Smaller West African species, such as Tilapia joka and species from the crater lakes of Cameroon, are more popular.

In specialised cichlid aquaria, tilapia can be mixed successfully with nonterritorial cichlids, armored catfish, tinfoil barbs, garpike and other robust and dangerous fish.

Like other cichlids, their lower pharyngeal bones are fused into a single tooth-bearing structure.

-pee-ə) is the common name for nearly a hundred species of cichlid fish from the tilapiine cichlid tribe.

Tilapia are mainly freshwater fish inhabiting shallow streams, ponds, rivers and lakes and less commonly found living in brackish water.

Larger tilapia species are generally poor community aquarium fish because they eat plants, dig up the bottom, and fight with other fish.

However, the larger species are often raised in aquariums as a food source, because they grow rapidly and tolerate high stocking densities and poor water quality.

Their mouths are protrusible, usually bordered with wide and often swollen lips. Typically tilapia have a long dorsal fin, and a lateral line which often breaks towards the end of the dorsal fin, and starts again two or three rows of scales below. Other than their temperature sensitivity, tilapia exist in or can adapt to a very wide range of conditions.

An extreme example is the Salton Sea, where tilapia introduced when the water was merely brackish now live in salt concentrations so high that other marine fish cannot survive.

Some species, including Tilapia buttikoferi, Tilapia rendalli, Tilapia mariae, Tilapia joka and the brackish water Sarotherodon melanotheron melanotheron, have attractive patterns and are quite decorative.

The tilapiines of North Africa are the most important commercial cichlids.

Tilapia painted on tomb walls, reminds us of spell 15 of the Book of the Dead by which the deceased hopes to take his place in the sun boat: "You see the tilapia in its [true] form at the turquoise pool", and "I behold the tilapia in its [true] nature guiding the speedy boat in its waters." Tilapia were one of the three main types of fish caught in Biblical times from the Sea of Galilee, specifically the "Galilean Comb" (Tilapia galilea). Peter's fish" comes from the story in the Gospel of Matthew about the apostle Peter catching a fish that carried a coin in its mouth, though the passage does not name the fish.