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Bighead Carp

Bighead Carp, (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis), close up, Photo by John Lyons/Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources

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Common Name: Bighead carp
Scientific Name: Hypophthalmichthys nobilis
Origin: Asia


The bighead carp is a large, narrow fish with eyes that project downward. The body coloration is dark gray, fading to white toward the underside, with dark blotches on the sides. Its head has no scales, a large mouth with no teeth, and a protruding lower jaw. Its eyes are located far forward and low on its head. It is very similar to the silver carp, but can be distinguished from it by the dark blotches on its sides.


Bighead carp can occasionally tolerate salinities in the range of 6-12 parts per thousand. Bighead carp can survive temperatures down to nearly freezing (approximately 1ÂșC). Typically found in large rivers, bighead carp can also be found in smaller rivers and streams, as well as lakes and ponds. Bighead carp are known to only spawn in moving water.


Bighead carp eat blue-green algae, zooplankton, and aquatic insects and larva. The bighead carp does not have a true stomach, so it must constantly eat. It is also thought that bighead carp will out-compete fish, still in their larval stage, for food, thus declining fish populations. The bighead carp is also a very high jumper. They can jump high enough to strike boaters in their boats.


Similarly to the silver carp, groups have organized to prevent the spread of bighead carp into the Great Lakes through electric fencing and closures. The Army Corps of Engineers and others have been using environmental DNA, commonly referred to as eDNA, as a surveillance tool to try to find out if DNA from bighead or silver carp is present in certain waterways. However, prevention and education are the key to stopping the spread of the bighead carp.

Regional Distribution

Not Present

WNY PRISM Priority

Tier 1 – Raise Awareness

Invasive Species Priorities – Tier Chart

Bighead carp is a prohibited species in New York State – for more information on Prohibited and Regulated Species, visit