Picture by Chad Thomas, Texas State University-San Marcos



Cyprinus carpio

common carp



Type Locality

Europe (Linneaus 1758).


Etymology/Derivation of Scientific Name

Cyprinus – generic name first used by Linnaeus and probably derived from Cyprus, the island home of Venus, and an indirect reference to the fish’s fecundity; carpio – Latin word for carp which was used by the Roman and Celtic peoples of Europe (Moyle 1976).



No information at this time.



Maximum size: Up to 1220 mm TL (Allen 1980).


Coloration:  Dorsal region olive to gray; lateral region yellow-gold with silvery sheen; ventral region pale yellow.  Dorsal and caudal fins gold-olive, other fins yellowish.  Breeding males have a darker shade of the colors mentioned above with orange-gold fins.  Juveniles have a dark vertical bar on caudal fin base. Peritoneum dusky (Goldstein and Simon 1999).


Pharyngeal teeth count: 1, 1, 3-3, 1, 1 (Hubbs et al. 1991).  May encounter 1,2,3-3,2,1.


Counts: 35-38 lateral line scales (Hubbs et al. 1991); 21-33 gill rakers; 19 caudal fin soft rays; 18-22 dorsal fin soft rays; 4-6 anal fin soft rays; 14-18 pectoral fin soft rays; 8 or 9 pelvic fin soft rays (Heufelder and Fuiman 1982; Ross 2001).


Body shape: Deep bodied and compressed.


Mouth position: Terminal on young, becoming subterminal as fish age (Page and Burr 1991; Ross 2001).


Morphology: Pharyngeal teeth are molar-like (Goldstein and Simon 1999). Upper jaw with barbels on each side; some morphologies without barbels (Hubbs et al. 1991).  Serrated spinous rays on dorsal and anal fins. Swee and McCrimmon (1966) noted that nuptial tubercles are typically present on the head and pectoral fin rays of the male during the spawning season.


Distribution (Native and Introduced)

U.S. distribution: Introduced in 1877; widely distributed in North America below 50th parallel; south to panhandle of Florida, west through Mississippi River basin, becoming less common in western United States (Allen 1980).


Texas distribution: Introduced statewide.


Abundance/Conservation status (Federal, State, Non-governmental organizations):

Broad and stable distribution in North America (Panek 1987).


Habitat Associations

Macrohabitat: Small backwater areas to large rivers and reservoirs. Most abundant in large bodies of water (Hubbs et al. 1991).


Mesohabitat: Ubiquitous among habitats (Allen 1980) usually avoid swift currents. In the Sulphur River, Texas, one of four dominant species in open-water group collections; positively associated with greater depths in the upstream reach and with pool habitats during the high flow range (Morgan 2002). ). Upper lethal limit reported to range between 36°C and 41°C; species moderately tolerant of low dissolved oxygen conditions, with decrease in feeding and growth apparent at oxygen concentrations less than 3 ppm; species extremely tolerant of turbidity caused by particulate matter (clay, silt), the lethal level approaches 165,000 ppm (Panek 1987). Reported from brackish marshes with salinities up to 14 ppt (Crivelli 1981); however this species is rarely found in brackish areas as high salinities cause excretory problems and may interfere with water balance (Panek 1987). Young fish will bury themselves in mud or sand in an effort to avoid predation by birds (Panek 1987).



Spawning season: April to August, in Wisconsin (Miller 1952). Early-June to mid-July, in Lewis and Clark Lake (Missouri River), with water ranging between 18.3-23.9°C (Walburg and Nelson 1966). In Ontario, Canada, mid-May to early-August, with water temperatures ranging between 17 and 27°C; peak activity at 19-23°C (Swee and McCrimmon 1966). Spawning occurs from early spring (Panek 1987) to early summer (Breder and Rosen 1966).


Spawning location: Phytolithophils - nonobligatory plant spawner that deposit eggs on submerged items in shallow areas (Breder and Rosen 1966; Swee and McCrimmon 1966; Balon 1981; Simon 1999). Known to spawn in rivers, lakes, marshes, forested swamps, ponds, and sheltered, vegetated areas of streams; over aquatic vegetation, tree roots, on mud bottoms, and over debris covering bottom (Breder and Rosen 1966; Heufelder and Fuiman 1982; Panek 1987). In Ontario, Canada, spawning typically occurred in shallow water with muck bottom where eggs were scattered over available vegetation (Swee and McCrimmon 1966); occurred in shallow flooded area with abundant fixed vegetation, in southern France (Crivelli 1981).


Reproductive strategy: Nonguarders; open substratum spawners; phytolithophils: late hatching larvae with cement glands in free embryos, have larvae with moderately developed respiratory structures, and have larvae that are photophobic (Swee and McCrimmon 1966; Balon 1981; Simon 1999). Spawning occurs in shallow water, both day and night, and is accompanied by much splashing. One or more males will chase the female, prodding her in an effort to induce extrusion of eggs. Eggs and milt are released into the water during this process; the eggs sinking and adhering to aquatic vegetation, algae, or firm substrates (Breder and Rosen 1966; Panek 1987).


Fecundity: Eggs ranging from 36,000 to 2,208,000 (Swee and McCrimmon 1966; Crivelli 1981; Panek 1987). Eggs demersal, adhesive, 1.5-2.1 mm (0.06-0.08 in) in diameter; incubation period 90 hours at 13-17°C (55.4-62.6°F), 50 hours at 25-32°C (77.0-89.6°F) (Heufelder and Fuiman 1982; Panek 1987). Females can spawn multiple times a year (Swee and McCrimmon 1966).


Age at maturation: Variable; males generally mature by age 2 and females at age three (Panek 1987). Of Canadian populations, Swee and McCrimmon (1966) noted that males mature at ages 3 – 4, females at ages 4 – 5.


Migration: Relatively sedentary, at times they move moderate distances in streams, likely relating to habitat suitability (Funk 1955). In rivers, common carp may migrate long distances to find suitable spawning conditions; in large reservoirs inhabit overwintering areas near shallows were they will spawn (Panek 1987).


Longevity: Seldom beyond 20 years in the wild (Panek 1987), maximum known is 47 years for a fish kept in a pond; common carp in warmer waters live <11 years (Carlander 1969).


Food habits: Species classified as invertivore/detritivore; benthic/filter feeder; grazer/suction feeder; main diet items include plant tissue, aquatic insects, crustaceans, annelids, and mollusks (Goldstein and Simon 1999). Feeding usually occurs in shallow water, by rooting through the substrata; however, C. carpio also consume plankton suspended in midwater, and insects or plankton trapped in the surface film. Bottom feeding individuals take mouthfuls of benthic organic matter and release it in the water column in order to select certain food items. C. carpio actively feed at sunrise and sunset. Diet of young primarily consists of small crustaceans, snails, and midge larvae; zooplankton selected from water column is sometimes an important diet item. Adults are omnivorous, consuming varying amounts of plant (rooted plants, algae, organic debris) and animals (midge larvae, crustaceans, small snails, freshwater clams). Pharyngeal teeth are well adapted for crushing and grinding larger food items (Panek 1987). Populations in two Colorado streams fed primarily on chironomid larvae and pupae; gut contents of stream fish also yielded large amounts of algae, sand, detritus, and terrestrial invertebrates. Fish inhabiting a Colorado pond fed primarily on chironomids, but also consumed large amounts of entomostracans and crayfish (Eder and Carlson 1977). In Lewis and Clark Lake (Missouri River), food items in order of volumetric importance were organic detritus (61%), insects (19%), microcrustaceans (10%), and phytoplankton (9%)(Walberg and Nelson 1966).


Growth: Highly variable; maximum average length (TL) is 445 mm (17.5 in) by the end of age 1,622 mm (24.5 in) by the end of age 2, 703 mm (27.7 in) by the end of age 3, 782 mm (30.8 in) by the end of age 4, and 831 mm (32.7 in) by the end of age 5 (Carlander 1969).


Phylogeny and morphologically similar fishes:

Subfamily Cyprinidae within the cyprinid group (Cavender and Coburn 1992). Often hybridizes with the non-native goldfish, Carassius auratus (Breder and Rosen 1966; Allen 1980). Goldfish (Carrassius auratus) lack barbels, and molar-like pharyngeal teeth. 


Host Records:

Algae; Fungi; Protozoa (extensive); Trematoda (extensive); Cestoda; Nematoda (extensive); Leeches; Mollusca; Crustacea (extensive; Hoffman 1967; Panek 1987).


Commercial or Environmental Importance:

Individuals disturb benthos and increase turbidity as they stir up the bottom when feeding; consequently species is regarded as pest fish in North America (Allen 1980; Panek 1987).



Allen, A.W.  1980.  Cyprinus carpio (Linnaeus), Common carp.  pp. 152 in D. S. Lee, et al.  Atlas of North American Freshwater Fishes.  N. C. State Mus. Nat. Hist., Raleigh, i-r+854 pp.

Balon E.K. 1981. Additions and amendments to the classification of reproductive styles in fishes. Environmental Biology of Fishes 6:377-389.

Breder, C.M., Jr., and D.E. Rosen. 1966. Modes of Reproduction in Fishes. T.F.H. Publications, Jersey City, NJ. 941 pp.

Carlander, K.D. 1969. Handbook of Freshwater Fishery Biology. Vol I. The Iowa State Univ. Press, Ames. 752 pp.

Cavender, T.M., and M.M. Coburn. 1992. Phylogenetic relationships of North American Cyprinidae, pp. 293-327. In: Systematics, historical ecology, and North American freshwater fishes. R.L. Mayden, ed. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California. 969 pp.

Crivelli, A.J. 1981. The biology of the common carp (Cyprinus carpio) in Camargue, southern France. J. Fish Biology 18:271-290.

Eder, S., and C.A. Carlson. 1977. Food habits of carp and white suckers in the South Platte and St. Vrain Rivers and Goosequill Pond, Weld County, Colorado. Trans. Amer. Fish. Soc. 106(4):339-346.

Funk, J.L. 1955. Movement of stream fishes in Missouri. Trans. Amer. Fish. Soc. 85:39-57.

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.

Heufelder, G.R., and L.A. Fuiman. 1982. Cyprinidae, pp. 174-344. In: Identification of larval fishes of the Great Lakes Basin with emphasis on the Lake Michigan drainage. N.A. Auer, ed. Spec. Publ., no. 82-83, Great Lakes Fisheries Commission, Ann Arbor, Michigan. 744 pp.

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

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.

Linnaeus, C. 1758. Systema naturae. 10th ed., Pt. 1, Laurentii Salvii, Holmiae, Paris. 824 pp.

Miller, N.J. 1952. Carp: control and utilization. Wis. Conserv. Bull. 17(5):3-7.

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

Moyle, P.B. 1976. Inland Fishes of California. University of California Press, Berkeley. 405 pp.

Page, L.M., and B.M. Burr. 1991. A Field Guide to Freshwater Fishes of North America, north of Mexico. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. 432 pp.

Panek, F.M. 1987. Biology and ecology of carp, pp.1-15. In: Carp in North America. E. L. Cooper, ed. American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, Maryland. 84 pp.

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.

Swee V.B., and H.R. McCrimmon. 1966. Reproductive biology of carp, Cyprinus carpio L., in Lake St. Lawrence, Ontario. Trans. Amer. Fish. Soc. 95(4):372-380.

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.