One of the big bruisers of the cichlid family, Tilapia buttikoferi is a smart and outgoing fish with a bit of a mean streak. This handsome species sports alternating black and yellow/white stripes on a stout body. Because of its large size (up to 16 inches) it is also used as a food fish. But in the home aquarium, its large size is comes in handy for its favorite activity – bullying other fishes.
The Tilapia buttikoferi’s natural habitat is the rivers of West Africa where it lives among the rocky areas. Thus, their tank setup should include lots of rocks and stones that form caves for shelter. A minimum tank size tank of 55 gallons is required for medium sized specimens; full grown adults will need a 100 gallon tank or larger. These fish are big eaters, so an efficient filtration system along with regular water changes is very important in order to keep them healthy.
The temperature in the aquarium should be kept between 72-80 F with a pH of 6.5-7.5. In the wild, T. buttikoferi consumes all types of animal and vegetable matter and they will eagerly accept most fresh and prepared foods that are offered. Their diet should include meaty as well as vegetarian fare such as shrimp, fish, worms, lettuce, spirulina pellets, and specially formulated cichlid pellets. These fish are very territorial and will seek and destroy their own kind as well as other smaller fishes. Keep one specimen per tank and house them with other large, hardy fishes.
Breeding the Tilapia buttikoferi is not easy due to their belligerent nature. It is best to begin with a group of young fish and raise them in a large tank. Some may begin to pair off while others may be getting severely picked on. In any case, the pairs as well as any victims of bullying should be removed to their own tanks.
Spawning involves a lot of aggressive “sparring” on the part of the couple – if things get too violent they may need to be separated. However, if things go well they will usually dig a pit in the gravel for the eggs. If there is no gravel the female will lay her eggs on a flat surface and the male will fertilize them. The male should be removed after mating. The eggs (which can number in the hundreds) will hatch after a few days and the fry can be fed newly hatched brine shrimp as well as finely ground flake foods.