Search Field Guide
Advanced Search
MT Gov Logo
Montana Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Bighead Carp - Hypophthalmichthys nobilis
Other Names:  Aristichthys nobilis

Aquatic Invasive Species
Non-native Species
Not Documented

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: SNA
(see State Rank Reason below)

Agency Status


External Links

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
The bighead carp is a large, narrow fish with eyes that project downward. Coloration of the body is dark gray, fading to white toward the underside, and with dark blotches on the sides. Its head has no scales, a large mouth with no teeth, and a protruding lower jaw. Its eyes are located far forward and low on its head.

Diagnostic Characteristics
This species is very similar to the silver carp, and can be distinguished by the dark coloration on its sides. The bighead carp can be identified by a smooth keel between the anal and pelvic fins that does not extend anterior of the base of the pelvic fins. Maximum size: 40 kg and 71.6 cm (Jennings 1988).

Range Comments
Native Species Range: Southern and central China (Li and Fang 1990; Robins et al. 1991).

Introduced Range Comments
Bighead carp were first imported into the United States in 1973 by a private fish farmer in Arkansas as a potential biological control agent to improve water quality and increase fish production in culture ponds (Conover et al 2007).
Global Range: (>2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)) Widespread in Europe; originally native to the Black and Caspian seas; This species has been recorded from within, or along the borders of, at least 18 states. There is evidence of reproducing populations in the middle and lower Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and the species is apparently firmly established in the states of Illinois and Missouri (Burr et al. 1996; Pflieger 1997). It has since spread to the Mississippi, Ohio, and Susquehanna River systems. Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin (Nico et al. 2018).

This species has not been reported in Montana.

Established nonindigenous populations of bighead carp are found in close proximity to the Great Lakes in locations which do not preclude dispersal and which would provide an easy source population for unauthorized release. Large populations of bighead carp are established in the middle and lower segments of the Illinois River, the upper Illinois River (Waterway), and the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS) (Baerwaldt et al. 2013).

For maps and other distributional information on non-native species see:
Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database from the U.S. Geological Survey
Invasive Species Habitat Tool (INHABIT) from the U.S. Geological Survey
Invasive Species Compendium from the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI)
EDDMapS Species Information EDDMapS Species Information

Individuals of this species generally do not travel long distances except for the annual spawning migration

Food Habits
Bighead carp is a powerful filter-feeder with a wide food spectrum that grows fast and reproduces quickly (Xie and Chen 2001), which makes this species a strong competitor. The diet of this species overlaps with that of planktivorous species (fish and invertebrates) and to some extent with that of the young of virtually all native fishes. Bighead carp are thought to deplete plankton stocks for native larval fishes and mussels (Laird and Page 1996). Bighead carp lack a true stomach which requires them to feed almost continuously (Henderson 1976).

The diet of this species overlaps with that of planktivorous species (fish and invertebrates) and to some extent with that of the young of virtually all native fishes. Bighead carp are thought to deplete plankton stocks for native larval fishes and mussels (Laird and Page 1996). Bighead carp lack a true stomach which requires them to feed almost continuously (Henderson 1976).

Reproductive Characteristics
Female bighead carp reach sexual maturity at three years of age, while males can reach sexual maturity in two years. Bighead carp need large, turbulent rivers and higher water temperatures to spawn. The eggs float for 40-60 hours before hatching. Only some rivers emptying into the Great Lakes are sufficient of this characteristic and at only parts of the year. These conditions may be present in Montana’s Fort Peck (Missouri River) and Tiber (Marias River) reservoirs

Because bighead carp are planktivorous and attain a large size, Laird and Page (1996) suggested these carp have the potential to deplete zooplankton populations. Laird and Page predicted that a decline in the availability of plankton can lead to reductions in populations of native species that rely on plankton for food, including all larval fishes, some adult fishes, and native mussels. Adult fishes most at risk from such competition in the Mississippi and Missouri rivers are paddlefish Polyodon spathula, bigmouth buffalo Ictiobus cyprinellus, and gizzard shad Dorosoma petenense (Burr et al. 1996; Pflieger 1997; Schrank et al. 2003).

Contact information for Aquatic Invasive Species personnel:
Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Aquatic Invasive Species staff
Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation's Aquatic Invasive Species Grant Program
Montana Invasive Species Council (MISC)
Upper Columbia Conservation Commission (UC3)

Threats or Limiting Factors
Bighead carp have been able to establish themselves in a wide range of environments with a wide range of temperatures and lower salinity levels. They are moderately dietary generalists feeding on a variety of zooplankton and algae (Gollasch et al 2008). Bighead carp have been demonstrated to outcompete both native larval fishes and mussels (Laird and Page 1996). It would be highly likely for the bighead carp to find an appropriate food source but the amount they eat might not be sufficiently found in the Great Lakes. Threats to the establishment of bighead carp in Montana might be temperature tolerance limits of North American and European populations. Overwinter mortality may influence the northern limits of the native range of bigheaded carps, but has not been modelled specifically for these species in North America. North American populations are generally adapted to warmer temperature regimes than their European counterparts.

  • 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.
    • 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.
    • Conover, G., R. Simmonds, and M. Whalen. 2007. Management and control plan for bighead, black, grass, and silver carps in the United States. Asian Carp Working Group, Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force, Washington, D.C.
    • Gollasch, S., I.G. Cowx, and A.D. Nunn. 2008. Environmental impacts of alien species in aquaculture. EUaquaculture. IMPASSE Project no. 044142. 148pp.
    • 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, Arkansas. 18 pages.
    • Jennings, D.P. 1988. Bighead carp (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis): a biological synopsis. Biological Report. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 88(2): 1-35.
    • 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.]
    • Nico, L., Fuller, P., and Li, J., 2018, Hypophthalmichthys nobilis (Richardson, 1845): U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL,, Revision Date: 6/27/2018, Peer Review Date: 4/1/2016, Access Date: 8/13/2018
    • Pflieger, W. L. 1997. The fishes of Missouri. Revised edition. Missouri Department of Conservation, Jefferson City. vi + 372 pp.
    • Robins, C.R., R.M. Bailey, C.E. Bond, J.R. Brooker, E.A. Lachner, R.N. Lea, and W.B. Scott. 1991. World fishes important to North Americans exclusive of species from the continental waters of the United States and Canada. American Fisheries Society Special Publication 21. American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, MD. 243 pp.
    • Schrank, S.J., C.S. Guy, and J.F. Fairchild. 2003. Competitive interactions between age-0 bighead carp and paddlefish. Trans Am. Fish. Soc. 132: 1222-1228.
    • Xie, P., and Y. Chen. 2001. Invasive carp in China's Plateau lakes. Science 224:999-1000.
  • Additional ReferencesLegend:   View Online Publication
    Do you know of a citation we're missing?
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • Joslin, Gayle, and Heidi B. Youmans. 1999. Effects of recreation on Rocky Mountain wildlife: a review for Montana. [Montana]: Montana Chapter of the Wildlife Society.
    • Zymonas, N.D. 2006. Age structure, growth, and factors affecting relative abundance of life history forms of Bull Trout in the Clark Fork river drainage, Montana and Idaho. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 142 p.
  • Web Search Engines for Articles on "Bighead Carp"
  • Additional Sources of Information Related to "Fish"
Login Logout
Citation for data on this website:
Bighead Carp — Hypophthalmichthys nobilis.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from