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What is a Common Carp?

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  • Written By: Danielle DeLee
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 18 November 2016
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The common carp, known by its scientific name Cyprinus carpio, is a freshwater fish that is found all over the world, but it also is listed on the Vulnerable Species List published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. This seeming incongruity is explained by the double nature of the species: the original, wild variety is found only in rivers that flow to the Black, Caspian and Aral Seas, while the domesticated variety is ubiquitous. The two differ because of the domesticated common carp’s long history of interaction with humans that has shaped it through selective breeding. Both varieties, however, have two barbells at each side of their mouths, and they are grey or bronze-colored. The domesticated carp are shorter, stouter, and faster-growing than their wild counterparts.

Wild common carp populations are decreasing due to river regulation and interbreeding. Channels and dams have disrupted their habitat and interfered with their ability to spawn, which is dependent on the flooding patterns of their native rivers. Also, species that have been introduced to the wild carp’s native rivers have interbred with them. There is no genetic test to identify pure wild carp, so it is impossible to tell how many still exist.

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The domesticated common carp is found nearly everywhere. Their hardy constitutions enable them to survive in many different habitats, although they prefer warm, deep water that is still or flows slowly. A soft bottom that supports vegetation is an important component of any common carp habitat. They dig up the bottom and eat whatever they find there, including crustaceans and plants, and when they spawn, their eggs need to cling to vegetation in shallow water in order to survive. Carp are often found in large lakes and lowland rivers.

For humans, the domesticated carp is one of the most widely-used species of fish. Many are stocked for sport fishing in places such as Kingfisher Lake. Some are caught for food, and others are grown by commercial aquaculturists. The domesticated carp has become one of the most commercially-raised fish in the world.

As wild carp disappear, domesticated carp are growing in numbers and importance: in England, one even achieved celebrity status. Her name was Benson, and she was the largest common carp in England—her top recorded weight was 64 pounds (about 29 kg). She lived in Kingfisher Lake, where fish were stocked for catch-and-release angling. Benson was caught 63 times. She died suddenly on July 28, 2009, leaving many disappointed fishermen. After finding evidence of poisonous raw tiger nuts around Kingfisher Lake, her owners speculated that a fisherman using the banned bait may have caused her death.

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