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Montana Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Common Carp - Cyprinus carpio

Exotic Species (not native to Montana)

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: SNA

Agency Status


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General Description
Common carp are easily recognized by the two barbels or "whiskers" on each side of the mouth and the sawn-toothed hardened ray in the front of the dorsal and anal fins. The introduction of carp into North America from Asia is considered to be one of the greatest mistakes in the history of American fisheries management by biologists who have documented the widespread loss of native fish and habitat to this aggressive intruder. Carp are a popular food fish in Eurasia, so they were introduced into North America to serve the same function. However, they are not desirable to North American consumers because they are bony, often have an unpalatable taste and because there are more attractive alternatives. There is some commercial fishing for carp, and they can be processed so that the problems with the fine bones between their muscles are eliminated. Carp are also despised because they compete with more desirable sport fishes, muddy the water by their bottom feeding, and reduce the available food for waterfowl by eating submerged plants. Carp have been the target of large eradication projects in several states that have generally only temporarily reduced populations. They are extremely hardy omnivores, which means that they eat almost anything. Carp can attain a weight of 40 pounds in productive waters. In Montana, carp are present only in our eastern drainage. They attain their greatest numbers in lakes and reservoirs. (FWP) From Scott and Crossman (1973), Jester (1974), and Pflieger (1975): adult length 12-25 in (30.5-63.5 cm) or more; large individuals may reach 20-60 lbs (9.1-27.2 kg); two barbels on each side of upper jaw, posterior pair more conspicuous; relatively small, toothless mouth, with the upper jaw slightly protruding; throat teeth 1,1,3-3,1,1, with teeth in main row broad and molar-like; lateral line complete, with 35 to 38 scales; one long dorsal fin with 17-21 soft rays, and a stout saw-toothed spine in front of dorsal and anal fins; pectoral fins with 14-17 rays; pelvic fins thoracic, originating beneath origin of dorsal fin, 8 or 9 rays; 1 anal fin with 5 branched rays; scales cycloid, large, thick; 35-36 vertebrae; 21-27 gill rakers on first gill arch; color variable: back and sides olivaceous, gold, greenish-olive, reddish-brown, or blackish-red, silver or yellowish-white below; fins dusky, often with red on tail fin and yellow or orange on lower fins; peritoneum gray, often more or less speckled.

Diagnostic Characteristics
Overall bronze with a dark brown to olive green back and yellowish underside. Some individuals, called mirror carp, have enlarged scales scattered over the body with bare patches in between. Leather carp are scaleless.

Species Range
Montana Range

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Summary of Observations Submitted for Montana
Number of Observations: 14307

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density



(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)

May migrate into tributary streams to spawn.

Primarily lakes and reservoirs, where it seeks moderately warm water and shallows. Also rivers, where it prefers pools and backwaters. Congregates in areas of organic enrichment, such as sewage outfalls. Tolerates turbid water and low dissolved oxygen; avoids cold and swift, rocky streams. (Holton 2003) Spawns in shallow weedy areas (Brown 1971).

Food Habits
An omnivorous feeder with vegetation and detritus making up bulk of diet. May feed on any available aquatic organism including eggs of sportfish. Will stir up bottom (Gould, personal communication, Brown 1971).

Young of year carp in Missouri River Study showed a preference for pool and backwater habitat. Considered ecological disaster in North America. May cross with goldfish. Schools.

Reproductive Characteristics
Sexually mature in 2-3 yrs. Spawns May-July in most Montana waters. Incubation: 12-20 days (Brown 1971). Spawned mid- June-July in middle Missouri River with late June-early July peak.

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Citation for data on this website:
Common Carp — Cyprinus carpio.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from