Photographer: Rob Cosgriff Affiliation: Illinois Natural History Survey Source: Bugwood.org Copyright: (CC BY-NY 3.0)
The Black carp is a blackish brown fish with blackish grey fins, an elongated and laterally compressed body. They average more than 3 feet in length and 33 pounds in weight, but can reach 5 feet in length and weigh up to 150 pounds. Individuals of the species are known to live for at least 15 years. Young Black carp are difficult to distinguish from young Grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella), another non-native species.
There is high potential that the Black carp will negatively impact native aquatic communities by feeding on, and reducing, populations of native mussels and snails, many of which are considered endangered or threatened. Given their size and diet preferences, Black Carp also have the potential to restructure benthic communities by direct predation and removal of algae-grazing snails and native mussels. Furthermore, because the Black carp can attain a large size (well over 1 meter long), juvenile and adult mussels and many species of snails would be vulnerable to predation. Since the life span of the Black Carp is reportedly over 15 years, sterile triploid Black Carp in the wild are expected to persist many years and therefore have the potential to cause harm native mollusks by way of predation. Also, Black Carp juveniles feed on zooplankton and insect larvae while adults feed on benthic invertebrates such as snails and mussels, so many different resources maybe become exhausted.
Black Carp, like the other Asian carps, are able to invade novel habitats and ecosystems readily due to a variety of factors. First, the carp are aggressive and prodigious feeders. Individuals may consume as much as 20% of their body mass in one day. Further, Black carp are explosive breeders. Gaining sexual maturity after a few years, these carp may lay hundreds of thousands of eggs in one brood. Unfortunately, as the carp mature and grow they produce even more eggs and increase their fecundity, allowing for further invasions.
Black Carp was first imported into the United States in the 1970s, and by the 1990s this species was being used in fish farms in several southern states to control pond snails. Black Carp were reported as having escaped into the Osage River from a Missouri fish farm during a major flood in April 1994. Due to its widespread use to control snails, escapees from aquaculture ponds have probably added to the wild population. During recent years there have been reports of Black Carp being captured in the wild. The first published report was that of a single Black Carp taken by a commercial fisher from Horseshoe Lake in southern Illinois in March 2003. Other reports of captures have surfaced since.
The native range of Black Carp includes most major Pacific Ocean drainages of eastern Asia from the Amur River Basin south to the West-Pearl River Basin, and possibly the Red River of northern Vietnam.
U.S. Habitat: A freshwater fish, the Black carp has found suitable habitat in the United States. The Great Lakes and Mississippi River (and others), offer the necessary habitat for a rapid growth in the population numbers of these fish. There are plenty of snail and mussel species for the fish to eat, however many of those species are already endangered and could be pushed to extinction by the Black Carp.
U.S. Present: The black carp has been reported in Arkansas, Illinois, Mississippi, and Missouri.
Texas: While the Black carp has been used in aquaculture in states as close as Louisiana for decades, currently there are no reported Texas invasions.
Resembles many of the carp species in the United States. Including its Asian cousins:
Grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella)
Silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix)
Largescale Silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys harmandi)
Bighead carp (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis)
Common Goldfish (Carassius auratus)
Crucian carp (Carassius carassius)
Mud carp (Cirrhinus molitorella)
Also resembles the Common carp (Cyprinus carpio) (Common carp are European, not Asian, and are sometimes considered "native" because they have been in the US since the 1800s)
Black Carp have been used in the aquaculture industry for decades so its removal in the near future seems unlikely. However, scientists, worried about an escape/colonization event, have urged fish farmers to use triploid Black carp. These triploid individuals are sterile, so even if they do escape it will not lead to a breeding population. In fact, it is not illegal (thanks to the Lacey Act) to transport viable Black carp across states. The Lacey Act has largely prevented the unwanted spread of Black carp across the US. There is evidence that wild populations of Black Carp may have been present in the lower Mississippi River Basin, largely in and around the Red River of Louisiana, since the early 1990s. Reproduction in the Mississippi River has not been documented, but new information and recent collections suggest this species has likely established in the lower part of the Mississippi Basin.
Ben-Ami, F., & Heller, J. 2001. Biological Control of Aquatic Pest Snails by the Black Carp Mylopharyngodon piceus. Biological Control, 22(2), 131-138.
Nico, L.G., J.D. Williams, and H.L. Jelks. 2005. Black Carp: Biological Synopsis and Risk Assessment of an Introduced Fish, American Fisheries Society Special Publication 32, Bethesda, MD.
T. A. Crowl. 1990. Life-history strategies of freshwater snail in response to stream permanence and predation: Balancing conflicting demands. Oecologia 84: 238–243.
W. L. Shelton, A. Soliman and S. Rothbard. 1995. Experimental observation on feeding biology of black carp (Mylopharyngodon piceus). Bamidgeh 47: pp. 59–67.