Oklahoma State University
Oklahoma Invasive Species
Oklahoma State University

Bighead Carp
Hypophthalmichthys nobilis

bighead carp
Country of Origin: China
History: The bighead carp was first introduced into the United States in 1972 by a private fish farmer in Arkansas.  However, during flood events some of the carp were washed out of the ponds and ended up in many waterways of the Mississippi River basin area.  From there the fish have made their way northward up the Mississippi River become the most abundant fish species in some areas of the river.
Intended Use: Asian carp were first introduced in the 1970’s by catfish farms to reduce algae and other suspended matter from ponds.
Mode of Invasion:

Due to their rapid growth and feeding habits, the bighead carp has the ability to out compete many native species.

Species Description:

The bighead carp is a very large deep-bodied, somewhat narrow fish with a very large head.  Their scales are very tiny, resembling those of trout, and the eyes are situated below the midline of the body.  They possess gill rakers that are long, comblike and close-set allowing the species to strain plankton from the water for food.  The bighead carp utilizes open water areas, moving about in the surface zones of large lowland rivers.  They consume large quantities of bluegreen algae, zooplankton, and aquatic insect larvae and adults.  Because of its feeding habits, bighead carp is a direct competitor with paddlefish, bigmouth buffalo, and gizzard shad; as well as with all larval and juvenile fishes and native mussels.

Map of Occurrence:


Oklahoma Invasions:
Several sites in the Grand River drainage of Oklahoma, including the Neosho River in Ottawa County, Grand River in Mayes County, upper Grand Lake, and Lake Hudson.

Effects of Invasion: Bighead carp have negative impacts on native aquatic ecosystems.  These fish can consume large amounts of plankton, algae, and insects from the water.  This greatly disrupts nutrient cycles for native species of aquatic vertebrates and invertebrates.  Because of the bighead carps rapid growth and efficient food consumption, biologist believe that they are greatly endangering many native species of fish.

Once an invasive species like the Asian carp becomes established, it is  impossible to eliminate and very difficult to control. There has been an electrical barrier put in place on the Illinois River to prevent these carp from entering the Great Lakes. Agencies have undertaken an outreach initiative to alert and educate bait shop owners, anglers, commercial fishermen, fish markets, and the public on the threat of Asian carp. In addition, the process of potentially listing bighead, silver, and black carp as injurious species under the Lacey Act is being pursued by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.