Carpiodes cyprinusQuillback

Geographic Range

Quillback carpsuckers are found throughout much of eastern North America as far north as Saskatchewan, south to Florida and as far west as South Dakota, Kansas and Alabama. ("Nature Serve", 2005)

Quillback carpsuckers have also been introduced in Mexico where they have established a reproducing population. (Page and Burr, 2005)


Quillback carpsuckers prefer to live in highly productive streams that are moderately deep and clear. Quillback carpsuckers prefer clear water over highly turbid waters, unlike other carpsuckers, but are highly adaptable to slow moving streams. They are also found in lakes (and their tributaries) including the Great Lakes. (Mayhew, 1987)

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • benthic
  • lakes and ponds
  • rivers and streams

Physical Description

Quillback carpsuckers have a deeply compressed body giving them a flattened appearance when viewed from the side. They have large silvery scales and greater than or equal to 37 lateral line scales. Silver scales give them a silver coloration from the side fading to a dark color dorsally. Quillback carpsuckers are distinguished from other carpsuckers by their long first dorsal ray which does not extend beyond the posterior base of the dorsal fin. The first dorsal fin is up to five times longer than the posterior dorsal rays, total number of dorsal rays is usually greater than 28. They have an average of seven anal rays. They have a typical sucker mouth and, when viewed from the side, the back of the mouth does not extend past the anterior portion of the eye. Quillback carpsuckers have a deeply forked caudal fin. ("PA Chapter 12 Suckers", 2005; Etnier and Starnes, 1993)

The largest recorded quillback carpsucker was caught in Nebraska on the Missouri River by Patrick Fox Jr. on June 3, 2001, weighing 6.18 kg (13 lbs. 10 oz.) and measuring 71.2 cm (28 inches) in length. ("Hotspot Fishing", 2005)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    6.18 (high) kg
    13.61 (high) lb
  • Range length
    71.2 (high) cm
    28.03 (high) in
  • Average length
    66 cm
    25.98 in


Quillback carpsuckers are open substrate spawners and hatch from an unguarded spawning area where eggs are released by the female and fertilized by the male (or males). Once eggs are fertilized they take 8-12 days to hatch. ("PA Chapter 12 Suckers", 2005)

Growth averages 7 to 9 cm (3 to 4 inches) per year in the younger ages to about 2 to 4 cm (1 to 1 1/2) inches each year for older specimens. A six year-old quillback carpsucker would be about 31 cm (12 inches) in length and weigh slightly over 450 g (one pound). Quillback carpsuckers are a long-lived species, with fish as old as 11 years found in populations. (Mayhew, 1987)


Male and female quillback carpsuckers make a run, or migration, to their spawning areas where they release eggs and sperm in shallow water over gravelly riffles, sand or mud. ("PA Chapter 12 Suckers", 2005)

Female quillback carpsuckers release several hundred thousand eggs which are scattered haphazardly in shallow water. An average of 64,000 eggs are produced by six year old-female quillbacks (Mayhew 1987). Quillbacks achieve independence almost immediately after hatching. (Mayhew, 1987)

  • Breeding interval
    Quillback carpsuckers breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    Quillback carpsuckers breed in the spring-summer months depending on water temperature. The ideal water temperature for breeding is 7-18 degrees Celsius.
  • Average number of offspring
  • Range time to hatching
    8 to 12 days
  • Range time to independence
    8 to 12 days

Female quillbacks have a pre-fertilization investment similar to other open substrate non-guarding fishes. Females begin developing eggs internally long before hatch which requires energy. Pre-fertilization investment of males is much less than that of females. Neither sex has any apparent parental involvement after fertilization. The eggs are not guarded and they are left to develop and hatch on their own.

  • Parental Investment
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female


Mortality is high among the eggs, fry and young fish because they provide forage for predatory fish. Among adult quillback carpsuckers mortality is 60 to 70 percent annually. ("PA Chapter 12 Suckers", 2005)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    11 (high) years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    11 years


Quillback carpsuckers feed and reproduce in schools. Because they do not build nests to reproduce they travel in groups releasing eggs and sperm haphazardly. They also travel and feed in groups similar to other schooling fishes. (Mayhew, 1987)

Home Range

Adult quillback carpsuckers migrate, usually upstream, during reproduction. The exact distance of spawning migration is unknown, but likely dependent on specific location. Quillback carpsuckers, like most other fishes, generally return to their pre-spawn home range after reproduction. ("PA Chapter 12 Suckers", 2005)

Communication and Perception

Quillback carpsuckers use visual and tactile cues to perceive their environment, as do most other fish. Little else is known about perception or intraspecific communication.

Food Habits

Quillback carpsuckers prefer to feed on the bottoms of lakes, rivers and streams; specifically they prefer clear, bottom water. They seek aquatic insect larvae and other small organisms such as mollusks, fingernail clams and aquatic vegetation. ("PA Chapter 12 Suckers", 2005)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • mollusks
  • aquatic crustaceans
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • algae


Mortality is high among eggs, fry and young fish because they provide forage for predatory fish. An anti-predator adaptation is the production of several thousand eggs per breeding season to ensure the survival of some offspring. Adult quillbacks are usually not preyed upon due to their size and their schooling behavior. ("PA Chapter 12 Suckers", 2005)

Ecosystem Roles

Quillback carpsuckers are bottom feeders and, like other bottom feeders, they help to keep their ecosystem clean by feeding on bottom matter.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Quillback carpsuckers are a minor commercial fish in the United States with little or no economic benefit to fishermen. Quillback carpsuckers introduced to Mexico however provide an important economic benefit to the northeastern portion of that country. (Page and Burr, 2005)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

This species has no known negative economic effects on humans.

Conservation Status

Quillback carpsuckers are critically imperiled in Vermont; imperiled in New York and Michigan; vulnerable in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Quebec, South Dakota, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina. Populations seem to be stable in Wyoming, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Georgia, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Ontario, Iowa, Illinois, Alabama, Pennsylvania, Manitoba and the District of Columbia. Ohio, South Carolina, Florida, Missouri, Minnesota and North Dakota have not ranked Carpiodes cyprinus. ("Nature Serve", 2005)


Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web, Courtney Egan (editor).

Michael Ervin (author), Eastern Kentucky University, Sherry Harrel (editor, instructor), Eastern Kentucky University.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


Referring to an animal that lives on or near the bottom of a body of water. Also an aquatic biome consisting of the ocean bottom below the pelagic and coastal zones. Bottom habitats in the very deepest oceans (below 9000 m) are sometimes referred to as the abyssal zone. see also oceanic vent.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


helps break down and decompose dead plants and/or animals


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature

external fertilization

fertilization takes place outside the female's body


union of egg and spermatozoan


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


mainly lives in water that is not salty.


having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.


referring to animal species that have been transported to and established populations in regions outside of their natural range, usually through human action.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


specialized for swimming

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


uses sight to communicate


State of Florida. 2005. "Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission" (On-line). Accessed October 31, 2005 at

Hot Spot Network. 2005. "Hotspot Fishing" (On-line). Accessed October 31, 2005 at

2005. "Nature Serve" (On-line). Accessed October 31, 2005 at

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. 2005. "PA Chapter 12 Suckers" (On-line). Accessed October 31, 2005 at

Etnier, D., W. Starnes. 1993. The Fishes of Tennessee. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press.

Mayhew, J. 1987. "Iowa Fish and Fishing" (On-line). Accessed October 31, 2005 at

Page, L., B. Burr. 2005. "Fishbase" (On-line). Accessed October 31, 2005 at