Flounder vs Tilapia: How Are They Different?

Written by Gabrielle Nicole
Published: March 23, 2022
Image Credit Yossi James/Shutterstock.com
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Flounders find their place along the salty seafloor, with strange bodily adaptations and a penchant for disguise. Tilapias are native to freshwater habitats of Africa, but they have exploded into worldwide popularity as one of the most widely farmed fish. Let’s fish for all the differences between these creatures with a look at flounder vs tilapia below.

Key Differences Between Flounder and Tilapia

Flounder and tilapia differ in scientific classification habitat, diet, and physical features.

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The key differences between flounder and tilapia are their classification, habitat, appearance, diet, and their use in aquaculture and cuisine.

These fishes are part of separate orders and families. They live in unique habitats and have individual features and diets that are well adapted for them. They differ in their popularity for aquaculture and have unique textures for culinary use. Let’s explore all these differences in detail.

Flounder vs Tilapia Comparison

FlounderTilapia
ClassificationOrder: PleuLet’stiformes, Families: Archiropsettida, Bothidae, Pleuronectidae, PsettodidaeOrder: Perciformes, Family: Cichlidae, Genus: Tilapia, Coptodon, Oreochromis, Saratherodon
HabitatSaltwater, bottom-dwellingFreshwater, mid-level, and bottom-dwelling
AppearanceUp to 22 lbs, round & flat bodies, camouflage, both eyes on one side of the bodyUp to 10 lbs, deep & laterally compressed bodies, color depends on species, interrupted lateral line.
DietCarnivoresOmnivores
AquacultureHighly successful, farmed worldwideSome species have shown high potential for commercial success
Culinary UseDelicate, sweet, flaky, mildmedium-firm, flaky, sweet, mild

Flounder vs Tilapia: Classification

Flounders are a variety of species found within the Pleuronectiformes order. They fall into this order along with other bony flatfish like halibut and turbot. Flounders are flatfish within the families of Achiropsettida (southern flounders), Bothidae (left-eye flounders), Pleuronectidae (right-eye flounders), and Psettodidae (spiny flounders).

Tilapias are part of the order Perciformes, perch-like fishes. Tilapia is the common name for many species of cichlids, fish within the Cichlidae family. They share their family name with close to a hundred species of fish within distinct genera. In the past, all tilapia shared the genus Tilapia, but they’re now part of others such as Coptodon, Oreochromis, and Saratherodon.

Flounder vs Tilapia: Habitat

Flounder (Paralichthys) - swimming over rocks
Flounders are found on tropical waters along the coast of Europe.

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Primarily freshwater fishes, tilapias are native to Africa. They’re now widespread through many tropical, subtropical, and temperate regions of the world. They arrived new areas through fish farms as a productive food source. Additionally, tilapia were introduced for fishing, weed control, and research. They live in shallow streams, ponds, rivers, and lakes. They sometimes inhabit brackish water, like the slightly salty water of estuaries. While they’re often labeled bottom-feeders, they tend to spend time in the middle portion of the water. If they can’t find food there, they’ll seek it near the bottom or wherever they can find it.

As saltwater bottom dwellers, flounders are masters of disguise. They’re able to change their coloration rapidly to match the ocean floor. They burrow almost entirely in sand or soft mud, making them virtually invisible. Tropical and temperate waters along the coasts of Europe, North America, Africa, and Asia are the main zones these flat-finned fishes find a home. Some species reach north into the Arctic, and tend to prefer the shallow zones.

Flounder vs Tilapia: Appearance

Flounders weigh up to 22 pounds. Round and flat bodies make them well adapted to a bottom-dwelling lifestyle. They have both eyes on one side of their body. This unique feature allows them to dwell on the ocean floor with both eyes on the top side. These eyes can move independently of one another and give the flounder a good vision of the sea above them. Against the background of a sandy ocean floor, their scales act as camouflage, making detection by predators difficult. Some species can shift color in response to the seabed in further disguise. Their coloring shifts from orange, brown, green, white, and tan. It’s also dependent on their emotional state, changing in response to threats and other events.

Tilapias can grow to be 10 pounds. They’re easily identifiable by their interrupted lateral line, which is a characteristic of the Cichlid family. They have deep and laterally compressed bodies with long dorsal fins. They exhibit a range of colors from white to gold, pink, brilliant red, dark blue, and black, depending on the species. Blue tilapia (Oreochromis aureus) is typically blue-gray. The original red tilapia were genetic mutants. They’ve become popular because of their similarity to red snapper, giving them market value.

Flounder vs Tilapia: Diet

tilapia fish
Tilapias are omnivores that feed on soft aquatic vegetation, plankton, and algae.

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Flounders are primarily nocturnal carnivores who ambush, blending into their surroundings before the sharp teeth snap surprises their prey. Their diet consists mainly of fish spawn, crustaceans, and small fish. Smaller species take advantage of worms and plankton as food sources. They feed on the ocean floor in muddy areas near bridges, docks, and coral reefs.

Tilapias are omnivores that feed on soft aquatic vegetation, plankton, algae, and aquatic invertebrates. They also eat larval fish, decomposing organic matter, and detritus. Often, they’re considered filter feeders because they can harvest plankton from the water. Their gills secrete a mucus that traps the plankton. They swallow this plankton-rich mucus and then digest it in their long intestines.

Flounder vs Tilapia: Aquaculture

Tilapias are hugely popular for aquaculture, the practice of farming in water. They’re the third most important fish for aquaculture cultivation, after carp and salmon. They have several features that propelled them into a primary farming candidate position. Firstly, they have a fast growth rate. Secondly, they are adaptable and able to handle a range of environmental conditions. In addition, they have a resistance to stress and disease. And finally, they are palatable with high protein content. Although there are various methods, most farmers prefer open-air earthen ponds for farming tilapia.

Freshwater species like carp, tilapia, and catfish have been the main focus of aquaculture systems in the past. Saltwater systems are harder to maintain, and flounders are more sensitive to environmental changes. So far, flounders are far less common than tilapia in aquaculture, but interest is growing. The olive flounder, Paralichthys olivaceus, is a candidate species for the U.S. aquaculture industry. This flounder species has been shown to be commercially viable and has already been produced commercially in Korea and Japan. Summer flounders are also being farmed and are showing a high potential for success as aquaculture species.

Flounder vs Tilapia: Culinary Use

tilapia2
Tilapia filets are firmer than the delicate flesh of flounder.

Yossi James/Shutterstock.com

Overall, flounders have an incredibly delicate texture, so you’ll want to cook them with care. They’re very versatile and can be prepared in many ways. The common methods include broiling, baking, steaming, deep-frying or pan-frying. If grilling, wrap the filets in foil so that fine flakes don’t crumble and fall into the grates. Flounder filets are sweet, flaky, and mild. Common choices of flounder species to prepare are the winter flounder (Lemon Sole), the summer flounder (fluke), the witch flounder (gray sole), the gulf flounder, and the peacock flounder.

Tilapia has a sweet and mild taste that lends itself to a wide variety of recipes and cooking methods. Its flesh is lean and has a medium-firm, flaky texture. It’s protein-rich and low in fat. Raw flesh is white or pinkish-white and sometimes has a darker muscle layer on the skin side of the filets. It cooks up to a white color. Some of the most popular tilapia species for culinary use are the Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus), the blue tilapia (Oreochromis aureus),, and the Mozambique tilapia (Oreochromis mossambicus).

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About the Author

I'm a freelance writer, visual artist and musician guided by a deep connection with all other beings and the landscapes we inhabit. My best friend is a four-legged, spotted, soft on the eyes, heart of gold with impossibly soft ears and a wicked sense of humor. I had a pot-bellied pig as a pet when I was a child. His name was Beethoven and he taught me animal-speak early on. I am forever grateful.

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