Hypophthalmichthys nobilis - Bighead Carp


Information Last Reviewed Spring 2007




General Biology

Life Cycle

Habitat Characteristics





Web Sites






Phylum: Chordata

Class: Actinopterygii

Order: Cypriniformes

Family: Cyprinidae








Juvenile Morphology


Adult Morphology


Distinguishing Characteristics 

Bighead carp are unlikely to be confused with native cyprinids due to size and unusual position of the eye. They are most similar to silver carp (H. molitrix) but have a keel that does not extend forward past pelvic fin base, have dark blotches and lack highly branched gill rakers. image\17.jpg




General Biology:



Exhibit schooling behavior image\14.jpg









Life Cycle:














Habitat Characteristics:


Preferred Environment








Water Quality






Native Range

China image\10.jpg


North American Distribution


Bighead carp have been recorded from the following states. However, only those with an asterisk (*) are states that have verified records of established, reproducing populations. Reproducing populations appear to be restricted to large river systems and have been documented in the Big Muddy (Illinois), Black (Louisiana), Cache (Illinois), Kaskaskia (Illinois), Mississippi, and Missouri Rivers. image\2.jpg image\5.jpg image\6.jpg image\8.jpg image\14.jpg image\15.jpg image\18.jpg

Alabama- Alabama, Black Warrior, Mobile, Tallapoosa, Tennessee, and Tombigbee Rivers


Arkansas- Arkansas, Cache, Mississippi, St. Francis, and White Rivers and Bayou Meto

California- Brannin Creek, Tehama Co.

Colorado- Water treatment ponds

Florida- Lake Okeechobee

Illinois*- Mississippi, Ohio, Cache, Big Muddy, and Kaskaskia Rivers and Horseshoe Lake

Indiana- Ohio River

Iowa- Big Sioux, Chariton, Des Moines, Missouri, and Mississippi Rivers

Kansas- Kansas, Delaware, Missouri, and Wakarusa Rivers

Kentucky- Ohio River, lower Tennessee River, lower Cumberland River, lower Green River, and Mississippi river

Louisiana*- Atchafalaya River, Lake Providence, Bayou LaFourche, Bayou Courtableau, Prairion Bayou, Bayou Benoit, Mississippi River, Tensas River, Turkey Creek and Red-Ouachita River

Mississippi- Sardis Lake, Mississippi, Pascagoula, Sunflower, and Yazoo Rivers and Mathews Break

Missouri*- Mississippi, Missouri, Osage, and Salt Rivers

Nebraska- Missouri River and Middle Creek

Ohio- Lake Erie

Oklahoma- Grand Lake, Lake Texoma, and Muddy Boggy River

South Dakota- Missouri River

Tennessee- Mississippi, Hatchie, and Tennessee Rivers

Texas- Victor Brauning Reservoir, Red River, and upper Brazos River

West Virginia- Ohio River


Probable Means of Introduction














Control Measures






  1. Abdusamadov, A.S. 1987. Biology of white amur, Ctenopharyngodon idella silver carp, Hypophthalmichthys molitrix and bighead, Aristichthys nobilis acclimatized in the Terek Region of the Caspian Basin. Journal of Ichthyology 26:41-49.


  1. Bernstein, N.P. and J.R. Olson. 2001. Ecological problems with Iowa’s invasive and introduced fishes. Journal of the Iowa Academy of Science 108(4):185-209.


  1. Bettoli, P.W., W.H. Neill, and S.W. Kelsch. 1985. Temperature preference and heat resistance of grass carp Ctenopharyngodon idella (Valenciennes), bighead carp Hypophthalmichthys nobilis (Gray), and their F1 hybrid. Journal of Fish Biology 27:239-247.


  1. Burke, J.S., D.R. Bayne, and H. Rea. 1986. Impact of silver and bighead carps on plankton communities of channel catfish ponds. Aquaculture 55:59-68.


  1. Burr, B.M., D.J. Eisenhour, K.M. Cook, C.A. Taylor, G.L. Seegert, R.W. Sauer, and E.R. Atwood. 1996. Nonnative fishes in Illinois waters: What do the records reveal? Transactions of the Illinois State Academy of Science 89(1/2):73-91.


  1. Burr, B.M., and M.L. Warren, Jr. 1993. Fishes of the Big Muddy River drainage with emphasis on historical changes. Pages 186-209 in L.W. Hesse, C.B. Stalnaker, N.G. Benson, and J.R. Zuboy, editors. Proceedings of the symposium on restoration planning for rives of the Mississippi River ecosystem. Biological Report 19, U.S. Department of the Interior, National Biological Survey, Washington, D.C.


  1. Etenier, D.A. and W.C. Starnes. 1993. Fishes of Tennessee. University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, Tennessee. 681 pp.


  1. Fuller, P.L., L.G. Nico, and J.D. Williams. 1999. Nonindigenous Fishes Introduced into Inland Waters of the United States American Fisheries Society Special Publication Number 27.


  1. Huet, M. 1970. Textbook of fish culture: Breeding and cultivation of fish. Surrey and London: Fishing News Ltd. 536 pp.


  1. Jennings, D.P. 1988. Bighead carp (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis): biological synopsis. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Biological Report 88(29). 35 pp.


  1. Negonovskaya, I.T. 1980. On the results and prospects of the introduction of phytophagous fishes into waters of the USSR. Journal of Ichthyology 20(4):101-111.


  1. Nikolsky, G.V. 1963. The ecology of fishes. Academic Press, London and New York. 363 pp.


  1. Nuevo, M., R.J. Sheehan, and P.S. Wills. 2004. Age and growth of the bighead carp Hypophthalmichthys nobilis (Richardson 1845) in the middle Mississippi River. Arch. Hydrogiologia 160(2):215-230.


  1. Pfleiger, W.L. 1997. The Fishes of Missouri. Missouri Department of Conservation. 372 pp.


  1. Rasmussen, J. 2000. Summary (by state) of Asian carp distribution in the Mississippi River Basin. Unpublished document.


  1. Robison, H.W., and T.M. Buchanan. 1988. Fishes of Arkansas. The University of Arkansas Press. Fayetteville. 535 pp.


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


  1. Schrank, S.J., P.J. Braaten, and C.S. Guy. 2001. Spatiotemporal variation in density of larval bighead carp in the lower Missouri River. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 130(5):809-814.


  1. Schrank, S.J. and C.S. Guy. 2002. Age, growth, and gonadal characteristics of adult bighead carp, Hypophthalmichthys nobilis, in the lower Missouri River. Environmental Biology of Fishes 64(4):443-450.


  1. Schrank, S.J., C.S. Guy, and J.F. Fairchild. 2003. Competitive interactions between age-0 bighead carp and paddlefish. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 132(6):1222-1228.


  1. Soin, S.G. and A.I. Sukhanova. 1972. Comparative morphological analysis of the development of the grass carp, the black carp, the silver carp and the bighead (Cyprindidae). Journal of Ichthyology 12(1):61-71.


  1. Verigin, B.V., A.P. Makeyeva, and M.I. Zaki Mokhamed. 1978. Natural spawning of the silver carp, Hypophthalmichthys molitrix, the bighead carp, Aristichthys nobilis, and the grass carp, Ctenopharyngodon idella, in the Syr-Dar'ya River. Journal of Ichthyology 18(1):143-147.



Additional Literature:


Boschung, H.T. 1992. Catalogue of freshwater and marine fishes of Alabama. Bulletin of the Alabama Museum of Natural History 14:1-266.


Bukvic, I., M. Kerovec, A. Plenkovic and M. Mrakovcic. 1998. Impact of silver and bighead carp (Cyprinidae) on plankton and water quality in fish ponds. Biologia 53(2):145-157.


Courtenay, W.R., Jr., D.P. Jennings, and J.D. Williams. 1991. Appendix 2. Exotic Fishes. Pages 97-107 in C.R. Robins, R.M. Bailey, C.E. Bond, J.R. Brooker, E.A. Lachner, R.N. Lea, and W.B. Scott. Common and Scientific Names of Fishes from the United States and Canada. American Fisheries Society Special Publication 20. Bethesda, Maryland.


Cremer, M.C., and R.O. Smitherman. 1980. Food habits and growth of silver and bighead carp in cages and ponds. Aquaculture 20(57-64).


Dong, S., and D. Li. 1994. Comparative studies of the feeding selectivity of silver carp Hypophthalmichthys molitrix and bighead carp Aristichthys nobilis. Journal of Fish Biology 44:621-626.


Dong, S., D. Li, X. Bing, Q. Shi, and F. Wang. 1992. Suction volume and filtering efficiency of silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix Val.) and bighead carp (Aristichthys nobilis Rich.). Journal of Fish Biology 41:833-840.


Garcia, G.V., A.C. Gonzal, and C.B. Santiago. 1999. Survival and growth of bighead carp fry exposed to low salinities. Aquaculture International 7(4):241-250.


Henderson, S. 1976. Observations on the bighead and silver carp and their possible application in pond fish culture. Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, Little Rock.


Howes, G. 1981. Anatomy and phylogeny of the Chinese major carps Ctenopharyngodon Steind., 1866 and Hypophthalmichthys Blkr., 1860. Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History) Zoology Series 41(1):1-52.


Lazareva, L.P., M.O. Omarov, and A.N. Lezina. 1977. Feeding and growth of the bighead, Aristichthys nobilis, in the waters of Dagestan. Journal of Ichthyology 17(1):65-71.


Naylor, R.L., S.L. Williams, and D.R. Strong. 2001. Ecology- Aquaculture- A gateway for exotic species. Science 294(5547):1655-1656.


Negonovskaya, I.T. and G.P. Rudenko. 1974. The oxygen threshold and characteristics of the respiratory metabolism of juvenile herbivorous fishes-the grass carp and the bighead. Journal of Ichthyology 14(6):965-970.


Nuevo, M., R.J. Sheehan, and P.S. Wills. 2004. Accuracy and precision of age determination techniques for Mississippi River bighead carp Hypophthalmichthys nobilis (Richardson 1845) using pectoral spines and scales. Arch. Hydrogiologia 160(1):45-56.


Pegg, M.A., A.M. Lemke, and J.A. Stoeckel. 2002. Establishment of bighead carp in an Illinois river floodplain lake: A potential source population for the Illinois River. Journal of Freshwater Ecology 17(1):161-163.


Shafland, P.L. 1986. A Review of Florida's effort to regulate, assess and manage exotic fishes. Fisheries 11(2):20-25.


Verigin, B.V., D.N. Shakha, and B.G. Kamilov. 1990. Correlation among reproductive indicators of the silver carp, Hypophthalmichthys molitrix and the bighead carp Aristichthys nobilis. Journal of Ichthyology 30(8):80-92.


Wang, Z.W., Y.Z. Ye, J.F. Zhou, and Q.J. Wu. 2004. Rapid establishment of pure lines of silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix) and bighead carp (Aristichthys nobilis). Progress in Natural Science 14(1):60-63.


Xie, P. 2001. Gut contents of bighead carp (Aristichthys nobilis) and the processing and digestion of algal cells in the alimentary canal. Aquaculture 195(1-2):149-161.


Zhang, G.H., J.B. Chang, and G.F. Shu. 2000. Applications of factor criteria system reconstruction analysis in the reproduction research on grass carp, black carp, silver carp and bighead in the Yangtze River. International Journal of General Systems 29(3):419-428.




Web Sites:


Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission:



Fish Base:



USGS Nonindigenous Species Program:



ITIS Report:



Asian Carp Work Group:

http://wwwaux.cerc.cr.usgs.gov/MICRA/ACWG Page.htm