Carp are a huge variety of freshwater species in the family Cyprinidae, a ginormous group of fishes native to Europe and Asia. You’ll find all three of the representatives below in Illinois waters, but only two of them in our just-reopened At Home on the Great Lakes gallery.
Common carp (Cyprinus carpio carpio) have been in the United States since the late 1800s and are so widespread that many people believe they belong here. But they are invaders that harm native ecosystems by stirring up sediments and destroying vegetation. This Asian species was introduced deliberately by fishery officials as a food and sport fish.
Goldfish (Carassius auratus) are showy carp that have been bred in Asia for 1,100 years and in the United States for more than 100. Popular in home aquariums and ponds, they are often released into the wild, either on purpose or by mistake. Wild populations are now becoming nuisances in some states.
Silver carp(Hypophthalmichthys molitrix) are among several large species collectively called “Asian carp” that are being held at bay by electric barriers a mere 55 miles downstream of
Lake Michigan. In addition to being voracious filter feeders that deplete food sources for other aquatic wildlife, they are extremely jumpy and easily disturbed by the sound of boat motors. Silver carp can leap 15 feet out of the water, slamming their solidly built 3-foot bodies into boats and injuring people.
The introduction of non-native species into the Great Lakes threatens the health of native wildlife—and the health of the ecosystem we depend on. One of the focus areas of Shedd’s Great Lakes conservation program is finding solutions to the serious problem of invasive non-native aquatic species. Be sure to visit At Home on the Great Lakes soon to meet the neighbors—both the ones we’d like to see move out and the ones we want to keep.
—Karen Furnweger, web editor