What Food Do Carp Eat?

Updated February 21, 2017

Carp are members of the same family of fish as minnows, but are capable of growing to great sizes. A freshwater species, carp have large golden scales and barbels on their face, which they use to find food. The carp was originally imported from Asia and spread throughout most of Europe before being introduced to United States waters in 1870, where it spread rapidly.


The common carp is an omnivore, a creature that eats both plants and animals. Carp live in rivers, streams and lakes, feeding on anything that tastes good to them. A typical carp will eat aquatic plants, insects, crayfish, dead fish, mollusks such as freshwater clams and nuts that fall from trees into the water.


Carp normally will feed on the bottom of whatever waterway they are in, but have been known to take food from the water's surface and even have been observed chasing other fish species. They like to travel in groups, with as many as 20 carp swimming in the same area. Carp like to hang around what anglers call "structure," such as downed trees in the water or sunken logs.


Carp have the ability to eat foods that other fish cannot. They have what are known as pharyngeal teeth, which are teeth that are set well back in the throat of the carp. These teeth allow a carp to crush and grind up such things as snails, crayfish, mussels, nuts and other hard food items that most fish cannot eat. The carp spits out whatever it doesn't want to swallow, and the rest goes down into the gullet. Many anglers are reluctant to put their hand in a carp's mouth, but a carp cannot bite you.


The world record for carp is believed to be one caught in Romania that tipped the scales at 37.6kg. In the United States, carp that reach 9.07kg. are common. The record carp in Minnesota, for instance, is 24.9kg., caught in 1952, while Michigan's biggest carp on record is a 27.7kg. specimen landed in 1974.

Expert Insight

One species of carp, called a grass carp, eats mostly plants. It was introduced into the United States in 1963 to control aquatic weeds, but it was soon learnt that they didn't stop at the weeds when it came to their diet. Grass carp will eat most any aquatic vegetation, and have even been seen coming out of the water to eat plants growing along the shore. These carp are now illegal in every state because of the potential damage they can inflict on plant species in waterways.

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About the Author

John Lindell has written articles for "The Greyhound Review" and various other online publications. A Connecticut native, his work specializes in sports, fishing and nature. Lindell worked in greyhound racing for 25 years.