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Silver Carp - Hypophthalmichthys molitrix

Aquatic Invasive Species

Global Rank: GNR
State Rank: SNA

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General Description
The silver carp (SICA) is a deep-bodied fish that is laterally compressed (Berg 1949; Nico et al. 2018). They are a very silvery color when young and when they get older they grade from a greenish color on back to silver on the belly (Berg 1949; Nico et al. 2018). They have very tiny scales on their body but the head and opercles are scaleless (Berg 1949; Nico et al. 2018). They have a large mouth without any teeth in the jaw, but they have pharyngeal teeth (Berg 1949; Nico et al. 2018). The eyes of SICA are situated far forward on the midline of the body and are slightly turned down (Berg 1949; Nico et al. 2018).
SICA are unlikely to be confused with native cyprinids due to size (up to 1 m in length and 27 kg) and unusual position of the eye (Berg 1949; Nico et al. 2018). They most closely resemble bighead carp (Hypophthalmichthys. nobilis) but have a smaller head, an upturned mouth without teeth, a keel that extends forward past pelvic fin base, lack the dark blotches characteristic of bighead carp and have highly branched gill rakers (Berg 1949; Nico et al. 2018). Juvenile fish lack spines in their fins (Berg 1949; Nico et al. 2018). Metalarvae and early juvenile are similar to bighead carp (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis) but the pectoral fin extends only to the base of pelvic fin (as opposed to beyond the pelvic fin in bighead) (Berg 1949; Nico et al. 2018). The species is known for leaping out of the water when startled by noise such as from boats (Berg 1949; Nico et al. 2018).

Range Comments
Silver Carp are native to several major Pacific drainages in eastern Asia from the Amur River of far eastern Russia south through much of the eastern half of China to the Pearl River, possibly including northern Vietnam (Berg 1949; Li and Fang 1990; Nico et al. 2018).
Silver Carp was originally imported and stocked for phytoplankton control in eutrophic water bodies and also as a food fish. It was first brought into the United States in 1973 when a private fish farmer imported Silver Carp into Arkansas (Freeze and Henderson 1982). By the mid 1970s SICA was being raised at six state, federal, and private facilities, and by the late 1970s it had been stocked in several municipal sewage lagoons (Robison and Buchanan 1988). By 1980 the species was discovered in natural waters, most likely a result of escapes from fish hatcheries and other types of aquaculture facilities (Freeze and Henderson 1982). The occurrence of Silver Carp in the Ouachita River of the Red River system in Louisiana was likely the result of an escape from an aquaculture facility upstream in Arkansas (Freeze and Henderson 1982). The Florida introduction was probably a result of stock contamination, Silver Carp having been inadvertently released with a stock of grass carp being used for aquatic plant control (Middlemas 1994). In a similar case, the species was apparently introduced accidentally to an Arizona lake as part of an intentional, albeit illegal, stock of diploid grass carp (W. Silvey, personal communication). Pearson and Krumholz (1984) suggested that individuals taken from the Ohio River may have come from plantings in local ponds or entered the Ohio River from populations originally introduced in Arkansas. Currently, large populations of this species are already established in nearby waters connected to the Great Lakes basin including the Illinois river and the Chicago Area Waterway System (Baerwaldt et al. 2013). The closest location to Lake Michigan at which silver carp have been collected was in the Des Plaines River (river mile 290.2) at the confluence with the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, north of Joliet, IL and downstream of the electric barriers (Nico et al. 2018).
Records of Silver Carp occurences are available for 12 states. It is apparently established in Louisiana (Douglas et al. 1996) and is possibly established in Illinois; Silver Carp have been reported in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee. Douglas et al. (1996) collected more than 1600 larvae of this genus from a backwater outlet of the Black River in Louisiana in 1994. Burr et al. (1996) found young-of-the-year in a ditch near Horseshoe Lake and reported this as the first evidence of successful spawning of Silver Carp in Illinois waters and the United States. They felt that the species would be `established' in the state within the next ten years. Based on the occurrence of juvenile fish in Illinois waters, Pflieger (1997) felt that successful spawning of Silver Carp in Missouri seems inevitable. Although Silver Carp individuals have not been physically detected in the Great Lakes, environmental DNA (eDNA) has been found in water samples collected in several areas in 2012: above electric barriers from Lake Calumet, the Little Calumet River, the North Shore Channel, and the Chicago River (Baerwaldt et al. 2014), as well as Maumee Bay, Lake Erie (Jerde et al. 2013).

In its natural range, Silver Carp migrate upstream to breed in communal spawning grounds during spring flooding; egg and larva float downstream to floodplain zones (Higbee et al. 2004).

Silver Carp are primarily a species of large rivers, they can tolerate salinities up to 12 ppt and low dissolved oxygen (3mg/L) (Nico et al. 2018). Silver Carp feed on both phytoplankton and zooplankton (Radke and Kahl 2002). Pflieger (1997) considered the impact of this species difficult to predict because of its place in the food web. In numbers, Silver Carp has the potential to cause enormous damage to native species because it feeds on plankton required by larval fish and native mussels (Laird and Page 1996). This species would also be a potential competitor with adults of some native fishes, for instance, gizzard shad, that also rely on plankton for food (Pflieger 1997). A study by Sampson et al. (2009) found that Asian carp (silver and bighead carps) had dietary overlap with gizzard shad and bigmouth buffalo, but not much of one with paddlefish. Asian carps have been shown to affect zooplankton communities (Burke et al. 1986, Lu et al. 2002, Cooke et al 2009; Calkins et al. 2012; Freedman et al. 2012; Sass et al. 2014). Freedman et al. (2012) showed that resource use and trophic levels of the fish community change when Asian carps are present. They also demonstrated an impact on Bigmouth Buffalo and found isotopic values similar to Bluegill, Gizzard Shad, and Emerald Shiner. Irons et al. (2007) showed significant declines in body condition of Gizzard Shad and Bigmouth Buffalo following invasion by Silver and Bighead carps. They state that ultimately, declines in body condition may decrease fecundity. Silver Carp has unique, sponge-like and porous gill rakers capable of straining phytoplankton down to 4 lm in diameter (Robison and Buchanan 1988). They can feed in temperatures as low as 2.5°C (36.5°F) and can withstand low levels of oxygen (Pennsylvania Sea Grant 2015). The Great Lakes contains suitable habitat for silver carp (Chen et al. 2006).

Reproductive Characteristics
In their native range, Silver Carp reach maturity between 4-8 years old but are noted in North America to mature as early as just 2 years old, and can live to be 20 years old (Higbee et al. 2004). Spawning occurs at temperatures greater than 18°C (Higbee et al. 2004). A mature female can lay up to 5 million eggs per year (Higbee et al. 2004). Eggs require current to stay suspended, with a minimum length of spawning river estimated at 100km and a current speed of 70cm/s (Higbee et al. 2004). Silver Carp require bodies of water with some current for eggs to float and develop properly (Higbee et al. 2004). They prefer to spawn in small groups of 15 to 25 fish at dusk and dawn, at water temperatures of between 18-20°C (Higbee et al. 2004). Typical spawning age can be from 3 to 10 years old (Higbee et al. 2004). For spawning to occur, they require moving water with sufficient current to allow proper egg development (Higbee et al. 2004). Spawning of Silver Carp is similar to Aristichthys nobilis in that it occurs in swift channels of large rivers (Higbee et al. 2004). Flooding of lowland areas is a necessary requirement as these become the nursery areas for larvae and juveniles (Burr et al. 1996).


  • Literature Cited AboveLegend:   View Online Publication
    • Baerwaldt, K., A. Benson, and K. Irons. 2013. State of the carp: Asian carp distribution in North America. USACE. 8pp.
    • Berg, L.S. 1949. Freshwater fishes of the U.S.S.R. and adjacent countries, 4th edition. Three volumes. Translated from Russian, 1962-1965, for the Smithsonian Institution and the National Science Foundation, by Israel Program for Scientific Translations, Jerusalem, Israel. Volume 1:504 pp.; volume 2:496 pp.; volume 3:510 pp.
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • Calkins, H.A., S.J. Tripp, and J.E. Garvey. 2012. Linking silver carp habitat selection to flow and phytoplankton in the Mississippi River. Biological Invasions 14:949-958
    • Chen, J. P. Xie, D. Zhang, Z. Ke and H. Yang. 2006. In situ studies on the bioaccumulation of microcystins in the phytoplanktivorous silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix) stocked in Lake Taihu with dense toxic Microcystis blooms. Aquaculture 261(3)1026-1038.
    • Cooke, Sandra,Walter R. Hill, and Kevin P. Meyer. 2009. Feeding at different plankton densities alters invasive Bighead Carp (Hypophthalmichthyes nobilis) growth and zooplankton species composition. Hydrobiologia. v.265:185-193.
    • Douglas, N.H., S.G. George, J.J. Hoover, K.J. Killgore, and W.T. Slack. 1996. Records of two Asian carps in the lower Mississippi Basin. Page 127 in Abstracts of the 76th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, University of New Orleans, New Orleans, LA.
    • Freedman, J.A., S.E. Butler, and D.H. Wahl. 2012.  Impacts of Invasive Asian Carps on Native Food Webs. Final Project Report. Kaskaskia Biological Station, Illinois Natural History Survey, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 18pp.
    • Freeze, M., and S. Henderson. 1982. Distribution and status of the bighead carp and silver carp in Arkansas. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 2:197-200.
    • Higbee, E. and K. Glassner-Shwayder. 2004. The Live food Fish Industry: New Challenges in Preventing the Introduction and Spread of Aquatic Invasive Species. Great Lakes Panel on Aquatic Nuisance Species ANS Update, Vol. 10, N. 2.
    • Irons, K.S., G.G. Sass, M.A. McClelland, and J.D. Stafford. 2007. Reduced condition factor of two native fish species coincident with invasion of non-native Asian carps in the Illinois River, U.S.A. Is this evidence for competition and reduced fitness? Journal of Fish Biology 71:258–273.
    • Jerde, C.L., W.L. Chadderton, A.R. Mahon, M.A. Renshaw, J. Corush, M.L. Budny, S. Mysorekar, and D.M. Lodge. 2013. Detection of Asian carp DNA as part of a Great Lakes basin-wide surveillance program. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 70(4):522-526.
    • K. Baerwaldt, Meredith L. Bartron, K. Schilling, Debbie Lee, Edmond Russo, Trudy Estes, Richard Fischer, Beth Fleming, Michael P. Guilfoyle, K. Jack Kilgore, Richard Lance, Edward Perkins, Martin Schultz, David Smith, Jon J. Amberg, Duane C. Chapman, Mark P. Gaikowski, Katy E. Klymus, and Catherine A. Richter. 2014. Environmental DNA Calibration Study: Interim Technical Review Report. Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee. US Fish and Wildlife Service. 27pp.
    • Laird, C.A., and L.M. Page. 1996. Non-native fishes inhabiting the streams and lakes of Illinois. Illinois Natural History Survey Bulletin 35(1):1-51.
    • Li, Sizhong, and Fang Fang. 1990. On the geographical distribution of the four kinds of pond- cultured carps in China. Acta Zoologica Sinica, v. 36, no. 3, p. 244-250. [In Chinese with English abstract.]
    • Lu, M., P. Xie, H. Tang, Z. Shao, and L. Xie. 2002. Experimental study of trophic cascade effect of silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix) in a subtropical lake, Lake Donghu: on plankton community and underlying mechanisms of changes of crustacean community. Hydrobiologia 487(1):19-31.
    • Middlemas, K. 1994. Local angler hooks a peculiarity. The News Herald, Panama City, Florida, 25 September 1994.
    • Nico, L.G., Fuller, P., and Li, J. 2018. Hypophthalmichthys molitrix (Valenciennes in Cuvier and Valenciennes, 1844). U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL., Revision Date: 8/6/2018, Peer Review Date: 4/1/2016, Access Date: 8/8/2018
    • Pearson, W.D., and L.A. Krumholz. 1984. Distribution and status of Ohio River fishes. Water Resources Lab, Louisville University, KY. ORNL/sub/79-7831/1.
    • Pennsylvania Sea Grant. 2015. Pennsylvania's Field Guide to Aquatic Invasive Species. The Pennsylvania State University, Pennsylvania Sea Grant, 2015. 185pp.
    • Pflieger, W. L. 1997. The fishes of Missouri. Revised edition. Missouri Department of Conservation, Jefferson City. vi + 372 pp.
    • Radke, R.J. and U. Kahl. 2002. Effects of a filter-feeding fish [silver carp, Hypophthalmichthys molitrix (Val.)] on phyto- and zooplankton in a mesotrophic reservoir: results from an enclosure experiment. Freshwater Biology 47(12)2337-2344.
    • Robison, H. W., and T. M. Buchanan. 1988. Fishes of Arkansas. University of Arkansas Press, Fayetteville, Arkansas. 536 pp.
    • Sampson, S.J., J.H. Chick, and M.A. Pegg. 2009. Diet overlap among two Asian carp and three native fishes in backwater lakes on the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. Biological Invasions 11:483-496
    • Sass, G.G., C. Hinz, A.C. Erickson, N.N. McClelland, M.A. McClelland, and J.M. Epifanio. 2014. Invasive bighead and silver carp effects on zooplankton communities in the Illinois River, Illinois, USA. Journal of Great Lakes Research 40:911-921.
  • Additional ReferencesLegend:   View Online Publication
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    • Global Invasive Species Database (GISD). 2018. Species Profile: Hypophthalmichthys molitrix. Invasive Species Specialist Group (ISSG), IUCN Species Survival Commission. Accessed 14 August 2018.
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Silver Carp — Hypophthalmichthys molitrix.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from