Thursday, January 20, 2011

FISH SPECIES BIO: Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio)

By Peter J. Park

Photo from Mike Kroessig (

The Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio) belongs to the Family Cyprinidae (The Carps and Minnows) which also includes the local species Common Goldfish (Cyprinus auratus), Grass Carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella), Creek Chub Minnow (Semotilus atromaculatus), and Common Shiner Minnow (Luxilus cornutus).  Common Carp are native to Eastern Europe and Asia

Common carp can be found in three body variants: leather (no scales), mirror (few, very large scales with areas of no scales), or fully scaled, and two natural color morphs: red (also called ‘golden’) or brown.  In the United States, red morphs are absent.  In Asia, a red carp is considered a rare, highly prized trophy catch.

Common Carp, fully scaled and mirror variants shown. Image from:

Common carp can be found in slow-moving fresh- and slightly brackish waters across the United States. They are an opportunistic scavenger.  As omnivores, carp consume various aquatic plants, vertebrates (e.g., small fishes), and invertebrates (e.g., insects, crustaceans, worms). 

Carp are an egg-laying species. Females can lay up to 300,000 eggs which are fertilized by male(s) that aggressively swim along side an egg-depositing female.  It is not uncommon to see groups of spawning carp splashing across shallow shorelines during the breeding season.  The common carp may grow as old as 65 years and reach sizes of up to 5 feet, weighing over 80lbs. 

In the US, the common carp has been considered a pest or “junk” fish.  The origin of this negative reputation may be due to its ecological impact as an invasive species (See Historical Impacts below) or its passive, non-predatory lifestyle.  Interestingly, in Asia and especially Europe, the popularity of this species as a gamefish is unmatched.  In these regions, the common carp is considered the most highly prized gamefish because of its fighting ability and intelligence.  Highly specialized techniques, rigs, and baits have been developed in Europe and Asia to target this species. 

The notion that common carp are a formidable gamefish is slowly gaining popularity among US anglers as reflected by the emergence of websites such as  The introductory home page of this site reads:
“Here in the U.S. the Carp Cyprinius carpio is looked upon as a trash fish by most anglers.  While throughout the rest of the world, and especially in the U.K. and Europe, the Carp is considered the king of sport fish. Isaak Walton, often considered  the father of modern angling  stated in his opus the  ‘Compleat Angler’ in 1653: ‘The  carp is the Queen  of Rivers: a stately, a good and a very subtle fish...’ My purpose  in  creating this web site is to provide a place to  disseminate information to carpers throughout North America and the World.”  

Aspiring carp angling enthusiasts may find the following US carp fishing websites informative:

CURRENT WORLD RECORD COMMON CARP: Colin Smith, a British angler, caught the world record common carp which had a magnificent weight of 100lb 8oz (

(Photo Credit:

CURRENT WORLD RECORD MIRROR CARP: Thomas Krist, a Czech angler, caught the world record mirror carp, which weighed a whopping 105lbs! The fish came from Hungary on May 18, 2015 (

(Photo Credit:
This mammoth fish was weighed and witnessed before it was photographed and released.

Economic Value and Historical Impact: 
- The first book ever written on aquaculture, "Treatise on Pisciculture," by Fan Lee was written in 473 BC and it was about carp. 
 - Carp were legally (not illegally) introduced into England in the 13th century and into the United States in 1877 because of their anticipated favor by anglers.
 - Koi is a domesticated ornamental variety of the common carp.  The art of breeding koi varieties originated in China but became popular in Western culture due to the efforts of Japanese aquarists.  Koi can commonly be found in artificial ornamental ponds and pools.

- The common carp is one of four very large Asian carps that have been introduced by humans into freshwaters of the United States. These carps include the silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix) and bighead carp (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis), which were brought to the US to be raised as an affordable food fish. In contrast, the common carp and grass carp have been intentionally introduced in the US by government agencies to control algal blooms in ponds and lakes. 

Due to a variety of favorable ecological factors (e.g., lack of natural predators, abundant food), these carp species have spread rapidly across the country and are now considered “invasive species.”  Unfortunately, this invasion of carp species has posed serious ecological concerns for native fishes.  Due do their rapid growth rate and destructive mating behavior, carp often thrive and outcompete native fishes for resources.  More recently, the silver carp has posed unexpected physical danger to humans.  For reasons yet unknown, these large (up to 80lbs) carp regularly leap out of the water (up to 10ft!), often unintentionally striking boaters and fishermen.  Today, there is a major effort to stop the spread of this species to the Great Lakes, but some feel that any attempt will be futile. Those who are more pessimistic may be correct (Source:

- The grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella) that were introduced in NYC and Long Island are genetically engineered to be sterile triploids (organisms with three, instead of two, sets of chromosomes).  Due to runoff from fertilizers and the feeding of water fowl by humans, many lakes in the NY area have become overrun by algae. Grass carp have been introduced by the NY Dept. of Environmental Conservation to help regulate algal growth in these eutrophicated lakes.  Eutrophication can pose a serious ecological threat to any body of freshwater. Normally, algae that die in the winter are decomposed via bacteria that utilize dissolved oxygen in the water.  An increase in algal quantity results in a corresponding increase in the amount of oxygen consumed by bacteria, which can limit the remaining dissolved oxygen required to sustain other aquatic organisms, like fish.  The sterile grass carp introductions have been one attempt to prevent the potential danger of eutrophication in NY ponds and lakes.

Sources and Further Reading
Gary W. Clark’s Carp Fishing website:
On-line fish biology database:
Comprehensive British fishing resource website:
US carp fishing resource websites:,,