Cyprinus carpio

Geographic Range

Common carp are native to Europe but have been widely introduced and are now found worldwide except for the poles and northern Asia. (Froese and Pauly, 2002; Nelson, 1984)


Carp exploit large and small man made and natural reservoirs, and pools in slow or fast moving streams. They prefer larger, slower-moving bodies of water with soft sediments but they are tolerant and hardy fish that thrive in a wide variety of aquatic habitats. (Froese and Pauly, 2002; Page and Burr, 1991)

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

Physical Description

Carp often grow 30 to 60 cm in length and weigh 0.5 to 4 kg (Tomelleri and Eberle 1990); it is not uncommon for common carp to reach 15 to 20 kg (McCrimmon 1968). Males are usually distinguished from females by the larger ventral fin. Carp are characterized by their deep body and serrated dorsal spine (Nelson 1984). The mouth is terminal on the adult and subterminal on the young (Page and Burr 1991). Color and proportions are extremely variable, but scales are always large and thick. Three sub-species with slightly different scale patterns are recognized. C. carpio communis (scale carp) has regular concentric scales, C. carpio specularis (mirror carp) large scales running along the side of the body in several rows with the rest of the body naked, and C. carpio coiaceus (leather carp) with few or no scales on the back and a thick skin (McCrimmon 1968). (McCrimmon, 1968; Nelson, 1984; Page and Burr, 1991; Tomelleri and Eberle, 1990)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    20 (high) kg
    44.05 (high) lb
  • Average mass
    0.5-4 kg
  • Average length
    30-60 cm


Carp generally spawn in the spring and early summer depending upon the climate. They segregate into groups in the shallows to spawn. Carp prefer shallow waters with dense macrophyte cover. Males externally fertilize eggs, which the females scatter over macrophytes in a very active manner. The eggs stick to the substrate upon which they are scattered. A typical female (about 45 cm) may produce 300,000 eggs, with some estimates as high as one million over the breeding season. Incubation is related to water temperature and has been documented at three days at temperatures of 25 to 32C. Fry average 5 to 5.5 mm in total length. Temperature, stocking density, and availability of food influence individual growth. By the time the fish reach 8 mm the yolk has disappeared and they begin to actively feed. Males typically become sexually mature at 3 to 5 years and females at 4 to 5 years. (Froese and Pauly, 2002; McCrimmon, 1968)

  • Breeding season
    spring and early summer; year round in tropical areas
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average number of offspring
  • Range time to hatching
    4.0 (high) days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    3.0 to 5.0 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    3.0 to 5.0 years

Females facilitate attachment of fertilized eggs to the substrate. There is no further parental care.

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement


There is a report of a common carp living an astounding 47 years, probably in captivity. Other reports of 17 to 20 years are probably more typical. (Froese and Pauly, 2002)


Carp can typically be found in small schools, although larger carp often lead a solitary existence. (Smith, 1991)

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Carp are primarily selective benthic omnivores that specialize on invertebrates that live in the sediments (Lammens and Hoogenboezem 1991). Newly hatched carp initially feed on zooplankton; specifically rotifers, copepods, and algae (McCrimmon 1968). Young of year carp feed on a variety of macroinvertebrates including chironomids, caddis flies, mollusks, ostracods, and crustaceans (McCrimmon 1968). Adult carp are known to eat a wide variety of organisms including, insects, crustaceans, annelids, mollusks, fish eggs, fish remains, and plant tubers and seeds (McCrimmon 1968, Lammens and Hoogenboezem, 1991). Carp feed by sucking up mud from the bottom ejecting it and them selectively consuming items while they are suspended (McCrimmon 1968). The feeding galleries of carp are easily recognized in shallow waters as depressions in the sediment (Cahn 1929). (Cahn, 1929; Lammens and Hoogenboezem, 1991; McCrimmon, 1968)

  • Animal Foods
  • fish
  • eggs
  • carrion
  • insects
  • mollusks
  • terrestrial worms
  • aquatic crustaceans
  • zooplankton
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • roots and tubers
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • algae
  • macroalgae


Predators on young carp include large fish such as northern pike, muskellunge, walleye, and largemouth bass. (Froese and Pauly, 2002; Baldry, 2000) Birds such as great blue herons probably also eat them. Adults have no predators other than people. (Baldry, 2000; Froese and Pauly, 2002)

Ecosystem Roles

The unique method of feeding employed by common carp has important ecological implications. The feeding of carp has been shown to decimate macrophytes and decreases overall water quality (Drenner et al. 1997). Carp tend to reduce macrophyte biomass in three ways; 1) Bioturbation- Carp often uproot aquatic macrophytes when feeding, 2) Direct Consumption- Carp have been known to feed on tubers and young shoots, 3) Indirectly by increasing turbidity which in turn limits the available sunlight (Lougheed et al. 1997, Fletcher et al. 1985). Carp have been shown to decrease water quality by increasing turbidity and increasing the amount of nutrients in the water column (Lamarra, 1975; Brabrand et al. 1990). Carp increase turbidity directly by resuspending sediments and indirectly by increasing nutrients and thus increasing phytoplankton in the water column. Carp increase nutrients in the water column in two ways. A minimal amount of nutrients are introduced into the water column directly by sediment resuspension but the majority of carp introduced nutrients are acquired by excretion (Lamarra, 1975; Brabrand et al. 1990). Carp act as "nutrient pumps" when they consume the nutrient rich benthic sediments and then excrete those nutrients back into the water column in a form that is available to other organisms (Drenner et al. 1996). This tendency to cause a general decay in water quality and the high fecundity of the carp has caused them to be generally regarded as a nuisance (McCrimmon 1968; Page et al. 1991). (Brabrand, et al., 1990; Drenner, et al., 1996; Fletcher, et al., 1985; Lamarra, 1975; Lougheed, et al., 1998; McCrimmon, 1968; Page and Burr, 1991)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Carp are an important food fish throughout most of the world except for in Australia and North America where the fish is considered unpalatable (McCrimmon 1968; Banarescu and Coad 1991). The world catch rate of carp per year exceeds 200,000 tons (Banarescu and Coad 1991). The more colorful carp, called Koi, are bred in captivity and sold as ornamental pond fish. (Banarescu and Coad, 1991; McCrimmon, 1968)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Common carp are an introduced species throughout most of the world and are generally considered a nuisance. (Smith, 1991)

Conservation Status

Common carp are common throughout much of the world.

Other Comments

These fish often overwhelm any ecosystem where they are introduced, so people have tried to get rid of them. The most successful method involves killing all fish in the lake with a poison, and then re-stocking the desirable species.


Matthew Chumchal (author), Southwestern University, Stephanie Fabritius (editor), Southwestern University.



Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.

World Map


living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map


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


living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map


living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

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.


flesh of dead 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).


seaweed. Algae that are large and photosynthetic.


marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.


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


found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map


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

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.


Referring to a mating system in which a female mates with several males during one breeding season (compare polygynous).

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


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


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


lives alone


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).


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year


animal constituent of plankton; mainly small crustaceans and fish larvae. (Compare to phytoplankton.)


Baldry, I. 2000. "Effect of Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio) on Aquatic Restorations" (On-line). Accessed 2 April 2002 at

Banarescu, P., B. Coad. 1991. Cyprinids of Eurasia. Pp. 127-155 in I Winfield, J Nelson, eds. Cyprinid Fishes. London: Chapman and Hall.

Brabrand, A., B. Faafeng, J. Nilssen. 1990. Relative importance of Phosphorus Supply to Phytoplankton Production: Fish Excretion versus External Loading. Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci., 47: 364-372.

Cahn, A. 1929. The Effect of Carp on a Small Lake: Carp as a Dominant. Ecology, 10: 271-274.

Drenner, R., J. Smith, S. Threlkeld. 1996. Lake Trophic State and the Limnological Effects of the Omnivorous Fish. Hydrobiologia, 319: 213-223.

Fletcher, A., A. Morison, D. Hume. 1985. Effects of Carp, -Cyprinus carpio L.-, on Communities of Aquatic Vegetation and Turbidity of Waterbodies in the Lower Goulburn River Basin. Aust. J. Mar. Freshw. Res., 36: 311-327.

Froese, R., D. Pauly. 2002. "Fishbase: Species summary for Cyprinus carpio" (On-line). Accessed 2 April 2002 at

Lamarra, V. 1975. Digestive Activities of Carp as a Major Contributor to the Nutrient Loading of Lakes. Verh. Internat. Verein. Limnol., 19: 2461-2468.

Lammens, E., W. Hoogenboezem. 1991. Diets and Feeding Behavior. Pp. 353-376 in I Winfield, J Nelson, eds. Cyprinid Fishes. London: Chapman and Hall.

Lougheed, V., B. Crosbie, P. Chow-Fraser. 1998. Predictions on the Effect of Common Carp (-Cyprinus carpio-) Exclusion on Water Quality, Zooplankton, and Submergent Macrophytes in a Great Lakes Wetland. Can. J. Fish. Aquai. Sci, 55: 1189-1197.

McCrimmon, H. 1968. Carp in Canada. Fisheries Research Board of Canada.

Nelson, J. 1984. Fishes of the World. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 2nd ed..

Page, L., B. Burr. 1991. A Field Guide to Freshwater Fishes. Boston: Houghton Miflin.

Smith, R. 1991. Social Behaviour. Pp. 509-529 in I Winfield, J Nelson, eds. Cyprinid Fishes. London: Chapman and Hall.

Tomelleri, J., M. Eberle. 1990. Fishes of the Central United States. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas.