Black Carp: Biological Synopsis and Risk Assessment of an Introduced Fish

Chapter 7: Diet and Gape Size


In this chapter, we review what is known about the diets of black carp Mylopharyngodon piceus. We address diets of wild and captive populations, ontogenetic shifts in diet, and related subjects. Because black carp are gape-limited predators, in the second part of this chapter, we consider mouth size and the implications it has on the diet of this species.

Black carp are bottom-feeders that predominantly prey on snails and bivalve mollusks. In spite of inadequacies, a substantial volume of literature exists to support the conclusion that the species is indeed a feeding specialist (i.e., molluscivore or malacophagous) (Table 7.1; Appendix 2). For instance, Hickling (1971) remarked that the species is “a most formidable eater of mollusks.” Because of its heavy reliance on mollusks as food, Sokolov (1983, 2002) classified black carp as a stenophagous species. Indeed, their heavy pharyngeal arches and large molariform teeth clearly have evolved to crush the shells of their prey. Similar to most fishes, larval and small juvenile black carp feed almost entirely on small invertebrates (e.g., zooplankton and aquatic insects). In contrast, larger juveniles and adults feed mostly on mollusks, a change closely associated with development of the lower pharyngeal teeth (fixed teeth) and superior crushing ability (IHAS 1976; Liu et al. 1990). Much of what we know about the black carp diet is based on studies of black carp as potential biological control agents of mollusks and on cultured populations. These subjects will be covered in more detail in other chapters (e.g., Chapter 13). Also see subsequent section on black carp gape size.