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As the largest member of the minnow family, carp are distinct in appearance. They are covered in large heavy bronze-colored scales, and each has a dark spot at its base. They also have two short barbels (whiskers) on each side of their mouth. Carp fins are a deep red color and the dorsal (back) fin has a single, thick, saw-toothed spine that can produce a nasty wound if touched carelessly.
Carp can live in most freshwater aquatic habitats, but prefer warm streams and lakes with muddy bottoms. Carp are bottom feeders that eat mostly zebra mussels, zooplankton, invertebrates, and aquatic plants, and can easily be spotted by the cloud of mud they stir up while feeding. Though bottom feeders, carp are often seen (and heard) sucking in floating insects at the water's surface.
Carp spawn in late May or early June and display unique spawning habits. They thrash and wiggle their way into very shallow, weedy areas, sometimes so shallow that their bodies are completely exposed. Instead of building nests or caring for their young, carp broadcast their eggs. A 20-pound female carp will lay nearly 10 million eggs, though very few survive. Eggs hatch in 2-8 days, depending on water temperature, and the young quickly disperse. Young carp are very susceptible to predation, but adults are too big to have non-human predators.
Originally from Eurasia, carp were first brought to New York as a food fish. In 1831, carp in a private Newburgh, NY pond escaped into the Hudson River where they established a sustainable population. Over time, they have become less popular as a food species and have now gained the reputation of being a polluted water fish. Although carp can tolerate polluted water, they prefer clean water. Carp put up a strong fight when hooked, and anglers in Europe consider carp to be an excellent sport fish. Carp taken from clean waters are excellent to eat, and are commercially marketed live, smoked, or cleaned and iced.
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