What Do Carp Eat? 9 Foods In Their Diet

Written by Volia Schubiger
Updated: January 24, 2023
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The carp is a freshwater fish that lives in both rivers and lakes. Carp are native to Europe, but over the years have been spread to all other parts of the world with the exception of the poles and northern Asia. 

They usually live in man-made and natural reservoirs and pools, as well as slow and fast-moving rivers. Although carp usually prefer slower-moving bodies of water with soft sediments, they are a pretty robust fish that is capable of living in a broad range of natural settings.

Carp is one of the most popularly fished fish, dating all the way back to Roman times. They are also one of the commonly farmed fish for food. You may not know that the beautiful Koi is actually a colorful common carp fish.

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So what exactly do carp eat? You may be surprised to find that carp have quite a diverse diet. 

What Do Carp Eat?

What Do Carp Eat - Their Diet Explained
Carp eat insects, plants, worms, and plankton.

Carp eat plankton, insects, and larvae. They are omnivorous, meaning they eat both plants and animals. They are also incredibly opportunistic and will eat just about anything that they can fit into their mouths. 

Here’s a complete list of foods that carp will eat: 

Carp are not particularly picky eaters. However, there are times when they can be selective with what they choose to eat. 

How Much Do Carp Eat?

Man holding beautiful big carp

Some carp species can grow up to 100lbs.

©malgosia janicka/Shutterstock.com

As such a large fish, carp tend to eat quite often and in large amounts. The common carp can reach average sizes of 15.75 – 31.5 inches and an average weight of 4.5-31 lbs. However, some have even grown up to 100 lbs. It is often thought that their large size and need for food is why they graze on such a diverse range of foods. 

Like most other fish, carp will eat roughly around 2% of their body weight. However, there are certain species that quite exceed this estimate. Asian carp can eat anywhere between 5-40% of its body weight in a day. 

How Do Carp Find Food?

Juvenile carp on man's finger

Carp rely on barbules in their mouth to decide what’s worth eating.

©MP cz/Shutterstock.com

While they do eat a lot of different foods, carp can be particular about what they choose to swallow. Carp are frequently seen eating food that they naturally obtain in their environment, only to spit it all back out. Carp will continuously do this as they determine whether or not items they find are edible.

Common carp in particular are excellent foragers. They have particular characteristics that assist them in their quest for food and judging whether or not it is edible.

These include teeth inside of their throat. These teeth, known as pharyngeal teeth, resemble molars and aid in the crushing of food such as snails, seeds, and plant materials.

Carp also have two appendages that extend from their mouth area called barbules. These help them eat a broad variety of food in addition to the assistance provided by these teeth.

These barbules are extremely sensitive to detecting dissolved chemicals in the water. They may even warn the fish whether the food in question has any nutritional value.

What Do Carp Eat In The Winter?

During the winter, carp become lethargic and inactive. This is due to the fact that its metabolic rate decreases when the temperature of the water decreases. As a result, their digestion begins to slow down. This means that in the winter they don’t feed in a particularly active manner.

While the types of food that they eat do not change, the amount of food they eat does. While carp will still manage to eat within a 24-hour window, they won’t be eating nearly as much as they do in the summertime. 

Who Competes With Carp For Food?

As a large fish species, carp are able to outcompete many other aquatic life for food sources. 

Asian carp often compete with immature larval and juvenile native fishes, adult paddlefish, bigmouth buffalo and gizzard shad, and native mussels. They are seen as an invasive species in North America and have been outcompeting many native species for food.

These include bighead carp, silver carp, grass carp, and black carp. While all of these species were initially introduced to America for a different purpose, they have begun to pose a threat to many native species. 

How Does Their Diet Impact Other Species

Carp swimming in river

Carp are considered an invasive species in North America.

©jack perks/Shutterstock.com

Carp are a controversial fish when it comes to their impact on the environment. They are well-known for wreaking havoc on the waters where they reside. While seeking insect larvae to consume, they uproot and disrupt many naturally submerged plants.

Carp also damage water clarity by stirring up phosphorus-containing sediments at the bottom of the water, which adds to algal blooms. Asian carp in America also outcompete other species for food and space. They have been known to push out many other native species from streams of water in America. 

This effectively reduces many fish populations native to North America. Experts fear that Asian carp may eventually find their way into the Great Lakes and damage the 139 native fish species that reside there.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Vladimir Wrangel/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Volia Schubiger is a freelance copywriter and content editor with a passion and expertise in content creation, branding, and marketing. She has a background in Broadcast Journalism & Political Science from CUNY Brooklyn College. When she's not writing she loves traveling, perusing used book stores, and hanging out with her other half.

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