field guide to the freshwater fishes of singapore

Index of fishes
General parts of a fish
Kelvin K P Lim and Peter K L Ng
  Family Cichlidae
Perch-like, usually slightly laterally compressed fishes, which are unique amongst the freshwater fishes for having only a single nostril on each side of the head. They are found in great diversity throughout tropical America, Africa, India and western Asia. They are not native to South East Asia.

Many species of the tilapine group of this family have been brought round the world for aquaculture purposes, and of these, the Common Tilapia (Oreochromis mossambicus) is probably the most successful and widely distributed.
This fish is also the "workhorse" of many experiments on fish physiology in Singapore and many other countries.

Commercially, the Red Tilapia is sold in many restaurants. These are from fry imported from Taiwan. The Red Tilapia is actually a hybrid of O. mossambicus, O. niloticus and O. aureus.

If these hybrids breed, they produce a mixture of colours, including red animals with patches of black and grey. These cause a lot of taxonomic problems.
photo of whole fish, side view
Red Tilapia

photo of whole fish, side view Oreochromis niloticus
or one of its hybrids
Photo: Francis Lim

Genus Oreochromis
Euryhaline; oviparous; omnivorous; gregarious, but males are highly territorial; pelagic. The proper genus name for our Common Tilapia (Tilapia, Sarotherodon or Oreochromis) has now been more less resolved. The males are territorial and are hostile towards other males. Females tend to be more drab, and seem to travel in large schools. A breeding male will clean out a large depression on the substrate in which he will "invite" potential females to come and mate. The fishes are mouthbrooders, and it is usually the females who take care of the brood.

photo of whole fish, side view
Photo: Francis Lim
Common Tilapia
Oreochromis mossambicus
Ikan Tilapia, Sepat Jepun, name in chinese characters

40 cm. Feral, common. Widespread in rural and urban streams, canals, drains, ponds
and reservoirs, in freshwater and brackish water habitats.

There is distinct sexual dimorphism in this species, the males being wholly black with a white throat and red fin edges when ready to breed, and the females a drab grey or brown.

The history of this fish in Singapore is interesting in that it was introduced by the Japanese during the Second World War from stocks originally brought to Java. Its two most common local names, translated as "Japanese" or "Javanese" fish are erroneous as the homeland of this species is in East Africa.
photo of pair of fishes
Common Tilapia
Male (top right)
female (bottom left)
Photo: Yip Hoi Kee

photo of whole fish, side view
Young Tilapia
Photo: Tan Bee Hong
It has, however, not found favour with the locals. Today, it is being crossed with other species to produce fishes more favourable for the table, and these hybrids are becoming more acceptable. In the wild, it is well established in many places (including canals and drains).
Freshwater habitats
Fishes in Singapore
Amazing Fishy Facts
About the guidebook
From A Guide to Common Freshwater Fishes of Singapore by Kelvin K P Lim and Peter K L Ng
Published by the Singapore Science Centre and sponsored by BP

@Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research and Singapore Science Centre