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River carpsucker

Carpiodes carpio

What do they look like?

Carpiodes carpio is somewhat stout and its back is a little bit arched and compressed. The dorsal area is brown-olive and fades to silver then white at its belly. The fins are usually opaque. The fins of older fish are dark yellow. The midpoint of the lower lip is projected like a nipple and has big scales. Small tubercules are observed on the body of males in breeding seasons.

Adult carpsuckers are usually 12 to 18 inches (30 to 45 cm) in length and 1 to 3 lbs (453.6 to 1361 g) in weight. Sometimes, fish weighing over 10 lbs (4546 g) are caught. (BISON, 2004; Page and Burr, 1991)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    4546 (high) g
    160.21 (high) oz
  • Average mass
    453.6-1361 g
  • Average length
    30-45 cm

Where do they live?

Carpiodes carpio was originally distributed in the Mississippi River basin from Pennsylvania to Montana. In addition, this species lives in Louisiana and the Gulf Slope Drainage from the Calcasieu River to the Rio Grande in Texas and New Mexico (Page and Burr, 1991).

The introduction of Carpiodes carpio into other areas was likely caused by shipments of buffalo fishes (Ictiobus spp.) in Lake Erie and the lower Maumee River, Ohio. These buffalo fishes were deliberately introduced and stocked for sport fishing and aquaculture in Ohio in western Lake Erie between 1920 and 1930. However, the effects of the introduction are not well known and studied (Lee et al. 1980; Trautman 1981; Page and Burr 1991). (Lee, et al., 1980; Page and Burr, 1991; Trautman, 1981)

What kind of habitat do they need?

Carpiodes carpio has a preference for large and deep rivers that have sand or silt bottoms with slower-moving current even though the river carpsucker has high adaptability to various kinds of habitats. In addition, this carpsucker lives in backwaters of smaller creeks. Another habitat recorded is comparatively shallow water having a large biomass of tubificids and little nutrients. (Bestgen and Platania, 1990; Sublette, et al., 1990)

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • benthic
  • lakes and ponds
  • rivers and streams
  • Average elevation
    below about 2,135 m

How do they grow?

Information about life history and developmental stages is not well known. However, the river carpsucker broadcasts its eggs on the silt or sand in spring (Sublette et al. 1990). The characteristics of the eggs are adhesive and demersal. Also, an egg diameter is about 1.7 to 2.1 mm. After 8 to 15 days, young fry hatch. (Sublette, et al., 1990)

How do they reproduce?

Reproduction of the river carpsucker usually occurs in late spring. In a breeding season, this species gathers in large groups and spawns. Although the spawning peak is not well described, ripening time is quite different for individuals and does not occur synchronously. Some females spawn more than once per year. This carpsucker broadcasts eggs randomly and usually releases over 100,000 eggs. (BISON, 2004)

The river carpsucker can produce eggs at age 2 to 3 but sexual maturity depends on sex. Maturity is age 2 to 3 for males and age 3 to 4 in females (Becker 1983).

The water temperature where the river carpsucker can spawn ranges from 18.3 to 19.1°C. Spawning occurs from the late spring and lasts until the beginning of summer when the water temperature ranges from 24.0 to 27.5°C. (Becker, 1983)

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    Usually more than once per a year
  • Breeding season
    From late in the spring to June or July
  • Average number of offspring
    over 100,000 eggs
  • Average time to hatching
    8 to 15 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    3 to 4 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    2 to 3 years

There is no parental care. The river carpsucker broadcasts its eggs on the sand and leaves them.

  • Parental Investment
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning

How long do they live?

The river carpsucker usually lives 2 to 4 years. Thus, fish over six years old is not observed easily in nature. However, this species can live for 10 years.

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    10 (high) years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    2 to 4 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    2 to 4 years

How do they behave?

The river carpsucker forms large schools and moves together. Feeding behavior of this species is known as they forage near the bottom which consists of sand or silt. (Sublette, et al., 1990)

How do they communicate with each other?

What do they eat?

The river carpsucker is well known as a bottom feeder and detritivore. This species eats and filters nutrients from silt and detritus. It ingests all kinds of items on the river bottom like algae, protozoans, chironomids, microcrustaceans, various tiny planktonic plants and animals (Becker 1983; Sublette et al. 1990).

Juveniles eat similar items as adults. However, items eaten are smaller. (Becker, 1983; Sublette, et al., 1990)

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Carnivorous fishes such as northern pike, muskellunge, walleye, largemouth bass are well known predators (Froese and Pauly, 2002; Baldry, 2004). However, these predators cannot eat adult river carpsuckers. Humans are the biggest fish predators and usually Asian people prefer to eat these kinds of fishes. In addition, some birds like great blue herons may feed on river carp suckers (Baldry, 2004). (Baldry, 2004; Froese and Pauly, 2004)

Do they cause problems?

This species has no known negative effects on humans.

How do they interact with us?

Commercial fisherman caught the river carpsuckers for food during the 1960s. This species was one of the most plentiful fishes in Elephant Butte Reservoir in New Mexico (Jester 1972). Another place which has a relatively large abundance was in Caballo Reservoir in Texas. However, the river carpsuckers are reduced rapidly by the effect of toxics in the reservoir.

Even though most people in the United States think the river carpsucker is useless and not palatable, these fish are popular food in Asia. Capiodes carpio is also referred to as “cold water buffalo” in some areas of the southern United States (Sublette et al. 1990). (Jester, 1972; Sublette, et al., 1990)

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • food

Are they endangered?

Some reports and proposals were suggested in order to protect native population and habitat in the river from the river carpsucker. Also, the removal of these species was related to management of water uses. (BISON, 2004)

Some more information...

The river carpsucker is not considered a game species. This species is also called carpsucker, white carp, quillback, silvery carp, northern carpsucker.


Renee Sherman Mulcrone (editor).

Kyung Seo Park (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, William Fink (editor, instructor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.


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Beckman, W. 1952. Guide to the fishes of Colorad. Boulder, Colorado. 110 pp.: University of Colorado Museum.

Behmer, D. 1965. periodicity of the river carp-sucker, CARPIODES CARPIO. 72:253-262: Proc. Iowa. Acad. Sci..

Bestgen, K., S. Platania. 1990. Extirpation of Notropis simus simus (Cope) and Notropis orca Woolman (Pisces: Cyprinidae) from the Rio Grande in New Mexico, with Notes on Their Life History. In: Occasional Papers, Number 6, pp. 1-8. February 16, 1990.: The Museum of Southwestern Biology.

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Ellis, M. 1914. Fishes of Colorado. 11(1):5-135: University of Colorado Studies.

Froese, R., D. Pauly. 2004. "Fishbase: Species summary for Cyprinus carpio" (On-line). Accessed October 18, 2004 at

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Jester, D. 1972. Life history, ecology, and management of the river carpsucker, CARPIODES CARPIO (Rafinesque), with reference to Elephant Butte Lake. N. M. State Univ. Agric. Exp. Stn. Res. Rep., No. 243: 120 pp.

Jordan, D., B. Evermann. 1902. American Food and Game Fishes. New York, New York. 574 pp.: Doubleday, Page and company.

Koster, W. 1957. Guide to the fishes of New Mexico. Abbuquerque, New Mexico. 116 pp.: University of New Mexico press.

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

Lee, D., C. Gilbert, C. Hocutt, R. Jenkins, D. McAllister, J. Stauffer, Jr.. 1980. Atlas of North American Freshwater Fishes. 867 pp.: North Carolina State Museum of Natural History.

Leu, J. 2004. "Fish information" (On-line). Bowfishing Association of Iowa. Accessed October 18, 2004 at

Li, H. 1968. Fishes of the South Platte River Basin. Fort Collins, Colorado. 67 pp.: Colorado State University.

Page, L., B. Burr. 1991. A field guide to freshwater fishes: North America north of Mexico. Boston, Massachusetts. 432 pp.: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Pflieger, W. 1975. Fishes of Missouri. 341 pp.: Missouri Department of Conservation.

Robins, C., R. Bailey, C. Boyd, J. Brooker, E. Lachner, R. Lea, W. Scott. 1991. Common and scientific names of fishes from the United States and Canada. Am. Fish. Soc. Spec. Pub., 20: 183 p.

Smith, P. 1979. The fishes of Illinois. Urbana. 314 pp: Univ. Illinois Press.

Sublette, J., M. Hatch, M. Sublette. 1990. The fishes of New Mexico. Albuquerque, New Mexico. 393 pp.: University New Mexico Press.

Trautman, M. 1981. The fishes of Ohio. Second edition. Columbus. 782 pp.: Ohio State Univ. Press.

University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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Park, K. 2005. "Carpiodes carpio" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 17, 2024 at

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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