Common Carp

Cyprinus carpio

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Image of common carp
Joseph R. Tomelleri. Used with permission.
Family

Cyprinidae (minnows) in the order Cypriniformes (carps, minnows, and loaches)

Description

A heavy-bodied minnow with a long dorsal fin containing 17–21 rays, a stout, saw-toothed spine at front of both dorsal and anal fins, and two barbels on each side of upper jaw. Back and sides brassy olive, belly yellowish-white. Scales of back and sides prominently dark-edged, giving a crosshatched effect. Fins dusky, often overlain by red on tail fin and yellow or orange on lower fins.

Size

Total length: 12–25 inches; weight: 1–8 pounds. One specimen in Missouri weighed 47 pounds.

Habitat and conservation

A native of Asia, this species was introduced to Europe centuries ago and was brought to America as early as 1831. Starting in 1879 and for the next 15 years, it was actively stocked in Missouri and was firmly established by 1895. It is highly adaptable to different habitats but is least abundant in clear, high-gradient streams of the central Ozarks. Large streams, natural lakes, and impoundments are preferred, especially in highly productive waters. In streams, adults prefer deeper pools.

Foods

These omnivores eat a variety of animal and plant material, with aquatic insects forming the most important food source. Feeding peaks in late evening or early morning, sometimes in very shallow water. They feed mostly from the bottom but also suck in objects floating on the surface. Food is probably located more by taste than by sight. Aggressive, active feeders, they often uproot plants and stir up the water, making it more turbid.

image of Common Carp distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide. Most abundant in big rivers, north and west prairie streams, and southeastern lowlands.

Status

One of the most widespread and abundant large fishes in the state. Some people think that common carp are a type of goldfish, but the two are indeed separate species. Both are in the minnow family, both came from Asia, and both are kept as pets and as ornamental fish in outdoor fishponds. Bright orange, red, white, and other color forms or both goldfish and carp have been bred for these purposes. Ornamental varieties of carp are called koi or nishikigoi.

Life cycle

Most spawning occurs from March to June but can continue through early fall. No nest is prepared, and no parental care is given. Eggs are broadcast over logs, rocks, and other submerged objects. Few common carp live more than 12 years in the wild, though in captivity they can live nearly 50 years.

Human connections

Many people eat carp, and the fish can put up a fight equal to that of any game fish of similar size, so their sporting qualities should be more widely recognized. Carp can be taken on a variety of baits, including dough balls, whole kernel corn, and worms.

Ecosystem connections

Because of their abundance, they are often accused of competing for food and space and eating the eggs of more desirable fishes. Their feeding clouds the water and uproots vegetation. Although there is truth in these complaints, the carp’s nuisance qualities may be somewhat exaggerated.