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bighead carp

bighead carp (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis) [nonnative]
Photo © Victor Vrbovsky/Engbretson Underwater Photography

Features and Behaviors


The bighead carp reaches a maximum size of 30 inches in length and over 40 pounds in weight. Its life span is about eight to 15 years. The heavy body has a large head, upturned mouth and small scales. The eyes are located in the front, lower part of the head and are pointed down-ward. The back is slate gray, the sides are silver and the belly is white. The body often has scattered, dark blotches.


The bighead carp lives in the lower reaches of tributary streams and backwaters of major rivers. This fish reaches maturity between the ages of two and 10 years. It spawns from April to June. The female deposits about 500,000 eggs. The bighead carp eats plankton that it strains from the water. The bighead carp is exotic to Illinois. It is a native of eastern China. This fish was introduced into Arkansas in 1973 and was present in the Mississippi River by 1982. It has expanded rapidly and become well-established in Illinois.

Illinois Range


Kingdom: Animalia​
Phylum: Chordata​
Class: Actinopterygii​
Order: Cypriniformes​
Family: Xenocyprididae

Illinois Status: common, nonnative