Transcriptional plasticity is a major driver of phenotypic differences between species. The lower temperature limit (LTL), namely the lower end of survival temperature, is an important trait delimiting the geographical distribution of a species, however, the genetic mechanisms are poorly understood. We investigated the inter-species transcriptional diversification in cold responses between zebrafish Danio rerio and tilapia Oreochromis niloticus, which were reared at a common temperature (28 °C) but have distinct LTLs. We identified significant expressional divergence between the two species in the orthologous genes from gills when the temperature cooled to the LTL of tilapia (8 °C). Five KEGG pathways were found sequentially over-represented in the zebrafish/tilapia divergently expressed genes in the duration (12 hour) of 8 °C exposure, forming a signaling cascade from metabolic regulation to apoptosis via FoxO signaling. Consistently, we found differential progression of apoptosis in the gills of the two species in which zebrafish manifested a delayed and milder apoptotic phenotype than tilapia, corresponding with a lower LTL of zebrafish. We identified diverged expression in 25 apoptosis-related transcription factors between the two species which forms an interacting network with diverged factors involving the FoxO signaling and metabolic regulation. We propose a genetic network which regulates LTL in fishes.