Carpiodes carpio

river carpsucker



Type Locality

Falls of Ohio River, below Louisville, KY (Rafinesque 1820).


Etymology/Derivation of Scientific Name

Carpiodes, Latin, meaning “carp-like;” carpio, Latin, “carp” (Pflieger 1997).



Catostomus carpio Rafinesque 1820:56.

Carpoides carpio Hay 1883:72; Cook 1959:83.

Carpoides difformis Hildebrand and Towers 1928:116.



Maximum size: 609 mm TL (Carlander 1969).


Coloration:  Dorsal region dull gray or brown; lateral region silvery with golden tint; ventral region white. 


Counts: 34-36 lateral line scales (Cross 1967; Pflieger 1997); 22-30 dorsal fin rays (Hubbs et al. 1991); caudal fin rays 18; anal fin rays 7-9; pectoral fin rays 15-18; pelvic fin rays 8-10 (Fuiman 1982).


Body shape:  Deep body.


Mouth position: Subterminal.


External morphology:  Large scales, large eye, long dorsal fin with anterior 1/3 dorsal fin rays much longer than latter 2/3 fin rays.  Subopercle bone more triangular than semicircular (vs. that found in smallmouth buffalo).  Snout almost square.  Nuptial males with numerous small tubercles on the top of head, and snout and cheek (except opercle bone); tubercles located along dorsal ridge anterior to dorsal fin and on first ray of all fins (except caudal; Huntsman 1967).


Internal morphology: Gut much coiled (Goldstein and Simon 1999). Pharyngeal teeth are fine and are 175-190 (Eastman 1977).


Distribution (Native and Introduced)

U.S. distribution:  Central US and Mexico in the Mississippi River basin and other western gulf drainages to Mexico (Lee and Platania 1980; Hubbs and Black 1940).


Texas distribution: Ranges statewide (Hubbs et al. 1991). Warren et al. (2000) listed the following drainage units for distribution of Carpiodes carpio in the state: Red River (from the mouth upstream to and including the Kiamichi River), Sabine Lake (including minor coastal drainages west to Galveston Bay), Galveston Bay (including minor coastal drainages west to mouth of Brazos River), Brazos River, Colorado River, San Antonio Bay (including minor coastal drainages west of mouth of Colorado River to mouth of Nueces River), Nueces River.


Abundance/Conservation status (Federal, State, NGO):

Currently secure (Warren et al. 2000). Most abundant of three sucker species collected during survey of Allens Creek and the Brazos River (Austin County, Texas; Linam et al. 1994).


Habitat Associations

Macrohabitat:  Large rivers and reservoirs; young individuals found in small streams (Hubbs et al. 1991). Young fish are commonly found in tributaries and shallow bays of Lake Texoma (Oklahoma-Texas; Riggs and Bonn 1959).


Mesohabitat: Abundant in quiet, silt-bottomed pools of rivers having low to moderate gradients, frequently in impoundments (Lee and Platania 1980). Collections in Lake Diversion, Texas, showed fish to be strongly demersal in habit; adults seldom located and observed in clear water; adults in muddy shallows were sensitive to any noise, quickly departing to remain in deeper water (Dalquest and Peters 1966). In Lake Texoma (Oklahoma-Texas), greatly abundant over sand, or sand and silt bottoms in water ≤ 12 m, and in the tailwaters; generally found within 1.5 m of the bottom, although it is also taken near the surface (Riggs and Bonn 1959). More commonly associated with large woody debris than open areas in Kansas reservoirs (Willis and Jones 1986). In sampling during summer low-flow conditions, species was associated with the channelized reach of the South Sulphur River, Texas (Burgess 2003). Found in main river channel of the lower Brazos River, Texas; occurred in oxbows that frequently connected to the main channel (Winemiller et al. 2000; Winemiller et al. 2004); found in pools and runs of the lower Brazos River, in summer and winter collections (Gelwick and Li 2002). Occurred in pools of the Sulphur River (Texas; Gelwick and Morgan 2000); one of four dominate species in open-water group collections, was positively associated with greater depths in the upstream reach, and with pool habitats during the high flow range (Morgan 2002). Abundant along banks, and in pools, sloughs, and oxbow lakes in the lower Mississippi River; common in the main river channel (Baker et al. 1991).



Spawning season:  In Iowa, early June to late-July or August (Behmer 1965); mid-June to mid-July, in South Dakota (Walburg and Nelson 1966); occurs between 19-24°C, with the peak at 21°C (Jester 1972; Walburg and Nelson 1966, Fuiman 1982). In Lake Diversion, Texas, species appeared to have two spawning periods; a light early spawn between mid-March and early-April, with the main spawn occurring late-May to mid-July (Dalquest and Peters 1966).


Spawning location: On bottom of rivers and some tributaries, over silt or sand substrate (Jester 1972; Fuiman 1982). Over firm sand substrate in a reservoir; spawning observed at night in relatively shallow water (Walburg and Nielson 1966). Observed in flowing waters of a stream amidst roots and stems of rushes (Cross 1967).


Reproductive strategy: Nonguarders; open substratum spawners; lithopelagophils - rock and gravel spawners with pelagic free embryos (Simon 1999). Fish congregate; eggs (initially adhesive) shed and fertilized in the water column; considerable splashing occurs during this act (Walburg and Nielson 1966).

Fecundity: In Iowa, ranges from 4,430 to 154,000 (Behmer 1969); reported to range from 18,150 to 195,700, in New Mexico (Jester 1972; Fuiman 1982). May spawn more than once per season (Behmer 1965). Eggs adhesive, demersal, with a diameter of 1.7-2.1 mm (Fuiman 1982).


Age at maturation: In New Mexico, both males and females were mature by age 3 (Jester 1972). In Lewis and Clark Lake, Missouri, sexual maturity usually reached in year 4 or 5; sexual maturity apparently more related to growth than to age (Walburg and Nelson 1966). Populations in Iowa reach maturity at 4-5 years (Behmer 1965); some females may be sexually mature at 2 years (Buchholz 1957).


Migration: Migrate upstream in May as water temperatures increase; move downstream after spawning (Trautman 1981; Curry and Spacie 1984). Spawning of fish in Lake Diversion, Texas, apparently stimulated by the river current; fish ascended the river in the spawning season and spawned in the river and tributary streams between Lake Diversion and Lake Kemp (Dalquest and Peters 1966). During a summer and fall tagging study, in the Des Moines River, Iowa, the maximum distance traveled was 10 km (Behmer 1969b).


Longevity: Age 10-11 (Minckley 1959; Carlander 1969; Jester 1976).


Food habits: Suction and filter feeder, consuming periphyton, small planktonic plants and animals (Goldstein and Simon 1999). In Lake Diversion, Texas, diet included diatoms, other algae, protozoans, rotifers, entomostrcans, tiny immature insects and invertebrate eggs (Dalquest and Peters 1966). Brezner (1958) noted that fish in Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, were not entirely benthic feeders: feeding largely on filamentous algae, ingesting large amounts of single-celled algae, protozoans, and small crustaceans associated with the algae; other diet items included oligochaetes, mollusks, and immature aquatic insects. In Iowa, fish fed on “bottom ooze” consisting mainly of diatoms, green algae, blue-green algae, desmids, Diptera (immature stages), and other small invertebrate animals (Buchholz 1957). Stomach contents of fish collected from Lewis and Clark Lake (Missouri River) included organic detritus, phytoplankton, zooplankton, sand and silt, insecta, and nematoda (Walburg and Nelson 1966).


Growth: Ross (2001) summarized growth data from Carlander (1969) and Bass and Riggs (1959) for populations in the southeastern U.S.: average TL of 79-157 mm at age 1, 150-272 mm at age 2, 213-363 mm at age 3, 259-417 mm at age 4, 292-460 mm at age 5, 328-493 mm at age 6, 351-538 mm at age 7, 381-513 mm at age 8, 409-516 mm at age 9, 492-554 mm at age 10, 577 mm at age 11. Average total lengths of fish from the Salt River, Missouri (lower station): 79 mm at the end of year 1, and 155, 229, 279, 312, 338, 394, and 371 mm at the end of years 2-8, respectively; averages from the Salt River (middle station): 81 mm at the end of year 1, and 163, 234, 279, 305, and 338 mm at the end of years 2-6, respectively; averages from the Salt River (upper station): 86 mm at the end of year 1, and 160, 191, 241, and 267 mm at the end of years 2-5, respectively (Purkett 1958). Average calculated total length for fish in Lake Texoma (Oklahoma-Texas): 64-103 mm at the end of year 1, and 125-174, 188-259, 276-313, 338-367, and 381 mm at the end of years 2-6, respectively (Bass and Riggs 1959). Stuckey and Klaassen (1971) compared populations in both Cedar Bluff Reservoir and the Smokey Hill River (west-central Kansas) and found that the growth rate of reservoir fish was only slightly increased over that of river fish: Grand average calculated total lengths of fish in Smokey Hill River were 132 mm at age 1, and 196, 251, 299, 338, 373, 408, and 456 mm at ages 2-8, respectively; grand average total lengths of fish in Cedar Bluff Reservoir were 129 mm at age 1, and 189, 248, 297, 338, 383, 441, and 485 mm at ages 2-8, respectively.


Larval development studied by Yeager (1980) and described by Fuiman (1982).


Phylogeny and morphologically similar fishes:

Carpsuckers and buffalo are in the subfamily Ictiobinae, an early divergent group within Catostomidae and retaining many basal characteristics (Smith 1992).  Along with a more semi-circular subopercle, buffalo have more of a pointed snout than river carpsucker. 


Host Records: 

Cestoda: Biacetabulum meridianum, Glaradacris confusus; Trematoda: immature digenetic fluke; Nemata: Camallanus oxycephalus, Oxyuroid larva; Acanthocephala: Neoechinorhynchus prolixus (reported from Texas; Mayberry et al. 2000). Protozoa, Cestoda, Nematoda, Acanthocephala reported from North America populations (Hoffman 1967).


Commercial or Environmental Importance: 


[Additional literature noting collection of this species from Texas locations includes, but is not limited to the following: Rose and Echelle (1981); Rhodes and Hubbs (1992); Matthews et al. (1996); Li (2003); Bonner et al. (2005); Li and Gelwick (2005).]



Baker, J.A., J. Kilgore, and R.L. Kasul. 1991. Aquatic habitats and fish communities in the lower Mississippi River. Reviews in Aquatic Sciences 3(4):313-356.

Bass, J.C. and C.D. Riggs. 1959. Age and growth of the river carpsucker, Carpiodes carpio Rafinesque, of Lake Texoma. Proc. Okla. Acad. Sci. 39:50-69.

Behmer, D.J. 1965. Spawning periodicity of river carpsuckers, Carpiodes carpio. Proc. Iowa Acad. Sci. 72:253-262.

Behmer, D.J. 1969a. A method of estimating fecundity; with data on river carpsuckers, Carpoides carpio. Trans. Am. Fish. Soc. 98(3):523-524.

Behmer, D.J. 1969b. Schooling of river carpsuckers and a population estimate. Trans. Amer. Fish. Soc. 98(3):520-523.

Bonner, T.H., C. Thomas, C.S. Williams, and J.P. Karges. 2005. Temporal assessment of a west Texas stream fish assemblage. The Southwestern Naturalist 50(1):74-106.

Brezner, J. 1958. Food habits of the northern river carpsucker in Missouri. Progressive Fish-Culturist 20(4):170-174.

Buchholz, M. 1967. Age and growth of river carpsucker in Des Moines, Iowa. Proceedings of the Iowa Academy of Science 64:589-600.

Burgess, C.C. 2003. Summer fish assemblages in channelized and unchannelized reaches of the South Sulphur River, Texas. M.S. Thesis. Texas A&M University, College Station. 83 pp.

Carlander, K.D.  1969.  Handbook of Freshwater Fishery biology.  The Iowa State University Press, Ames, 1:1-752.

Cook, F.A. 1959. Freshwater Fishes in Mississippi. Mississippi Game and Fish Commission, Jackson. 239 pp.

Cross, F.B. 1967. Handbook of Fishes of Kansas. Mus. Nat. Hist., Misc. Publ. No. 45, Univ. Kans., Lawrence. 357 pp.

Curry, K.D. and A. Spacie. 1984. Differential use of stream habitat by spawning catostomid. American Midland Naturalist 111:267-269.

Dalquest, W.W., and L.J. Peters. 1966. A life history study of four problematic fish in Lake Diversion, Archer and Baylor Counties, Texas. IF Report Series 6. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Austin. 87 pp.

Eastman, J.T. 1977. Pharyngeal bones and teeth of Catostomis fishes. American Midland Naturalist 97(1):68-88.

Fuiman, L.A. 1982. Family Catostomidae, suckers, p. 345-435. In: Auer, N.A. (ed.), Identification of larval fishes of the Great Lakes Basin with emphasis on the Lake Michigan Drainage. Great Lakes Fish. Comm. Spec. Publ., 82-83.

Gelwick, F.P., and M.N. Morgan. 2000. Microhabitat use and community structure of fishes downstream of the proposed George Parkhouse I and Mark Nichols I reservoir sites on the Sulphur River, Texas. Report to the Texas Water Development Board. 124 pp.

Gelwick, F.P., and R.Y. Li. 2002. Mesohabitat use and community structure of Brazos River fishes in the vicinity of the proposed Allens Creek Reservoir. Report to the Texas Water Development Board. 50 pp.

Goldstein, R.M., and T.P. Simon. 1999. Toward a united definition of guild structure for feeding ecology of North American freshwater fishes. pp. 123-202 in T.P. Simon, editor. Assessing the sustainability and biological integrity of water resources using fish communities. CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida. 671 pp.

Hay, O.P. 1883. On a collection of fishes from the lower Mississippi valley.  Bull. U. S. Fish Comm. 2:57-75.

Hildebrand, S.F., and I.L. Towers. 1928. Annotated list of fishes collected in the vicinity of Greenwood, Mississippi, with descriptions of three new species.  Bull. U. S. Bur. Fish.  43(2):105-136.

Hoffman, G.L. 1967. Parasites of North American Freshwater Fishes.  University of California Press, Berkeley. 486 pp.

Hubbs, C. L., and J.D. Black. 1940. Status of the Catostomid Fish, Carpiodes carpio elongates Meek. Copeia 1940(4):226-230.

Hubbs, C., R.J. Edwards, and G.P. Garrett. 1991. An annotated checklist of the freshwater fishes of Texas, with keys to identification of species. The Texas Journal of  Science, Supplement  43(4):1-56.

Huntsman, G.R. 1967. Nuptial tubercles in carpsuckers (Carpiodes). Copeia 1967(2):457-458.

Jester, D.B. 1972. Life history, ecology, and management of river carpsucker, Carioides carpio (Rafinesque), with reference to Elephant Butte Lake. Research Rept. No. 243, New Mexico State University Agricultural Experiment Station, Las Cruces. 120 pp.

Jester, D.B. 1976. Production of rough or commercial fishes in Elephant Butte Lake, New Mexico. Trans. Amer. Fish. Soc. 105(2):222-231.

Lee, D.S. and S.P. Platania. 1980. Carpiodes carpio (Rafinesque), River carpsucker. pp. 367 in D. S. Lee, et al. Atlas of North American Freshwater Fishes. N.C. State Mus. Nat. Hist., Raleigh, i-r+854 pp.

Li, R.Y. 2003. The influence of environmental factors on special and temporal variation of fish assemblages in the lower Brazos River, Texas. M.S. Thesis. Texas A&M University, College Station. 80 pp.

Li, R.Y., and F.P. Gelwick. 2005. The relationship of environmental factors to spatial and temporal variation of fish assemblages in a floodplain river in Texas. Ecology of Freshwater Fish 14(4):319-330.

Linam, G.W., J.C. Henson, and M.A. Webb. 1994. A fisheries inventory and assessment of Allens Creek and the Brazos River, Austin County, Texas. River Studies Report No. 12. Resource Protection Division, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Austin. 13 pp.

Matthews, W.J., M.S. Schorrs, and M.R. Meador. 1996. Effects of experimentally enhanced flows on fish of a small Texas (U.S.A.) stream: assessing the impact of interbasin transfer. Freshwater Biology 35:349-362.

Mayberry, L.F., A.G. Canaris, and J.R. Bristol. 2000. Bibliography of parasites and vertebrate host in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas (1893-1984). University of Nebraska Harold W. Manter Laboratory of Parasitology Web Server, 1-100 pp.

Minckley, W.L. 1959. Fishes of the Big Blue River Basin, Kansas. Univ. of Kansas Publ., Mus. Nat. Hist. 11(7):401-442.

Morgan, M.N. 2002. Habitat associations of fish assemblages in the Sulphur River, Texas. Masters Thesis. Texas A&M University, College Station. 58 pp.

Pflieger, W.L. 1997. The Fishes of Missouri. Missouri Department of Conservation, Jefferson City. 372 pp.

Purkett, C.A. 1958. Growth of fishes in the Salt River, Missouri. Trans. Amer. Fish. Soc. 87:116-131.

Rafinesque, C.S. 1820. Ichthyologia Ohiensis, or natural history of the fishes inhabiting the River Ohio and its tributary streams, preceded by a physical description of the Ohio and its branches.  W. G. Hunt, Lexington, Ky.

Rhodes, K., and C. Hubbs. 1992. Recovery of Pecos River fishes from a red tide fish kill. The Southwestern Naturalist 37(2):178-187.

Riggs, C.D., and E.W. Bonn. 1959. An annotated list of the fishes of Lake Texoma, Oklahoma and Texas. 4(4):157-168.

Rose, D.R., and A.A. Echelle. 1981. Factor analysis of associations of fishes in Little River, Central Texas, with an interdrainage comparison. American Midland Naturalist 106(2):379-391.

Ross, S.T. 2001. The Inland Fishes of Mississippi. University Press of Mississippi, Jackson. 624 pp.

Simon, T.P. 1999. Assessment of Balon’s reproductive guilds with application to Midwestern North American Freshwater Fishes, pp. 97-121. In: Simon, T.L. (ed.). Assessing the sustainability and biological integrity of water resources using fish communities. CRC Press. Boca Raton, Florida. 671 pp.

Smith, G.R.  1992.  Phylogeny and biogeography of the Castostomidae, freshwater fishes of North America and Asia, pp. 778-826. In: Systematics, historical ecology, and North American freshwater fishes.  R. L. Mayden, ed.  Stanford Univ. Press, Stanford, California.

Stucky, N.P., and H.E. Klaassen. Growth and condition of the carp and river carpsucker in an altered environment in western Kansas. Trans. Amer. Fish. Soc. 100(2):276-282.

Trautman, M.B. 1981. The Fishes of Ohio. Revised edition. Ohio State Univ. Press, Columbus. 782 pp.

Walburg, C.H., and W.R. Nelson. 1966. Carp, river carpsucker, smallmouth buffalo, and bigmouth buffalo in Lewis and Clark Lake, Missouri River. Research Rept., no. 69, Bureau Sport Fisheries and Wildlife, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D. C. 30 pp.


Warren, M.L., Jr., B.M. Burr, S.J. Walsh, H.L. Bart, Jr., R.C. Cashner, D.A. Etnier, B.J. Freeman, B.R. Kuhajda, R.L. Mayden, H.W. Robison, S.T. Ross, and W.C. Starnes. 2000. Diversity, Distribution, and Conservation status of the native freshwater fishes of the southern United States. Fisheries 25(10):7-29.

Willis, D.W. and L.D. Jones. 1986. Fish standing crops in wooded and nonwooded coves of Kansas reservoirs. N. Amer. J. Fish. Managm. 6(1):105-108.


Winemiller, K.O., F.P. Gelwick, T. Bonner, S. Zueg, and C. Williams. 2004. Response of oxbow lake biota to hydrologic exchanges with the Brazos River channel. Report to the Texas Water Development Board. 59 pp.


Winemiller, K.O., S. Tarim, D. Shormann, and J.B. Cotner. 2000. Fish assemblage structure in relation to environmental variation among Brazos River oxbow lakes. Trans. Amer. Fish. Soc. 129:451-468.


Yeager, B.L. 1980. Early development of the genus Carpoides (Osteichthyes: Catostomidae). M.S. Thesis, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. 80 pp.