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Common Carp
Cyprinus carpio Linnaeus 1758

Figure 24. Common Carp, SIUC 42681, 120 millimeter SL, from Lake County, Illinois.

Figure 24. Common Carp, SIUC 42681, 120 millimeter SL, from Lake County, Illinois.

Description

       The Common Carp (fig. 24) is a large species, reaching lengths of over 1 m (Berg, 1964). The maximum reported weight is 37.3 kg (IGFA, 2001). The body is wide, elongated, and torpedo-shaped. The scales are large, and number 32-40 along the lateral line. The body is slightly arched anterior to the dorsal fin. The long dorsal fin has ii-iv (15-23) rays that include a strong, serrated spine-like ray followed by 15 or more branched rays. The anal fin has ii-iv (4-6) rays. The caudal fin is moderately forked. The mouth is subterminal with two barbels on each side. The eyes are set high on the head. The pharyngeal teeth are molariform and those in the main row are heavy with flattened grinding surfaces. The pharyngeal tooth formula is 1,1,3-3,1,1 (in three rows; fig. 25). Total gill rakers on the first arch number 18-36. The Common Carp is generally brassy to yellowish, with lower fins often yellow-orange; however, ornamental forms exhibit a wide range of bright colors (see section on variation, below). Meristics are given in appendix B.

Figure 25. Pharyngeal teeth (1,1,3-3,1,1) of Common Carp, SIUC 42681, 120 millimeter SL, from Lake County, Illinois. (Also see fig. 3)

Figure 25. Pharyngeal teeth (1,1,3-3,1,1) of Common
Carp, SIUC 42681, 120 millimeter SL, from Lake
County, Illinois. (Also see fig. 3.)

       Shortly before and during spawning, mature males (and some females) develop breeding tubercles (appearing as small granules). In males, the tubercles appear primarily on the opercle, pre-opercle, and under the eyes, although they may also be present elsewhere on the head, caudal peduncle, fin rays, and the scales below (less frequently above) the lateral line (Balon, 1995; Barus and others, 2001). When present on females, breeding tubercles only occur on the head (Balon, 1995). Coad (2005) indicated that females are deeper-bodied than males, and also noted sexual differences in fin height and length.

Similar Species

       The long dorsal fin includes a strong, serrated spinelike ray followed by 15 or more branched rays. This characteristic distinguishes it from most native North American cyprinids, which typically have fewer than 11 rays and usually lack the spine-like ray.

       The Common Carp has two barbels on each side of the head near the posterior end of the upper jaw. This characteristic distinguishes it from Crucian Carp and Goldfish, which lack barbels. Gerlach (1983) listed characteristics that distinguish the larvae of Goldfish from the Common Carp.

Variation

       A wide geographic range in combination with a long history of culture and artificial selection has given rise to a number of varieties of Common Carp. Thus, the species exhibits a wide variation in meristic and morphological characteristics (appendix B). Barus and others (2001) recognized and provided a key for three subspecies: Cyprinus carpio carpio (European and Central Asian Common Wild Carp), Cyprinus carpio haematopterus (East Asian Common Wild Carp), and Cyprinus carpio viridiviolaceus (Southeast Asian Wild Carp).

       The number, size, and coverage of scales is variable, especially among domesticated groups. Based on scale patterns, at least four basic forms of Common Carp are recognized (Brylinska, 1986, in Barus and others, 2001). However, common names associated with these forms are sometimes inconsistently applied (for example, Tave, 1988; Howells, 1999):

    1. Scaled Carp with regular, imbricating scales over the entire body, much like the ancestral wild Common Carp. The large, cycloid scales of the Scaled Carp are pigmented along their posterior edges, producing a reticulated effect (fig. 26);

    2. Mirror Carp with irregular rows of very large scales (fig. 27);

    3. Leather or Naked Carp either with no scales or few, very large scales (fig. 28).

    4. Line Carp with a regular single mid-lateral row of scales and elsewhere none or only a few scales (not illustrated);

       Coloration is highly variable. Wild strains are generally brassy to yellowish, with lower fins often yellow-orange; however, considerable variation occurs among cultured varieties. Nishikigoi ornamental carp strains (popularly called “Koi”) were developed in Japan over the last two centuries (Balon, 1995), and may be red, white, gold, black or variegated (fig. 29).

       Natural hybrids of the wild Common Carp and the Crucian Carp are often found where the two species co-occur (Banarescu, 1964; Berg, 1964; Lin and Peter, 1991; see appendix B for meristics). The Common Carp naturally hybridizes with Goldfish both in native regions, such as Romania (Banarescu, 1964) and the Czech Republic (Prokes and Barus, 1996) and where they are introduced, such as Canada (Taylor and Mahon, 1977), Australia (Hume and others, 1983), and Ohio (Trautman, 1981). Meristics for Common Carp X Goldfish hybrids are given in appendix B. Common Carp has been artificially hybridized with Grass Carp (Makeyeva and Verigin, 1974a; Stanley and Jones, 1976; Avault and Merowsky, 1978), Bighead Carp (Makeyeva, 1968, 1972; Verigin and Makeeva, 1974), Silver Carp (Makeyeva, 1968; Makeyeva and Verigin, 1974b), and Tench (Victorovsky, 1966). Crossbreeding of Common Carp with other cyprinids is reviewed in Schwartz (1972, 1981). The Common Carp is not known to hybridize with any cyprinids native to North America.

Reproduction

       Males first spawn at an age of about 3 years, after attaining a length of 36 cm SL and weight of 1 kg (Berg, 1964). Maximum fecundity has been estimated from 27 million eggs (Barus and others, 2001; Moyle, 2002; Coad, 2005). The Common Carp is a batch spawner (Balon, 1995), releasing its adhesive eggs over vegetation. Reported minimum temperatures for commencement of spawning vary (10-12 °C, Berg, 1964; 13-16 °C, Banarescu, 1964; 16.5 °C, Lubinski and others, 1986; 18 °C, Balon, 1995). In its native range, the species reportedly prefers to spawn during periods of high water over freshly flooded meadows at sites where the water depth is 25-50 cm (Berg, 1964; Balon, 1995). Wild carp have also been reported to spawn along the coasts of islands situated in lakes (Kazancheev, 1981, in Barus and others, 2001), and in estuaries along the coastline where the water is shallow and aquatic plants are numerous (Barus and others, 2001). Berg (1964) recorded Common Carp spawning along the coast of the Aral Sea in salinities as high as 10 ppt. At 20 °C, eggs hatch 3-4 days after fertilization (Balon, 1995). Larval development was described in Balon (1995) and Nakamura (1969), and egg and larval development were described and illustrated in Jones and others (1978).

Figure 26. Common Carp (Scaled variety), 272 millimeter SL, from Lake County, Tennessee. (Photo copyright  Richard T. Bryant.)

Figure 26. Common Carp (Scaled variety), 272 millimeter SL, from
Lake County, Tennessee. (Photo copyright Richard T. Bryant.)

Figure 27. Common Carp (Mirror variety), 310 millimeter SL, from Knox County, Tennessee. (Photo copyright  Richard T. Bryant.)

Figure 27. Common Carp (Mirror variety), 310 millimeter SL, from
Knox County, Tennessee. (Photo copyright Richard T. Bryant.)

Figure 28. Common Carp (Leather variety). (Bulletin of the U.S. Fish Commission, 1890.)

Figure 28. Common Carp (Leather variety).
(Bulletin of the U.S. Fish Commission, 1890.)

Figure 29. Koi in a pond at L Yun Garden, Suzhou, Peoples Republic of China, October 2004. Koi, an ornamental form of Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio), has been selectively bred for its array of colors over the past few hundred years by the Japanese. (Photograph by Leo G. Nico.)

Figure 29. Koi in a pond at L Yun Garden, Suzhou, Peoples Republic of China,
October 2004. Koi, an ornamental form of Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio), has
been selectively bred for its array of colors over the past few hundred years by the
Japanese. (Photograph by Leo G. Nico.)

Ecology

       The Common Carp is a large species, reaching lengths of over 1 m (Berg, 1964). The largest known specimen captured to date was a 37.3 kg individual taken in Romania (IGFA, 2001). The species is long-lived, frequently attaining an age of 15 years, and sometimes living much longer. For example, a 50-year old wild carp was captured in England (Panek, 1987) and a 47-year old captive individual was reported by Flowers (1935, in Carlander, 1969). Misinterpretation of scale circuli is responsible for the erroneous legend (that persisted for over a century) that Common Carp could attain ages of 100 or even 200 years.

       The Common Carp is found in a wide variety of habitats. Barus and others (2001) reported that in the Danube River the preferred habitat included lotic stretches of the river with mud and sand substrates and abundant submerged aquatic vegetation. Common Carp in the Danube River also used oxbow lakes and other water bodies along the floodplain, such as inundated meadows. The species generally inhabits lakes, ponds, and the lower sections of rivers (usually with moderately flowing or standing water), but is also known from brackish-water estuaries, backwaters, and bays (Barus and others, 2001). In its native range, the species occurs in coastal areas of the Caspian and Aral Seas (Berg, 1964; Kazancheev, 1981, in Barus and others, 2001) as well as the estuaries of large Ukrainian and Russian rivers. Crivelli (1981) reported that the Common Carp occurred in brackish-water marshes with salinities up to 14 ppt in southern France. In North America, the Common Carp inhabits brackish and saline coastal waters of several states bordering the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and Gulf of Mexico (Schwartz, 1964; Moyle, 2002) as well as the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of Canada (McCrimmon, 1968). It has been captured in U.S. waters with salinities as high as 17.6 ppt (Schwartz, 1964). 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). Pflieger (1975) noted that the Common Carp tends to concentrate in large numbers where cannery or slaughter-house wastes are emptied into streams.

       The species is tolerant to a wide range of environmental conditions. It is somewhat puzzling that although the Common Carp has been reported from estuarine and marine regions in Europe, Asia, and North America, laboratory experiments generally report limited salinity tolerance. Upper tolerance limits have been reported as 6 ppt for young and 4.5 ppt for eggs (Nakamura, 1948, in McCrimmon, 1968). Panek (1987) reported that salinities of 1.5-2 ppt were lethal in 1.5 days, although it is unclear whether this study was conducted on adults or juveniles. Wang and others (1997) reported that fingerlings could withstand salinities of 10.5 ppt; however, growth rates at salinities >3 ppt were half those reported for waters with <2.5 ppt salinity. Laboratory studies reported decreased oxygen consumption and standard metabolism at 3 ppt salinity, as less energy was needed to maintain internal equilibrium (Qui Deyi and Qin Kejing, in Wang and others, 1997). Common Carp <50 days old were tolerant of temperatures 14-43 °C (Lirski and Opuszynski, 1988a,b). Opuszynski and others (1989) reported an upper lethal limit of 43 or 46 °C (depending on the method of calculation) and an optimum growth temperature for juveniles at 38 °C. Pitt and others (1956) reported a temperature preferendum of 32 °C. The Common Carp is reported to be extremely tolerant to turbidity (Panek, 1987). In a laboratory study, lethal low oxygen concentration varied from about 1.3-0.7 mg/L, and decreased with fish age and weight Wozniewski and Opuszynski, 1988). Median lethal concentration of ammonia was determined as 0.5 mg/L (Gulys and Fleit, 1990).

       Larval Common Carp feed primarily on zooplankton. In its native range, juveniles and adults feed on benthic organisms (for example, chironomids, gastropods, and other larval insects), vegetation, detritus, and plankton (for example, 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 and others, 1971; Eder and Carlson, 1977; Panek, 1987). The Common Carp is very active when feeding and its movements often disturb sediments and increase turbidity, causing serious problems in some regions especially where the species is abundant. The species also retards the growth of submerged aquatic vegetation by feeding on and uprooting plants (King and Hunt, 1967). Silt resuspension and uprooting of aquatic plants caused by feeding activities can disturb spawning and nursery areas of native fishes (Ross, 2001) as well as disrupt feeding of sight-oriented predators, such as bass and sunfish (Panek, 1987).

Native Distribution

       The Common Carp is native to temperate Eurasia. The precise boundaries of the native range are obscured by a long history of transplantation by humans (see Balon, 1995 and Barus and others, 2001). The species has been an important food item for humans since ancient times. The remains of Common Carp have been found in archaeological excavations of early human settlements (Balon, 1995), and the species was well known to the ancient Romans. The Common Carp has been raised for thousands of years in Europe and China (Balon, 1995).

U.S. Introductions

       The Common Carp is the leading aquaculture species in many countries and also an important sport fish (Barus and others, 2001). The species has been extensively transferred and now occupies every continent except Antarctica. Considering its importance in the Old World, it is no surprise that it has been widely introduced throughout the U.S. (beginning as early as 1831; Fuller and others, 1999). Common Carp is currently thought to be reproducing in all states except Alaska. The expanded range of Common Carp in the U.S. has occurred via numerous sources, including intentional stocking as food fish and ornamentals (for example, Koi), escapes from aquaculture facilities, use of juveniles as bait fish, and invasions of adjacent water-bodies by existing populations. Also, because the species is tolerant of brackish waters, there is increased likelihood that the Common Carp is capable of migrating through estuaries into adjacent coastal streams (Swift and others, 1977).

Cyprinus carpio
Common Carp
Plate 5. Distribution of Common Carp in the United States. - click to enlarge

Plate 5. Distribution of Common Carp in the United States. See Methods for details regarding
data used to create maps, definition of “reproducing” and shading of HUCs and states.


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