Black Carp

Mylopharyngodon piceus

blackcarp_10-25-10_0.jpg

A long fish with prominent dorsal and pectoral fins
Joseph R. Tomelleri. Used with permission.
Invasive
Family

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

Description

This large fish has large body scales and looks similar to the common grass carp, but the black carp is darker (though not truly black), and some report that adult black carp have a relatively narrower snout. It also has large pharyngeal teeth (throat teeth) that resemble human molars; these are used to crush the shells of its mollusk prey.

Size

Total length: to 5 feet; weight: to 160 pounds.

Habitat and conservation

This invasive fish from Asia eats mussels and snails, and it can damage populations of native mollusks, many of which are critically endangered. There is a strong possibility that this fish is becoming established, with breeding populations, on our continent.

Foods

This fish feeds on aquatic snails and mussels; unfortunately, many mussels in our state and nationwide are declining (many to the point of being endangered) even without the presence of this predator. Also, as black carp feed on algae-grazing snails, their presence may radically alter the composition of aquatic communities by removing those removers of algae.

image of Black Carp Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri

This fish has been found in the Mississippi River system, including our own Osage River, where in 1994 about 30 reportedly escaped from a fish farm during a high water event and entered that river.

Status

Invasive. Because of its detrimental effect on native species, it is illegal to transport live black carp across state lines or to introduce it to any waters in the United States. Unfortunately, young black carp and young grass carp are difficult to distinguish, and introductions of grass carp may inadvertently also include black carp.

Life cycle

Most of the black carp used in aquaculture in our country were introduced to control problematic snail populations in ponds of commercial fisheries, and these individuals are presumably mostly sterile (genetically triploid). Yet fertile (diploid) individuals can be present, too. Given that black carp can live for 15 years, even the sterile individuals can present a serious long-term problem for native mollusk populations.

Human connections

This is a valued food fish in its native China. In our country, presumably sterile individuals of this species have been used in aquaculture, but fertile specimens have appeared in our native waters, where they can reproduce and jeopardize many critically endangered mollusk species.

Ecosystem connections

There is little to recommend this species on our continent, as it further unbalances aquatic ecosystems and species that are already troubled with pollution, siltation, and habitat loss or alteration (such as damming and channelization).