species.  This is however not a very common food source for tilapia fish.

How to Feed Tilapia

Tilapia fish are happy to feed on the water surface or bottom.  It is however much better for farmers to feed them from the water surface so they can monitor the food requirements for this fish species with ease.  When foods disappear from the surface, it means all foods have been consumed.  With foods that sink to the bottom, it can sometimes be hard to avoid overfeeding.

What do Tilapia Eat in the Wild?

This fish species will eat all sorts of foods they find in their natural habitat.  They prefer shallow regions since more algae tend to grow in these regions.  They will also eat aquatic plants, insects, worms, small fish, and other items they find in the water.

What does Tilapia eat in Captivity?

Most tilapia is raised on algae and pellet foods.  Many farmers do however supplement their tilapia with duckweed or earthworms to reduce the cost of feeding these animals.  In some agricultural farms, manure is introduced to increase the availability of zooplankton and phytoplankton in the water so fry will have more food to consume.

What do Baby Tilapia Eat?

Baby tilapia are called fry and are usually 0.25 – 0.75 inches long.  Fry usually focuses on foods like detritus, neuston (organisms that float on the water), zooplankton, and polyplankton.  They can also be offered fine fish pellets or fish meal like bone meal to help them grow.

How much do Tilapia Eat?

The amount of food tilapia eat depends on their size and water temperature.  In cold climates, their metabolism slows down and they eat much less.  Farmers often warm up the fish dams to boost faster growth in this fish species.

Tilapia that weigh less than 150 grams need food that consists of 32 – 35 % protein and they consume about 3 – 5% of their own body weight.

When tilapia reaches about 250 grams, their food should contain 27 – 29% protein and they eat about 3 – 4% of their weight per day.

When tilapia reaches about 300 grams, they grow faster and need more than 35% protein in their diet.

How often do Tilapia Eat?

Young fry is fed more frequently than larger fish species.  By the time a fish reaches 250 grams, they are fed twice per day.  Ideally, they are fed in the morning and evening well before dark.

Does Tilapia Eat Other Fish?

Yes, tilapia might sometimes catch and eat other fish species that are small enough to be swallowed whole.  They do however only attack when they are underfed.

Does Tilapia Eat Poop?

That tilapia eat manure is a misconception.  The fish do not eat manure.  Manure breaks down in the water and natural zooplankton and phytoplankton numbers increase since they have much more food to consume in the form of broken down manure.  This increase in zooplankton and phytoplankton, in return, acts as more food for fish and especially fry.

Does Tilapia Eat Their Young?

Tilapia is not quite as likely to eat their own young but as young juveniles, they can be cannibalistic.  Juvenile fish love to eat fry of their own species because fry contains lots of protein.

Does Tilapia Eat Tadpoles?

Tadpoles are not a preferred food source but tilapia will eat these aquatic animals if other food is scarce.

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