Bighead Carp
  • Side view adult.
  • Side view adult.
  • Side view adult.
  • Top view adult.
  • Bottom view adult.
  • Head-on view adult.
  • Close-up flank.
  • Close-up head.
  • Close-up mouth and snout.
  • Close-up tail.
  • Close-up dorsal fin.
  • Close-up anal fin.
  • Close-up pectoral fin.
  • Close-up pelvic fin.
  • Close-up ventral area: The ventral keel is stretching from the anus to the pelvic fins.
  • Close-up gill rakers: There are more than 50 long and thin gill rakers.
  • Close-up mouth: The mouth is terminal, there are no barbels.
  • Close-up dorsal fin: Notice the spine; there are 8 dorsal rays.
  • Close-up anal fin: Notice the spine; there are 13-14 anal rays.
  • The bighead carp has a fusiform body and 85-100 lateral line scales.
  • Side view of a young-of-year: They are similar to adults except for proportionally bigger eyes; the upper lobe of the tail is missing and the fins are split in this fish.
  • Close-up flank: This specimen shows blotches on its sides.
  • The intestines are spiraled and greatly elongated.
  • Close-up underside of head: The eyes are pointing downward.
DescriptionSimilar Species
Family
Minnows (Cyprinidae)
Body
Mouth and Snout: Mouth terminal without teeth. No barbels. Body Pattern: Solid gray on back, flanks silvery to light olive, grading to a white belly. Sides often with numerous, small, dark, irregular blotches. Fins with somewhat darker pigmentation. Numerous small cycloid scales. Body Shape: Fusiform. Typical adult size is 400-700 mm TL (1.3-2.3 ft), with a maximum of about 1300 mm (4.3 ft).
Fins
Forked tail. Single short dorsal fin with a single spine (technically a spinous soft ray). Pelvic fins abdominal. No adipose fin. Anal fin with a single spine (spinous soft ray) and with 13-14 soft rays.
Distinguishing Characteristics
Fusiform body with ventral keel from anal fin to pelvic fins. Dorsal fin with a single spine without serrations and with 8 soft rays; anal fin with a single spine without serrations and with 13-14 soft rays. Terminal mouth without barbels. 85-100 lateral line scales and gill rakers >70 and long, fine and closely spaced together. See also similar species information.
Breeding Adults
Sharp ridges on anterior pectoral rays in breeding males.
Juveniles
Similar to adults, but lacking spines in fins and dark blotches on sides. Eye proportionately larger in small juveniles.
Hybrids
None known from Wisconsin.
Compare Similar Species
Body Shape
Buffalo, BigmouthDeep, laterally compressed
Buffalo, BlackDeep, laterally compressed
Buffalo, SmallmouthDeep, laterally compressed
Carp, BigheadFusiform
Carp, CommonDeep, laterally compressed
Carp, GrassFusiform
Carp, SilverFusiform
Carpsucker, HighfinDeep, laterally compressed
Carpsucker, RiverDeep, laterally compressed
GoldfishDeep, laterally compressed
QuillbackDeep, laterally compressed
Ventral Keel
Buffalo, BigmouthAbsent
Buffalo, BlackAbsent
Buffalo, SmallmouthAbsent
Carp, BigheadFrom anal fin to pelvic fins
Carp, CommonAbsent
Carp, GrassAbsent
Carp, SilverFrom anal fin to isthmus
Carpsucker, HighfinAbsent
Carpsucker, RiverAbsent
GoldfishAbsent
QuillbackAbsent
Mouth
Buffalo, BigmouthTerminal, subterminal or inferior
Buffalo, BlackTerminal, subterminal or inferior
Buffalo, SmallmouthTerminal, subterminal or inferior
Carp, BigheadTerminal
Carp, CommonSubterminal
Carp, GrassTerminal
Carp, SilverTerminal
Carpsucker, HighfinTerminal, subterminal or inferior
Carpsucker, RiverTerminal, subterminal or inferior
GoldfishTerminal
QuillbackTerminal, subterminal or inferior
Barbels
Buffalo, BigmouthAbsent
Buffalo, BlackAbsent
Buffalo, SmallmouthAbsent
Carp, BigheadAbsent
Carp, CommonPresent
Carp, GrassAbsent
Carp, SilverAbsent
Carpsucker, HighfinAbsent
Carpsucker, RiverAbsent
GoldfishAbsent
QuillbackAbsent
Dorsal Fin
Buffalo, Bigmouth22-32 rays; first few rays elongated
Buffalo, Black22-32 rays; first few rays elongated
Buffalo, Smallmouth22-32 rays; first few rays elongated
Carp, Bighead1 spine in adults, 8 rays
Carp, Common1 serrated spine, 15-23 rays
Carp, Grass7-9 rays
Carp, Silver1 spine in adults, 8 rays
Carpsucker, Highfin22-32 rays; first few rays elongated
Carpsucker, River22-32 rays; first few rays elongated
Goldfish1 serrated spine, 15-19 rays
Quillback22-32 rays; first few rays elongated
Anal Fin
Buffalo, Bigmouth7-10 rays
Buffalo, Black7-10 rays
Buffalo, Smallmouth7-10 rays
Carp, Bighead1 spine in adults, 13-14 rays
Carp, Common1 serrated spine, 4-6 rays
Carp, Grass8-10 rays
Carp, Silver1 spine in adults, 12-13 rays
Carpsucker, Highfin7-10 rays
Carpsucker, River7-10 rays
Goldfish1 serrated spine, 5-6 rays
Quillback7-10 rays
Lateral Line Scales
Buffalo, Bigmouth33-40
Buffalo, Black33-40
Buffalo, Smallmouth33-40
Carp, Bighead85-100
Carp, Common32-41
Carp, Grass34-47
Carp, Silver95-103
Carpsucker, Highfin33-40
Carpsucker, River33-40
Goldfish27-30
Quillback33-40
Gill Rakers
Buffalo, Bigmouth20-70
Buffalo, Black20-70
Buffalo, Smallmouth20-70
Carp, Bighead53-80; long and fine
Carp, Common21-27
Carp, Grass15-16
Carp, SilverFused into sponge-like matrix
Carpsucker, Highfin20-70
Carpsucker, River20-70
Goldfish37-43
Quillback20-70
Similarity Index
Buffalo, BigmouthModerately similar
Buffalo, BlackModerately similar
Buffalo, SmallmouthModerately similar
Carp, BigheadN/A
Carp, CommonModerately similar
Carp, GrassModerately similar
Carp, SilverVery similar
Carpsucker, HighfinModerately similar
Carpsucker, RiverModerately similar
GoldfishModerately similar
QuillbackModerately similar
Comments
Carp, BigheadNot yet confirmed from WI waters (two anecdotal records), but well-established further south in the Mississippi River and likely to be encountered in WI in the future.
Carp, GrassNot established in WI; present only as a stray from further south or from illegal introductions
Carp, SilverNot yet confirmed from WI waters, but well-established further south in the Mississippi River and likely to be encountered in WI in the future.
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