orange and silver fishes on water

What is the history of the red tilapia

person holding orange and white fishes

A red or, more precisely, orange strain of tilapia first appeared in the aquaculture business in the mid-1980s. Because of its likeness to popular marine species such as red roman or red snapper, it was immediately recognized as a desirable food fish. Our blue kurper, the Mozambique tilapia (Oreochromis mossambicus), appears to be the species most likely to exhibit this red color feature, either completely or partially, according to research.

The absence of melanin in the skin allows the blood vessels to show through, but the eyes remain pigmented, making these fish near-albino or ‘xanthic.’ Albinism in any form causes a degree of weakening in the animal, and inbreeding near-albino fish to create a’red strain’ causes ‘inbreeding depression.’ Breeding from a small gene pool causes this genetic disease, which leads to a decline in overall health.

This was evident in the early varieties of red tilapia, which were inbred and underdeveloped, and performed badly in aquaculture. Numerous red tilapia still exist in this inbred stage in the local aquarium trade and aquaculture industry. Numerous color varieties are available, ranging from virtually white to vivid orange. Brother-sister breeding worsens the situation, and strains with unknown or unverified provenance should be avoided.

This flaw is, of course, undetectable when buying fingerlings because they all look the same. As the fish mature, the problem becomes apparent, and they become large-headed, small-bodied animals of limited value. Xanthic O. mossambicus was crossed with Nile tilapia in the Far East to create a hybrid strain with better aquaculture potential: a deeper body shape, later maturity, a smaller head, and faster growth potential.

To diversify their genetic make-up, red O. mossambicus has been crossed with one of the best-performing wild O. mossambicus strains in South Africa. Because only O. mossambicus is involved and there is no conservation threat, this crossing and back-crossing does not result in a hybrid. These red tilapia are still 100% O. mossambicus, with the best strain being marketed as the ‘Red 5’ strain after being out-crossed and back-crossed five times in seven years.

Is this the perfect combination?

There are two benefits to this native strain. When red tilapia is crossed with naturally occurring cold-tolerant populations, a level of cold tolerance is passed on that isn’t present in Nile tilapia. According to research, Nile tilapia outperform Mozambique tilapia only at higher temperatures (25°C to 32°C), while the latter thrive at temperatures as low as 18°C to 25°C. Furthermore, because to its high salt tolerance, Mozambique tilapia may be grown in brackish or even full-strength seawater, which the Nile tilapia cannot.

Red Mozambique tilapia strains with deep bodies and quick growth rates seem to be the type of choice for aquacultural systems where temperatures drop below normal.

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