NAS - Nonindigenous Aquatic Species

Mylopharyngodon piceus
(Black Carp)
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Leo Nico
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Mylopharyngodon piceus (Richardson, 1846)

Common name: Black Carp

Synonyms and Other Names: snail carp, Chinese black carp, black amur, Chinese roach, black Chinese roach

Taxonomy: available through www.itis.govITIS logo

Identification: Illustrations and detailed information useful for the positive identification of this species appear in Nico et al. (2005) and Schofield et al. (2005). An identification key to introduced Asian carps and other cyprinids, including black carp, is provided by Schofield et al. (2005). The black carp closely resembles the grass carp Ctenopharyngodon idella. The two species are similar in overall body shape, size and placement of fins. Both black carp and grass carp have very large scales. In contrast to grass carp, the black carp is slightly darker in coloration (not black) and its pharyngeal teeth (throat teeth) are large and similar in appearance to human molars, an adaptation for crushing the shells of mollusks (Nico et al. 2005) Commercial fishers in Louisiana have noted that black carp also have a somewhat pointed snout, a character they find useful in distinguishing it from grass carp. Juveniles and larvae may be difficult to distinguish from those of grass carp and certain other cyprinids. Illustrations and descriptions of juvenile and larval Asian carps, including black carp, appear in Nico et al. (2005) and Chapman (2006).

Size: Based on Asian records, large adults may be more than 1.5 m total length and 70 kg or more in weight; the largest specimen, unconfirmed, from the Chang (Yangtze) River basin reportedly measured 2.2 m.

Native Range: Most major Pacific drainages of eastern Asia from the Pearl River (Zhu Jiang) basin in China north to the Amur River (Heilong Jiang) basin of China and far eastern Russia; possibly native to the Honghe or Red River of northern Vietnam (Nico et al. 2005).

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Nonindigenous Occurrences: Nonindigenous Occurrences: A single fish was collected from the White River, Arkansas, in April 2005 (Nico et al. 2005). At least three specimens have been documented from Illinois open waters. The first was captured 26 March 2003 from Horseshoe Lake, Alexander County, in southern part of state (Chick et al. 2003). A second specimen was taken June 10, 2004 from the Mississippi River near Lock and Dam 24 near Clarksville Island side channel in Calhoun County (Nico et al. 2005). A third fish was found July 1, 2010 in Pool 25 of the Mississippi River near Hamburg, Illinois (R. Maher, pers. comm.). Recent information indicates that commercial fishers have been collecting black carp on an annual basis since the early 1990s in the Red and Atchafalaya rivers and the lower Mississippi River main channel in Louisiana (Nico et al. 2005). At least 12 of the captured specimens were later examined by biologists, but many others have been captured over the past 15 years (see section on status) (Nico et al. 2005; L. G. Nico, U.S. Geological Survey, unpublished data). Recent documented captures in Louisiana consist of three specimens captured in May 2007; these include two fish taken from the Red-Atchafalaya systems and one from the main channel of the Mississippi River (L. G. Nico, unpublished data). Commercial fishers reported taking a black carp in early July 2004 from the Mississippi River near the mouth of the Homochitto River in Mississippi (Nico et al. 2005). Approximately 30 black carp were reported as having escaped from a fish farm in Missouri into the Osage River, Missouri River basin, in April 1994 (Nico et al. 2005).

Ecology: This species can be found in rivers, streams, or lakes; however, it requires large rivers to reproduce (Nico et al. 2005). Reproduction takes place in late spring and summer when water temperatures and/or water levels rise (Nico et al. 2005). Both male and female black carp are broadcast spawners; females are capable of releasing hundreds of thousands of eggs into flowing water, which then develop in the pelagic zone (Nico et al. 2005). After fertilization, the eggs become semiboyant (Sukhanova, 1967 as cited in Nico et al. 2005). They hatch in 1 to 2 days, depending on water temperatures, and the yolk sac is absorbed in 6 to 8 days (Nico et al. 2005). They become sexually mature at 4 to 6 years after which they migrate back to their spawning grounds (Nico et al. 2005). Successful reproduction is known only from riverine habitats (Nico et al. 2005). Lifespan probably is greater than 15 years (Biro, 1999 as cited in Nico et al. 2005).

Means of Introduction: This species was first brought into the United States in the early 1970s as a "contaminant" in imported grass carp stocks. These fish came from Asia and were sent to a private fish farm in Arkansas (Nico et al. 2005). Subsequent introductions of black carp into this country occurred in the early 1980s. During this period it was imported as a food fish and as a biological control agent to combat the spread of yellow grub Clinostomum margaritum in aquaculture ponds (Nico et al. 2005). The first known record of an introduction of black carp into open waters occurred in Missouri in 1994 when thirty or more black carp along with several thousand bighead carp reportedly escaped into the Osage River, Missouri River drainage, when high water flooded hatchery ponds at an aquaculture facility near Lake of the Ozarks. Recently, owners of the Missouri facility where the escapes reportedly took place have denied that black carp ever escaped from their facility (Nico et al. 2005). In any case, flooding of aquaculture facilities and associated numbers and types of escaped fishes are very poorly documented in the public record. There is evidence that large portions of the lower Mississippi River basin where aquaculture farms are present have been subject to large-scale floods on a number of occasions over the past few decades. Consequently, it is likely that the source of some or all of the black carp present in the lower Mississippi River basin. Nearly all fish farms with black carp are in lowland areas and flood events increase the probability that more black carp will eventually escape fish farms (Nico et al. 2005:245). There is also risk that black carp may be spread by other means. According to one aquaculture farmer, hundreds of young black carp were accidentally included in shipments of live baitfish sent from Arkansas to bait dealers in Missouri as early as 1994 (Nico et al. 2004:5). In addition, because of the continued widespread distribution of grass carp across the United States, there remains the possibility that shipments may inadvertently contain black carp (Nico et al. 2005). Juveniles, in particular, are difficult to distinguish from grass carp young. As such, Nico et al. (2005) expressed concern over the increased risk that the species be misidentified and unintentionally introduced as "grass carp" to some areas.

Status: The black carp has been reported in Arkansas, Illinois, Mississippi, and Missouri (Nico et al. 2005). The fact that black carp have been in the wild well over a decade in the lower Mississippi basin, including diploid adults, is evidence that the species may already be established or is on the verge of establishment in the United States (Nico et al. 2005; L. G. Nico, pers. comm.). At least 12 black carp captured by commercial fishers in Louisiana have been examined by biologists. However, Louisiana commercial fishers and local fish market operators who are familiar with black carp report that the species has been taken consistently over the past 15 years and that the total numbers of wild black carp captured in northern Louisiana alone is well over one hundred individuals (Nico et al. 2005; L. G. Nico, U.S. Geological Survey, unpublished data). One Louisiana commercial fisher, an expert in the identification of black carp, reported that black carp are taken on an annual basis.  He has captured as many as three black carp in a single hoop net and as many as 10 black carp in a single week (Nico et al. 2005). To date there have been no confirmed collections of larval or small juvenile black carp in the wild; however, there have been no studies conducted for the expressed purpose of identifying spawning grounds or for targeting capture of larval black carp in the wild. In their discussion on captive black carp, Nico et al. (2005) stated “The total numbers of black carp in the United States at any one time is uncertain. During the 1990s, it was reported that the number being held by fish farmers and other entities in a few southern states totaled well over 400,000 individuals, including triploids and diploids (M. Freeze, memo to B. Collins, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Stuttgart, Arkansas). At that time, there were found privately owned aquaculture facilities, located in Arkansas and Missouri, and each reportedly held more than 100,000 diploid and triploid black carp.” Relatively few commercial fishers in the Mississippi River basin are experienced in fishing large rivers or use appropriate gear (e.g., large hoop nets placed in deep water) for catching black carp (Nico et al. 2005; L. G. Nico, pers. comm.). To date, there have been no adequate field surveys conducted to determine the distribution and abundance of black carp in the Mississippi River Basin (personal communication, Leo Nico, USGS).  During 2003 and 2004, Schramm and Basler (2005) employed AC electrofishing gear to sample selected waterways in proximity to open-pond aquaculture facilities in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Presumably because the effectiveness of electrofishing is largely limited to near-shore habitats and other shallow waters, the researchers concluded that the absence of black carp in their samples did not necessarily demonstrate an absence of black carp in the rivers sampled. According to informatioin in Nico et al. (2005), because black carp typically inhabit the bottom, electrofishing would not be effective for the collection of black carp in large, deep rivers. According to Nico et al. (2005), there appears to be no existing, economically feasible method to completely eliminate black carp populations once they escape into large river systems. 

Impact of Introduction: There is high potential that the black carp would negatively impact native aquatic communities by feeding on, and reducing, populations of native mussels and snails, many of which are considered endangered or threatened (Nico et al. 2005). Given their size and diet preferences, black carp have the potential to restructure benthic communities by direct predation and removal of algae-grazing snails. Mussel beds consisting of smaller individuals and juvenile recruits are probably most vulnerable to being consumed by black carp (Nico et al. 2005). Furthermore, based on the fact that black carp attain a large size (well over 1 meter long), both juvenile and adult mussels and snails of many species would be vulnerable to predation by this fish (Nico et al. 2005). Fish farmers report that black carp are very effective in reducing the numbers of snails in some ponds. Recently, Wui and Engle (2007) argued that black carp can eliminate 100% of the snails in a single pond. Although their assumption that black carp are capable of eliminating all common pond snails in ponds is open to debate, the effectiveness of black carp in significantly reducing snail populations in aquaculture ponds indicates that any black carp occurring in the wild may cause significant declines in certain native mollusk populations in North American streams and lakes (Nico et al. 2005). Because the life span of black carp is reportedly over 15 years, sterile triploid black carp in the wild would be expected to persist many years and therefore have the potential to cause harm native mollusks by way of predation (Nico et al. 2005).

Remarks: Chick et al. (2003) believed that their Illinois capture was the first wild record of black carp in the United States, but Nico et al. (2005) provided new information indicating that Louisiana commercial fishers had been collecting black carp in Louisiana since the early 1990s. However, until recently the Louisiana commercial fishers thought that the black carp in their nets were just an unusual type of grass carp—somewhat darker and with a higher dorsal fin and more pointed head or snout (Nico et al. 2005:xiii). The black carp that escaped in Missouri may have been triploid and thus considered sterile (Anonymous 1994b). However, it also was rumored that these fish may have been brood stock. All wild black carp examined to date taken in Louisiana waters have been found to be diploid (Nico et al. 2005).

The black carp is a bottom-dwelling molluscivore that has been used by U.S. fish farmers to prey on and control disease-carrying snails in their farm ponds; more recently, this species has been proposed as a biological control for the introduced zebra mussel Dreissena polymorpha. Although the subject has been debated, to date, there is no experimental evidence that indicates black carp would be effective in controlling zebra mussels. Because black carp do not have jaw teeth and their mouths are relatively small, it is unlikely that these fish are capable of breaking apart zebra mussel rafts (Nico et al. 2005).

DeVaney et al. (2009) performed ecological niche modeling to examine the invasion potential for black carp and three other invasive cyprinids (grass carp Ctenopharyngodon idella, common carp Cyprinus carpio, and tench Tinca tinca). The majority of the U.S. between the Mississippi River basin and the Atlantic coast had a moderate to high predicted ecological suitability for this species, with the Mississippi River drainage (where individuals of black carp have been caught in the wild) having the highest overall predicted suitability.

Voucher preserved specimens of the two wild-caught black carp taken in Illinois are deposited in the ichthyological collection of Southern Illinois University-Carbondale.  Several wild-caught black carp taken in Louisiana waters were preserved and are in the possession of biologists at Louisiana State University and at the U.S. Geological Survey-Gainesville Center in Florida.

References: (click for full references)

Biro, P. 1999. Mylopharyngodon piceus (Richardson, 1846). Pages 347-365 in P. Banarescu (ed.). The Freshwater Fishes of Europe: volume 5/I, Cyprinidae 2/I. AULU-Verlag, Wiebelshiem, Germany.

Chapman, D.W. (editor) 2006. Early development of four cyprinids native to the Yangtze River, China. Reston Virginia: US Geological Survey Data Series 239. (Available online as

Chick, J.H., R.J. Maher, B.M. Burr, M.R. Thomas. 2003. First black carp captured in U.S. Science. 300: 1876-1877.

DeVaney, S.C., K.M. McNyset, J.B. Williams, A.T. Peterson, and E.O. Wiley. 2009. A tale of four "carp": invasion potential and ecological niche modeling. PLoS ONE 4(5): e5451.

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. 337 p.

Schofield, P.J., J.D. Williams, L.G. Nico, P. Fuller, and M.R. Thomas. 2005. Foreign Nonindigenous Carps and Minnows (Cyprinidae) in the United States—A Guide to their Identification, Distribution, and Biology. Scientific Investigations Report 2005-5041. U.S. Geological Survey, Tallahassee, Florida. 103 p. (Available online as

Schramm, H.L., Jr. & Basler, M.C. 2005. Evaluation of capture methods and distribution of black carp in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi: Final Report 1 June 2004-31 May 2005 Submitted to Region 4, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Fisheries, Atlanta, Georgia. Mississippi State, Mississippi: U.S. Geological Survey, Mississippi Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit.

Wui, Y.-S. & Engle, C.R. 2007. The economic impact of restricting use of black carp for snail control on hybrid striped bass farms. North American Journal of Aquaculture 69: 127-138.

FishBase Fact Sheet

Author: Nico, L.G., and M.E. Neilson

Revision Date: 3/15/2012

Citation Information:
Nico, L.G., and M.E. Neilson. 2016. Mylopharyngodon piceus. USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL. Revision Date: 3/15/2012

This information is preliminary or provisional and is subject to revision. It is being provided to meet the need for timely best science. The information has not received final approval by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and is provided on the condition that neither the USGS nor the U.S. Government shall be held liable for any damages resulting from the authorized or unauthorized use of the information.

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Citation information: U.S. Geological Survey. [2016]. Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. Gainesville, Florida. Accessed [5/24/2016].

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