Bighead carp (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis)

Photos of bighead carp and silver carp.



The bighead carp is a large filter feeding fish that can weigh up to 110 pounds and grow to four and a half feet. They are dark gray with black blotches on the back and sides.

Body shape and fins

The average bighead carp caught in Minnesota is 41 inches and 35 pounds. They have large, upturned mouths without barbels or teeth. Their eyes are low-set below the mouth. They have a short keel between the pelvic and anal fins.


Bighead carp feed primarily on zooplankton and sometimes algae. They can also consume algae, detritus, and small invertebrates when plankton is unavailable. They become sexually mature between two and four years old. They spawn when water temperatures are between 62.5°F and 79°F, and require flowing water for reproduction.

Origin and spread

Bighead carp are native to southern and central China. The species was imported from China to the United States during the early 1970s to help fish aquaculture operations and improve water quality in retention ponds/sewage lagoons. Large flood events allowed the species to escape into the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, where they reproduced and established wild populations. They continue to spread through flood events and through migration within connected river systems.

Wild populations of bighead carp exist in the United States . No established populations are known in Minnesota, although individual fish have been caught in the Mississippi, St. Croix, and Minnesota rivers. There is no evidence of bighead carp reproduction in Minnesota waters. Refer to EDDMapS for current distribution.

Don't be fooled by these look-alikes

Regulatory Classification

The bighead carp (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis) is a prohibited invasive species in Minnesota, which means it is unlawful (a misdemeanor) to possess, import, purchase, transport, or introduce this species except under a permit for disposal, control, research, or education.

Threat to Minnesota Waters

Bighead carp cause recreational, economic and ecological damage—changing how residents and visitors use and enjoy Minnesota waters.

Bighead carp impacts:

  • Compete with native mussels, larval fishes, and paddlefish for similar food sources (plankton).

What you should do

People spread bighead carp primarily through the improper use and disposal of live bait, as juveniles are difficult to distinguish from gizzard shad and other native baitfish. If introduced, they can spread on their own through connected waterways.

Whether or not a lake is listed as infested, Minnesota law requires water recreationists to:

  • Clean watercraft of all aquatic plants and prohibited invasive species.
  • Drain all water by removing drain plugs and keeping them out during transport.
  • Dispose of unwanted bait in the trash.
  • Dry docks, lifts, swim rafts and other equipment for at least 21 days before placing equipment into another water body.

Report any occurrences of bighead carp to the DNR immediately by taking a photo and making arrangements with the DNR to transport the carp to the nearest fisheries office.

To learn more about our recent efforts and about other invasive carp visit the Invasive Carp homepage.

To keep invasive carp for personal use, download the Special Permit to Possess Prohibited Invasive Species of Carp.

Monitoring and Control Methods

The DNR has a monitoring and removal crew that conducts standardized and random sampling to detect, monitor, and remove invasive carp from Minnesota waters, including larval stages to adults. Survey efforts and capture events can be found in the MN DNR annual invasive carp report.

The invasive carp action plan guides the DNR’s efforts in controlling invasive carp. The plan lays out actions to assess population expansion of invasive carp and describes efforts to prevent and/or minimize their impact in Minnesota.


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