Common Carp

Common carp side view photo with black background
Scientific Name
Cyprinus carpio
Cyprinidae (minnows) in the order Cypriniformes (carps, minnows, and loaches)

The common carp is a heavy-bodied minnow with a long dorsal fin containing 17–21 rays, a stout, saw-toothed spine at the front of both dorsal and anal fins, and two barbels on each side of upper jaw. The back and sides are brassy olive, and the belly is yellowish white. The scales of the back and sides are prominently dark-edged, creating a crosshatched effect. The fins are dusky, often overlain by red on the tail fin and by yellow or orange on the lower fins.

Similar species: A number of other Asian carp have been introduced to North America, and these pose a severe threat to our aquatic ecosystems. For more about the grass, black, bighead, and silver carp, see the Similar Species links below.


Total length: 12–25 inches; weight: 1–8 pounds. One specimen in Missouri weighed 47 pounds.

Where To Find
image of Common Carp distribution map

Statewide. Most abundant in big rivers, north and west prairie streams, and southeastern lowlands.

A native of Asia, this species was introduced to Europe centuries ago and was brought to America as early as 1831. Starting in 1879 and for the next 15 years, it was actively stocked in Missouri and was firmly established by 1895. It is highly adaptable to different habitats but is least abundant in clear, high-gradient streams of the central Ozarks. Large streams, natural lakes, and impoundments are preferred, especially in highly productive waters. In streams, adults prefer deeper pools.

These omnivores eat a variety of animal and plant material, with aquatic insects forming the most important food source. Feeding peaks in late evening or early morning, sometimes in very shallow water. They feed mostly from the bottom but also suck in objects floating on the surface. Food is probably located more by taste than by sight. Aggressive, active feeders, they often uproot plants and stir up the water, making it more turbid.

One of the most widespread and abundant large fishes in the state. Nonnative.

Life Cycle

Most spawning occurs from March to June but can continue through early fall. No nest is prepared, and no parental care is given. Eggs are broadcast over logs, rocks, and other submerged objects. Few common carp live more than 12 years in the wild, though in captivity they can live nearly 50 years.

Many people eat carp, and the fish can put up a fight equal to that of any game fish of similar size, so their sporting qualities should be more widely recognized. Carp can be taken on a variety of baits, including dough balls, whole kernel corn, and worms.

Some people think that common carp are a type of goldfish, but the two are indeed separate species. But both are in the minnow family, and both came from Asia.

The ornamental carp with bright orange, red, white, and other color forms that is commonly kept in outdoor fishponds used to be considered a subspecies of common carp. Today, scientists consider these ornamental fish to be a separate species, the Amur carp, Cyprinus rubrofuscus. You may know this species by its Japanese names, koi (carp) or nishikigoi (brocaded carp). The Chinese were aquaculturing Amur carp for food and for various colors as far back as the fourth century AD, and the Japanese started breeding it for color in the 1820s.

At least one Lake of the Ozarks tourist attraction tried to make the most of the presence of common carp near its dock by offering fish food pellets in gumball dispensers and posting signs inviting visitors to "feed the bugle-mouth bass."

Because of their abundance, common carp are often accused of competing for food and space and eating the eggs of more desirable fishes. Their feeding clouds the water and uproots vegetation. Although there is truth in these complaints, the carp’s nuisance qualities may be somewhat exaggerated.

Media Gallery
Similar Species

Where to See Species

This area offers access to the Missouri River. There is a concrete boat ramp. This area is located next to Stump Island Park, which is owned and maintained by the City of Glasgow.
Teal Lake is an 80-acre lake owned and maintained by the City of Mexico. For more information or to report problems, please contact the Mexico Parks & Recreation Department,  573-581-2100.

  • This area provides boat and bank access to the Missouri River.

  • This area is owned and maintained by the City of Sugar Creek.

  • This Area is owned and maintained by: City of Lexington

  • For more information or to report problems, please contact: Lexington Parks and Recreation 660-259-2697
This area has a gravel boat ramp and provides access to the Mississippi River via Little Calumet Creek.
About Fishes in Missouri
Missouri has more than 200 kinds of fish, more than are found in most neighboring states. Fishes live in water, breathe with gills, and have fins instead of legs. Most are covered with scales. Most fish in Missouri “look” like fish and could never be confused with anything else. True, lampreys and eels have snakelike bodies — but they also have fins and smooth, slimy skin, which snakes do not.