What is the best temperature for tilapia in aquaponics systems?
Before we begin, keep in mind that tilapia are definitely warm water fish.
But there are a few reasons they are the most common fish in aquaponics.
Tilapia are feed tolerant
For starters, they’re very tolerant of poor water quality and they eat almost anything you can feed them.
While some folks use traditional fish food, a practice most commercial growers use, others choose to supplement this type of feed with duckweed.
Heck, you could probably feed them grass clippings if you want. (Just because you can doesn’t mean you should; don’t go mow your yard and dump the clippings in your aquaponic system.)
Tilapia are temperature sensitive
While they’ll eat just about anything, the issue with tilapia is that they’re very temperature sensitive.
Remember, these fish are primarily coming from Africa or other historically tropical environments.
For most tilapia, when the water temperature drops down to about 55 degrees (Fahrenheit), they will go into a stress-induced dormant state.
You’ll know this is happening because one day you’ll walk in and those tilapia will be bumping into the walls and swimming around like they’re drunk.
As you can imagine, this isn’t a great state for your fish. It’s actually really dangerous for their biology. Once your water temperature drops down to 50°F you’ve probably killed them.
There are very few tilapia varieties that can withstand those types of temperatures.
I’ve played around with various hybrid species before as well.
There’s actually a hybrid called a Rocky Mountain White that’s tolerant of cooler temperatures; supposedly this is a fish that can get down around 50°F without croaking.
I’ve also played with some tilapia varieties that aren’t supposed to be cold tolerant at all, like the Nile-based Florida Reds. I say Nile-based because there’s almost no truly pure stock.
What I’ve found is that often times the hybrids that are bred for cold tolerance are just poor feeders and gain weight slower than most.
I prefer fish that will feed voraciously up until the time that they die over fish that are tolerant of lower water quality.
Adaption to water temperatures
I will say that by exposing your fish to more extreme variables over time, they will adapt.
We’ve got a number of generations in our system and I’d be willing to bet that they could occasionally tolerate water temperatures down in the high 40’s.
We’ve got this crazy mutt tilapia breed now that seems to tolerate almost all the abuse we throw at them.
However, if you’re just starting off with tilapia that you order through the mail or get from a friend, you need to keep those water temperatures above 60°F minimum.
And, if you want good production, you need to keep your temperatures between 70°F and 85°F.
So what’s the optimal temperature for tilapia then?
You’re going to get maximum production in the 70 to 85ºF range.
Have other questions about tilapia in aquaponics?
Ask them in the comments below!
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