FWS Focus

Overview

Characteristics
Overview

Bighead carp (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis) are native to eastern Asia and are one of four nonnative fish referred to as “invasive carp”. These fish are large, deep bodied fish that have a large head and a large toothless mouth with a protruding lower jaw. The bighead carp eyes are far forward and low on the head, projecting downward. The coloration of the body is dark gray, fading to white toward the underside with dark irregular blotches on the sides. They have a belly keel that extends from the vent to the base of the pevlic fins. They can grow up to nearly 5 feet in length and commonly reach 40 pounds with largest individual reaching over 100 pounds.  

Bighead carp were introduced to the southern United States in the 1970s to help aquaculture and wastewater treatment facilities keep retention ponds clean and to provide fresh fish for human consumption. The species first began to appear in, the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, in the early 1980s, likely as a result of escapes from aquaculture facilities. Bighead carp wild populations are established in the following states: Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Bighead carp have also been reported in or stocked in the following states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia,  

In 2011 Bighead carp was listed as “injurious” species under federal Lacey Act. The injurious wildlife listing means it is illegal to import or to transport live bighead carp, including viable eggs or hybrids of the species, across state lines, except by permit for zoological, education, medical, or scientific purposes. 

Nico L, Fuller P, Li J. 2021. Hypophthalmichthys nobilis (Richardson, 1845). Gainesville, FL: U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. Available: https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/factsheet.aspx?SpeciesID=551 (October 2021).

InvasiveCarp.us. 2021. Bighead carp (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis). Invasive Carp Regional Coordinating Committee. Available: http://invasivecarp.us/BigheadCarp.html (October 2021).

Nico L, Fuller P, Baker E, Narlock C, Nunez G, Sturtevant R, and Alsip P. 2021. Hypophthalmichthys nobilis (Richardson, 1845): U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, and NOAA Great Lakes Aquatic Nonindigenous Species Information System, Ann Arbor, MI. Available: https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/greatlakes/FactSheet.aspx?Species_ID=55…, (November 2021).

Scientific Name

Hypophthalmichthys nobilis
Common Name
bighead carp
Kingdom

Location in Taxonomic Tree

Identification Numbers

TSN:

Characteristics

Characteristic category

Lifecycle

Characteristics
Lifecycle

Bighead carp inhabit freshwater river systems, confluent lakes, impoundments and reservoirs. Bighead carp are an eurythermic fish that can tolerate water temperatures of 0.5 °C to 38 °C (32.9 °F to 100.4 °F) . Bighead carp stay in the upper layer of the water column and in waters with abundant natural food and low flow.

InvasiveCarp.us. 2021. Bighead carp (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis). Invasive Carp Regional Coordinating Committee. Available: http://invasivecarp.us/BigheadCarp.html (October 2021).

US Army Corps of Engineers. Bighead Carp Fact Sheet. Available: https://glmris.anl.gov/documents/docs/ans/Hypophthalmichthys_nobilis.pdf (October 2021). 

Lifespan

Bighead carp are known to live up to 16 years, but could possibly live longer. 

Huckstorf, V. 2012. Hypophthalmichthys nobilis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012: e.T166172A1116524. Available: http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/166172/0. (June 2018).  

InvasiveCarp.us. 2021. Bighead carp (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis). Invasive Carp Regional Coordinating Committee. Available: http://invasivecarp.us/BigheadCarp.html (October 2021).

Reproduction

Bighead carp spawn in large turbulent rivers after spring rains floods and water temperatures reach 77 Fahrenheit. Males reach sexual maturity as early as two years old and females as early as three years old. The semi-buoyant eggs are fertilized externally and float down river for 40 to 60 hours before hatching and must remain in the current to prevent sinking. Females can produce up to a million eggs per year. They can hybridize (cross-breed) with silver carp and produce viable, reproductive offspring.

Nico, L., P. Fuller, and J. Li. 2021. Hypophthalmichthys nobilis (Richardson, 1845). U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, Florida. Available: https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?SpeciesID=551. (October 2021).  

US Army Corps of Engineers. Bighead Carp Fact Sheet. Available: https://glmris.anl.gov/documents/docs/ans/Hypophthalmichthys_nobilis.pdf (October 2021). 

Lifecycle

Bighead carp spawn in turbulent rivers and their eggs develop and hatch while drifting downriver.  The larvae drift downriver for a period of time developing, and then they swim from the river to low flow nursery areas. Adults and juveniles prefer slow moving water. Bighead carp mature in 2 to 3 years and then migrate upstream to the spawning rivers in the spring and summer. 

Nico, L., P. Fuller, and J. Li. 2021. Hypophthalmichthys nobilis (Richardson, 1845). U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, Florida. Available: https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?SpeciesID=551. (October 2021).  

Chapman D, George A. 2011.Developmental Rate and Behavior of Early Life Stages of Bighead Carp and Silver Carp. U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2011–5076.

Whitledge GW, et al. 2019. Identification of Bighead Carp and Silver Carp early-life environments and inferring Lock and Dam 19 passage in the Upper Mississippi River: insights from otolith chemistry. Biol. Invasions 21:1007-1020.

Characteristic category

Food

Characteristics
Food

Bighead carp inhabit freshwater river systems, confluent lakes, impoundments and reservoirs. Bighead carp are an eurythermic fish that can tolerate water temperatures of 0.5 °C to 38 °C (32.9 F to 100.4 F) . Bighead carp stay in the upper layer of the water column and in waters with abundant natural food and low flow.

InvasiveCarp.us. 2021. Bighead carp (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis). Invasive Carp Regional Coordinating Committee. Available: http://invasivecarp.us/BigheadCarp.html (October 2021).

US Army Corps of Engineers. Bighead Carp Fact Sheet. Available: https://glmris.anl.gov/documents/docs/ans/Hypophthalmichthys_nobilis.pdf (October 2021). 

Characteristic category

Similar Species

Characteristics
Similar Species

Bighead carp are similar to the silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix), and can be distinguished by color and keel length. Bighead carp have the dark coloration on its sides and their keel is smooth and only between the anal and pelvic fins, the keel does not extend anterior of the base of the pelvic fins like it does in the silver carp.

Nico, L., P. Fuller, and J. Li. 2021. Hypophthalmichthys nobilis (Richardson, 1845). U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, Florida. Available: https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?SpeciesID=551. (October 2021).  

Characteristic category

Behavior

Characteristics
Behavior

Bighead carps are filter feeders that consume mainly zooplankton; this species of carp do not have true stomachs and feed almost continuously. They feed at water temperatures above 35° Fahrenheit and are capable of eating between 20% to 120% of their body weight each day.

Characteristic category

Physical Characteristics

Characteristics
Color & Pattern

The body coloration is dark gray above and cream-colored below toward the underside with dark gray to black irregular blotches on the back and sides.

CABI. 2018. Aristichthys nobilis (bighead carp) [main author C. Santiago]. In Invasive Species Compendium. CAB International, Wallingford, U.K. Available: https://www.cabi.org/isc/datasheet/92426. (June 2018). 

InvasiveCarp.us. 2021. Bighead carp (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis). Invasive Carp Regional Coordinating Committee. Available: http://invasivecarp.us/BigheadCarp.html (October 2021).

Nico, L., P. Fuller, and J. Li. 2018. Hypophthalmichthys nobilis (Richardson, 1845). U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, Florida. Available: https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?SpeciesID=551. (October 2021).  

 

Weight

Bighead carp usually weight up to 40 pounds (18.14 kg), but can grow to more than 80 pounds (36.29 kg). The current world record bighead carp weight was 125 pounds 5-ounce (56.84 kg) and was caught in Missouri.

Pritchard J. 2021. Perry County bowfisherman catches world record sized bighead carp. Missouri Department of Conservation. Available: https://mdc.mo.gov/newsroom/perry-county-bowfisherman-catches-world-rec…

InvasiveCarp.us. 2021. Bighead carp (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis). Invasive Carp Regional Coordinating Committee. Available: http://invasivecarp.us/BigheadCarp.html (October 2021).

Physical Characteristics

Bighead carp (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis) are native to eastern Asia and are one of four nonnative fish referred to as “invasive carp”. These fish are large, deep bodied fish that have a large head and a large toothless mouth with a protruding lower jaw. The bighead carp's eyes are far forward and low on the head, projecting downward. The coloration of the body is dark gray, fading to white toward the underside with dark irregular blotches on the sides. They have a belly keel that extends from the vent to the base of the pelvic  fins. They can grow up to nearly 5 feet in length and commonly reach 40 pounds with some individuals reaching over 100 pounds.  

Bighead carp were introduced to the southern United States in the 1970s to help aquaculture and wastewater treatment facilities keep retention ponds clean and to provide fresh fish for human consumption. The species first began to appear in, the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, in the early 1980s, likely as a result of escapes from aquaculture facilities. Bighead carp wild populations are established in the following states: Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Bighead carp have also been reported in or stocked in the following states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia,  

In 2011 Bighead carp was listed as an “injurious” species under federal Lacey Act. The injurious wildlife listing means it is illegal to import or to transport live bighead carp, including viable eggs or hybrids of the species, across state lines, except by permit for zoological, education, medical, or scientific purposes. 

Nico, L., P. Fuller, and J. Li. 2021. Hypophthalmichthys nobilis (Richardson, 1845). U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, Florida. Available: https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?SpeciesID=551. (October 2021).  

Size & Shape

Bighead carp is a deep-bodied fish with a large toothless mouth and very large head. Their eyes are small, located forward and low on the head, well below the axis of the body and project downward.  Their head has no scales and their lower jaw protrudes pass the upper jaw. Their belly keel extends from the vent (anus) only to the bases of the pectoral fins. Bighead carp can grow over 4 feet in length.

InvasiveCarp.us. 2021. Bighead carp (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis). Invasive Carp Regional Coordinating Committee. Available: http://invasivecarp.us/BigheadCarp.html (October 2021).

Nico L, Fuller P, Li J. 2021. Hypophthalmichthys nobilis (Richardson, 1845). Gainesville, FL: U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. Available: https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/factsheet.aspx?SpeciesID=551 (October 2021).

Characteristic category

Habitat

Characteristics
Habitat

Bighead carp (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis) are native to eastern Asia and are one of four nonnative fish referred to as “invasive carp”. These fish are large, deep bodied fish that have a large head and a large toothless mouth with a protruding lower jaw. The bighead carp's eyes are far forward and low on the head, projecting downward. The coloration of the body is dark gray, fading to white toward the underside with dark irregular blotches on the sides. They have a belly keel that extends from the vent to the base of the pelvic  fins. They can grow up to nearly 5 feet in length and commonly reach 40 pounds with the largest individual reaching over 100 pounds.  

Bighead carp were introduced to the southern United States in the 1970s to help aquaculture and wastewater treatment facilities keep retention ponds clean and to provide fresh fish for human consumption. The species first began to appear in, the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, in the early 1980s, likely as a result of escapes from aquaculture facilities. Bighead carp wild populations are established in the following states: Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Bighead carp have also been reported in or stocked in the following states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia,  

In 2011 Bighead carp was listed as an “injurious” species under federal Lacey Act. The injurious wildlife listing means it is illegal to import or to transport live bighead carp, including viable eggs or hybrids of the species, across state lines, except by permit for zoological, education, medical, or scientific purposes. 

Weimin M. 2004. Hypophthalmichthys nobilis. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Division. Cultured Aquatic Species Information Programme. Available: https://www.fao.org/fishery/culturedspecies/Hypophthalmichthys_nobilis/… (November 2021). 

Lake
River or Stream

Geography

Characteristics
Range

Bighead carp are native to eastern Asia from the Amur River in eastern Russia south through eastern China to Pearl River. They have been introduced all over the world, including Mexico, Central America, South America, Africa, Greater Antilles, Pacific Islands, Europe, and throughout Asia outside of their natural range. In the US, bighead carp are currently spread throughout the Mississippi River, Missouri River and Ohio River systems within or along the border of 23 states. 

CABI. 2018. Aristichthys nobilis (bighead carp) [main author C. Santiago]. In Invasive Species Compendium. CAB International, Wallingford, U.K. Available: https://www.cabi.org/isc/datasheet/92426. (June 2018). 

InvasiveCarp.us. 2021. Bighead carp (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis). Invasive Carp Regional Coordinating Committee. Available: http://invasivecarp.us/BigheadCarp.html (October 2021).

Nico, L., P. Fuller, and J. Li. 2018. Hypophthalmichthys nobilis (Richardson, 1845). U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, Florida. Available: https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?SpeciesID=551. (October 2021).  

 

Import/Export

Bighead carp were first imported into the United States in 1973 to improve water quality and increase fish production in aquaculture ponds. In 2011 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service added the bighead carp to the list of injurious fish, mollusks and crustaceans. This listing prohibited the importation into the United States and interstate transportation between States and U.S. territories of live bighead carp, gametes, viable eggs and hybrids without permit. Some states have commercial fishing to reduce the numbers of invasive carp.

Nico, L., P. Fuller, and J. Li. 2018. Hypophthalmichthys nobilis (Richardson, 1845). U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, Florida. Available: https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?SpeciesID=551. (October 2021).  

Asian Carp Action Plan for Fiscal Year 2021. 2021. Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee. Available: http://invasivecarp.us/Documents/2021-Action-Plan.pdf (November 2021).

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