Information Last Reviewed Spring 2007
Small fish lack spines in fins
Metalarvae and early juvenile are similar to silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix) but pectoral fin extends beyond base of pelvic fin (as opposed to base of the pelvic fin in silver)
Young silver, blotches characteristic of adults develop around 8 weeks
Dark gray coloration above, off-white below
Dark gray to black blotches over entire body
Deep body that is moderately laterally compressed
Eye positioned low on the head
Large head with a large terminal mouth
Smooth keel on abdomen
Gill rakers long and close
Dorsal fin origin posterior to pelvic fin base
Mature males can be distinguished from females by the presence of a sharp edge along the dorsal surface of the front rays of the pectoral fin
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.
Exhibit schooling behavior
At 7–17 mm TL feed primarily on small zooplankton and protozoans
At 18–23 mm TL they begin feeding on phytoplankton and at 24-30 mm TL they take both phytoplankton and zooplankton
Primarily zooplankton (up to 90% of gut contents) but also consume large amount of algae
Phytoplankton may be consumed incidentally and typically passes through the gut undigested
Some debate in literature about effectiveness of introduced carp to control phytoplankton blooms, some research suggests that carp may actually increase algae abundance by reducing zooplankton numbers
High growth rates, reaching 0.75 to 1.5 kg (1.65-3.3 lb) in their second year and 3 to 4 kg (6.6-8.8 lb) in their third year
Maximum reported size 40 kg (88 lb)
Growth rates similar for males and females
Growth rates were higher in the Mississippi River compared to the Missouri River
In the Middle Mississippi River bighead carp are reaching harvestable size in two years (1 kg)
Ages 1-6 were observed in the Mississippi River
Highly variable, from 2 to 10 years
Males typically mature one year earlier than females
April–June, peak in May (Asia)
Spawning temperature 22–30 C in native range
Large tributaries with high flow (0.8 m/sec) are required
Increased water levels and temperature > 22C were correlated spawning in Missouri River
Increased recruitment in the Mississippi River was correlated to spring floods
Males are promiscuous and will chase females, occasionally rubbing their head against the belly of the female
Spawning occurs at the surface over rocky areas in flowing water
A single female may spawn more than once within a year
Fecundity ranges from 288,000 to over 1 million based on size of female
Egg diameter 4.7-5.2 mm
Require current to stay suspended
Ichthyoplanktonic drift 7
Nursery habitat is typically in low flow areas of lakes, creek and channels
Can tolerate a wide variety of environmental condition in its native range
Primarily found in large rivers in native range
Preferred range: 25-26.9 deg C
Critical thermal maximum is 38.8 deg C
A 50% decrease in feeding was observed at 12 C and reaction to stimuli ceased at 5 deg C
Young could tolerate dissolved oxygen of 0.4 mg/L and adults 0.33 mg/L
Young may inhabit brackish-water areas (6-12 ppt)
Can tolerate high turbidity
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.
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
Accidental escape from aquaculture facilities and subsequent dispersal
Competition with native fishes young paddlefish for food
Potential competition with adult paddlefish for food and habitat
Interspecific competition for food
Increased turbidity due to reduced zooplankton population, which allows an increase in the nanoplankton population
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