Though it might not seem like it at first glance, the common carp is a very interesting species of fish, both anatomically and in terms of instinct and behaviour. Let’s take a deep look at this popular European sport fish to find out exactly what common carp are, how they are distributed across the globe and also some of their behaviours.
The common carp originally developed as a species in the Danube river basin, with native ranges extending to the Caspian, Black, and Aral seas. In modern times they are found throughout Europe and in many other parts of the world, including North and South America.
Introduction into other habitats
Common carp as mentioned earlier have an incredibly huge distribution range, with introduced populations on every continent on the planet except for Antarctica, this includes a known 59 countries with carp populations in the modern age.
Many of these international introductions have had dire consequences on the native fish populations, as is the case with the majority of accidental or intentional species introductions.
Carp in these introduced habitats, whether they were purposefully or accidentally introduced, can cause serious harm by altering the native environment. This alteration is due to numerous factors such as a high reproductive rate and feeding habits.
Carp will stir up the bottom in the search of food, high population densities only add to this sediment disruption detrimentally affecting the water clarity, and out-competing native species for food.
Carp eat much of the submerged vegetation in the lakes they are introduced to, this hurts native species, especially ducks who depend on these same plants for food, and other species of fish as well.
Recently in 2020 scientists have proven that small proportions of common carp eggs ingested by various waterfowl can survive traveling through the animals digestive tract, and then hatched when retrieved from the waste.
This discovery has shown that despite only a few eggs surviving being eaten by waterfowl, they can spread to other bodies of water invasively after the duck consumes the eggs and flies to a different body of water, adding in the vast quantities of eggs that can be laid by a single female carp, and this small survival rate grows exponentially due to waterfowl preferring eggs as sustenance. This greatly adds to the complexity of trying to stop the spread of common carp as an invasive species.
Carp are incredibly tolerant of a wide variety of conditions, which is also the reason they have proliferated around the globe, but they still have preferential habitat.
Carp prefer large bodies of water that have slow-moving water with large quantities of vegetation and a soft sentiment bottom make up.
Carp can tolerate very low oxygen levels and will have little issue surviving under the ice in a small pond granted that it has enough depth, and are more than happy in water temperature ranges from 3-35 degrees C. They can also inhabit brackish water areas.
If the oxygen levels on a given body of water are below the comfort level for common carp, they can gulp air from the surface, this is something most anglers have seen happen at some point, and this aids in their ability to inhabit waters that other species would struggle living in.
Spawning, Age, and Size
A full-grown female carp can lay up to 300,000 eggs in a single spawn, and although the typical spawning time is in the spring, they can also spawn multiple times throughout the warmer water period in the right conditions such as high rainfall and rising water temperatures.
In larger bodies of water with plenty of space and forage, carp can grow to very large sizes, with maximum weights ranging up to 88 pounds and 47 inches, with the oldest known carp being 38 years old.
The world record carp for rod and line was caught in France weighing an epic 100.5 pounds, though the average-sized carp is around 15 to 32 inches and 4 to 31 pounds.
Though a mature female carp can lay up to 1 million eggs a year, the populations for any given body of water remain very stable, meaning that nearly as many eggs do not hatch, this is due to multiple factors, like predation, fungi, and bacteria. Carp eggs that do hatch are then susceptible to predation from perch, pike, and birds.
Carp are very opportunistic feeders and scavengers, eating anything from fish eggs, dead rotting fish, snails and other small crustaceans, waterborne insects, worms, a wide variety of plant matter, and algae.
Being such opportunistic feeders, and having the ability to eat such a wide variety of different things means that carp can grow big in varying habitats with food sources that can be drastically different from others, and is also a big reason as to why they have proliferated in other parts of the globe.
Carp have very interesting and in some ways mind-blowing tools when it comes to finding food and feeding. We have an entire article on exactly how it is that carp find food and eat it.
Common carp today rank as the 3rd most farmed fish in the world after the grass carp (#2) and the silver carp (#1). In China alone, Carp make up by weight alone the most produced fish in aquaculture due to the sizes they reach in a domesticated setting.
We know that raising carp goes back a very long way, with evidence in Romania showing that the Romans created fish farm ponds for consumption.
This raising of carp spread throughout the centuries that followed the Romans, with monks domesticating carp as a food fish throughout Europe and becoming a standard in the 13th to 16th centuries. As well as throughout Asia.
Distinct carp variations occurred throughout these centuries of farm-raised fish, with mirror carp featuring large scales, linear carp with a single row of scales first seen in Germany, and leather carp which are completely scaleless except for the area near the dorsal fin emerging.
In Asia, the most well-known variant of these farm-raised carp became the Koi carp, which became an ornamental fish, especially in Japan, but is derived from the East Asian Common Carp.
While Carp as a food fish is popular throughout areas of Europe and Asia, in the United States it goes unnoticed in stores, with the majority of Americans preferring filleted fish such as perch, walleye, or tilapia, and others, but carp eggs as caviar has become increasingly popular.
Fishing for carp is very popular in Europe and has emerged as one of the most sought after sportfish. Tournaments are common, there are even professional anglers who dedicate their lives in the pursuit of big carp.
Anglers use a wide variety of rigs, bait, and tactics to catch them. You can find many detailed articles on this site dedicated solely to catching carp.
While there are dedicated carp anglers throughout North America it is not a sought-after sportfish to its invasive nature, and in some states releasing a carp back into the water that you caught it from might even be illegal.
One popular past-time that deals with carp in the United States, in particular, is bow fishing. People rig up special reels onto bows with a heavy barbed fiberglass arrow and shoot carp.
This has become a productive way to help reduce carp populations in troubled waters, with large tournaments at night with boats filled to the brim with lights and generators becoming more common.
So what is a common carp? Well, this is a bit of a basic rundown on a common carp, and to be honest you could probably write a book’s worth of information on the natural history of carp, its role as a species, and the human relationship around it.
If you are interested in learning more about types of carp and carp fishing, be sure to browse around and check out our other interesting carp related material!