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Carpiodes cyprinus

What do they look like?

Quillback carpsuckers have a very compressed body making them look flattened when viewed from the side. They have large silvery scales which give them a silver coloration from the side fading to a dark color towards their backs. Quillback carpsuckers are distinguished from other carpsuckers by their long first dorsal ray. They have a typical sucker mouth and, when viewed from the side, the back of the mouth does not extend past the front edge of the eye. Quillback carpsuckers have a deeply forked tail 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. It weighed 6.18 kg (13 lbs. 10 oz.) and measured 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

Where do they live?

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)

What kind of habitat do they need?

Quillback carpsuckers prefer to live in highly productive streams that are moderately deep and clear. Quillback carpsuckers prefer clear water over very muddy 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

How do they grow?

Quillback carpsuckers spawn in open lake, river and stream bottoms 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)

How do they reproduce?

Male and female quillback carpsuckers make a run, or migration, to their spawning areas. There they release eggs and sperm in shallow water over small gravelly ridges, 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. Quillbacks achieve independence almost immediately after hatching. (Mayhew, 1987)

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    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

Females begin developing eggs internally long before hatch. In comparison males are much less involved during the pre-fertilization. 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

How long do they live?

Mortality is high among the eggs, fry and young fish because they provide food for predatory fish who are grazing or browsing for food. 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

How do they behave?

Quillback carpsuckers feed and reproduce in schools. Because they do not build nests to reproduce they simply 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 this migration is unknown, but most likely it depends on the on specific location. Quillback carpsuckers, like most other fishes, generally return to their pre-spawn home range after reproduction.

How do they communicate with each other?

Like most other fish quillback carpsuckers use visual and tactile cues to perceive their environment. Little else is known about how they percieve their environment or communicate with each other.

What do they eat?

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

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Mortality is high among eggs, fry and young fish because they provide browsing foods for predatory fish. One anti-predator adaptation that the species has made 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)

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

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

Do they cause problems?

This species has no known negative economic effects on humans.

How do they interact with us?

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)

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • food

Are they endangered?

Quillback carpsuckers are critically imperiled in Vermont. They are imperiled in New York and Michigan. Also they are 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 quillback carpsuckers. ("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.


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

University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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Ervin, M. 2006. "Carpiodes cyprinus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed February 26, 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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