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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
* (see State Rank Reason below)

Agency Status
USFWS:
USFS:
BLM:


 

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State Rank Reason (see State Rank above)
A conservation status rank is not applicable because this species is not a suitable target for conservation activities as a result of being exotic or introduced.
 
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. 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 widespread in our eastern drainages. They attain their greatest numbers in lakes and reservoirs.

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. 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.

Species Range
Montana Range

Click the legend blocks above to view individual ranges.
 


Range Comments
Native Range: Eurasia (Page and Burr 1991; Balon 1995). Balon (1995) found that Cyprinus carpio evolved in the Caspian Sea, then migrated naturally to the Black and Aral Seas, east to eastern mainland Asia and west as far as the Danube River.
This species has been introduced into every state in the lower U.S., including Hawaii (Devick 1991), Guam and Puerto Rico. Carp is only established in the Florida panhandle. It does not appear to be established in South Florida.

In Montana, carp are widespread in our eastern drainages. A couple of locations where carp have been noted on the west side of the continental divide (Clark Fork and Bitterroot Drainages) have been eradicated, contained or have died out.


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

Recency

 

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



Migration
May migrate into tributary streams in the summers to spawn.

Habitat
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. Larval common carp feeds primarily on zooplankton. In its native range, juveniles and adults feed on benthic organisms (e.g., chironomids, gastropods and other larval insects), vegetation, detritus and plankton (e.g., cladocerans, copepods, amphipods, mysids). Feeding habits are similar in the U.S., where the diet is composed of organic detritus (primarily of plant origin), chironomids, small crustaceans, and gastropods (Summerfelt et al. 1971; Eder and Carlson 1977; Panek 1987). Will stir up bottom and cause muddied waters while feeding (Gould, personal communication, Brown 1971).

Ecology
In the U.S., the common carp is more abundant in manmade impoundments, lakes, and turbid sluggish streams receiving sewage or agricultural runoff, and less abundant in clear waters or streams with a high gradient (Pflieger 1975; Trautman 1981; Ross 2001; Boschung and Mayden 2004). Young of year carp in Missouri River Study showed a preference for pool and backwater habitat. Considered ecological disaster in North America. The common carp is regarded as a pest fish because of its widespread abundance and because of its tendency to destroy vegetation and increase water turbidity by dislodging plants and rooting around in the substrate, causing a deterioration of habitat for species requiring vegetation and clean water (Cahoon 1953). May reproduce with goldfish causing hybrids. Schools in large numbers multiplying the effects of the destruction on habitats.

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.

Management
Carp have been the target of large eradication projects in several states that have generally only temporarily reduced populations. Stocked ponds with outlets to nearby rivers can be poisoned to prevent their unintentional spread. Once established in a water body, common carp is difficult and expensive to eliminate (e.g., Cahoon 1953). DeVaney et al. (2009) performed ecological niche modeling to examine the invasion potential for common carp and three other invasive cyprinids (grass carp Ctenopharyngodon idella, black carp Mylopharyngodon piceus, and tench Tinca tinca). The majority of the areas where common carp have been collected, stocked, or have become established had a high predicted ecological suitability for this species.

Threats or Limiting Factors
Tolerates turbid water and low dissolved oxygen; avoids cold and swift, rocky streams. (Holton 2003). So, higher flows and colder water temperatures are a limiting factor for further spread in western Montana. Although, warming rivers with carp populations on the east side of the divide may cause carp to further expand their distribution upstream.

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