Main Differences Between Carp And Buffalo Fish

Main Differences Between Carp And Buffalo Fish

Have you ever caught a fish that you were certain was a carp only to discover it was actually a buffalo fish? Due to their similar look, buffalo fish and carp are frequently mistaken for one another. So how can you tell a carp from a buffalo fish?

In this article, we will highlight the key distinctions between these two species. Keep on reading, it won’t take much of your time!

Main Differences: Buffalo Fish vs. Carp?

Carp and buffalo fish can occasionally be confused with one another since they are both freshwater fish and have similar torpedo-shaped bodies. However, they are completely different species. 

The common carp (Cyprinus carpio) is a member of the minnow family commonly found in eutrophic lakes and major rivers throughout Europe and Asia, while the buffalo fish (Ictiobus) is the largest and longest-lived member of the North American sucker family.

The table below will show you the major differences between these two species:

Buffalo FishCarp
ColorationAnything ranging from white, blueish, gray, or black.Robust uniform color. Bronze, gold, or brown.
Tail FinSeparately appearing caudal fin (bronze, golden, or brown).The caudal fin blends in with the rest of the body (bronze, golden, or brown).
MouthDownward shaped. Hard and leathery lips. No barbellsLarger mouth with a slight downward turn. Lips are not as rigid. Barbells that look like whiskers at the mouth corners.
Swimming BehaviorSwims purposefully in a single direction when caught on a line. Feed while lying on the belly.When caught on the line, flails about on the line and swims in all directions. Tilts the body at an angle to feed.
OriginUnited States, Guatemala, Canada, and MexicoEurope and Asian rivers.
DistributionUnited States, Canada, Guatemala, and MexicoWorldwide, abundant in the Great Lakes. Invasive in some areas of the United States

Biologically, buffalo fish and carp differ mostly in terms of colors, mouth shape, swimming habits, origins, and distribution. 


The most visible feature that differentiates the two species, at first sight, is their body coloration. Despite having similar physical forms, their colors vary differently. 

The carp usually have a deep bronze, brown, or gold body color. Buffalo fish, on the other hand, have a more grayish and washed-out appearance. They can sometimes even be either bluish or black.

Tail Fin

Another distinctive feature in appearance is the caudal fin. Generally, common carp have pigments that blend in with the rest of their body, such as light brown, orange, or red. 

Meanwhile, the buffalo fish’s tail fin has its own shade of color, which sets it apart from the rest of the body. For example, a gray buffalo fish might have a completely black tail fin. 


Next comes the mouth shape of both fish. It could be considered one of the most obvious differences between these two species. You’ll see that the mouth sizes of a buffalo fish and a carp differ when you compare them side by side. Particularly if you’re looking at a smallmouth buffalo, the buffalo’s mouth is really small.

Typically, a buffalo fish’s mouth won’t be much bigger than your thumb. The lips also have a hard and leathery texture, which is preferred by most anglers since there’s less chance that the hook will come loose from the fish if it struggles. Moreover, as a sucker fish, the mouth of the buffalo fish is turned down, and their mouth corners do not have any whiskers or barbels. 

In the meantime, the common carp’s mouth is much larger than the buffalo’s. It also has stiff, leathery lips but is not as rigid as the buffalo. Therefore, a carp can shake off the hook and free itself from even the most skilled anglers. Like catfish, carp also have barbels at the corners of their mouth, which can grow to be quite big.

Swimming Behaviors

Compared to carp, buffalo fish are simple-minded fish that fight in a distinctive way when they get caught. They will charge in one direction and use all their power to run like there’s no tomorrow to escape. In addition, buffalo fish are also known to remain underwater during battles. 

In contrast, when carp are fighting, they behave in an aggressive and complex fashion. Common carp are less controlled and use strategies in addition to strength. They start swimming in as many directions as possible, roll on the water’s surface, dive deeper, shake their heads, or can even swim directly toward the threat.

Overall, they are both tough and resilient fish species. Anglers may find it difficult, if not impossible, to control the line because fish can weigh more than 60 lbs.

Besides, when it comes to eating habits, both fish show different behaviors. The bottom-facing mouth of the buffalo helps them suck up meals easier, so they may eat without bending their bodies. However, carp are different. They ought to tilt the body at an angle in order to feed.

Apart from these characteristics, although both carp and buffalo fish are freshwater fish, they differ from one another in terms of their origins and habitats. So continue to learn more about these topics in our following sections.

Where Do Buffalo Fish Come From?

The United States, as well as some areas of Canada, Mexico, and Guatemala, are the only places in the world where you can find and catch buffalo fish. All bigmouth, smallmouth, and black buffalo fish are native to these regions.

Back in 1819, a French-American scientist named Constantine Samuel Rafinesque-Schmalz discovered and named the species at Transylvania University in Kentucky. His first achievement is the smallmouth buffalo, which he named “Ictiobus Bubalus”, meaning “Bull Fish” in Greek.

In the past, from 1920 to 1950, buffalo fish were an essential food supply for many rural areas in North America. However, the buffalo was soon forgotten as a food source after the war, when the living standard of the citizens increased constantly.

Where Did Common Carp Originate From?

The huge rivers of the Asian continent are where common carp were first found thousands of years ago. Since that time, they have been tamed, employed as a food source, and exported to several areas all over the world.

They were transported to England in the 16th century after being initially introduced to European waters in the 12th. Together with the first immigrants to North America, they traveled from there across the Atlantic.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Asian carp were exported from Asia to North America. Since then, they have moved north along American waterways towards the Great Lakes. 

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, in order to provide cheap and convenient food to the rural populace of the United States, the American government filled many rivers and lakes with carp.

Today, many sport anglers in the United States, Canada, and all of Europe regard the common carp as a game fish rather than a fish used for human consumption. The carp has an almost mythological reputation among anglers, particularly in England.

Where Can You Find Buffalo Fish?

In America, you can find large shoals of buffalo fish in Montana and North Dakota. They extremely enjoy life in Hudson Bay simply because of the muddy waters of the Mississippi River. Moreover, they also appear throughout Minnesota, Louisiana, Eastern Texas, and Southern Oklahoma.

As for Canada, large river systems, including the Milk River and Qu’Appelle River, are ideal environments for these fish. Additionally, anglers can even find buffalo fish in polluted water for other species. It is because, according to some recent research, some buffalo species may absorb the mineral without being harmful when iron levels are dangerously high.

Where Can You Find Common Carp?

Luckily, common carp can be found almost anywhere on the planet. They have spread to nearly all of the continents and inhabit the lakes and rivers of about 60 different nations.

While common carp are established and catchable across the United States, they are less frequent in the western parts of the continent. However, their largest populations are throughout the Great Lakes. 

They are also found in the southern parts of British Columbia, Kootenay, Kettle, and the Okanagan system in Canada.

In Minnesota, they are overabundant in some lakes, mostly in central and southern Minnesota, except in some places, such as the Boundary Waters. According to the research of the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center, the success of carp is regulated by two straightforward ecological filters, lake productivity and the number of bluegills.

Carp become invasive in areas with productive lakes and low populations of bluegills because this fish will eat carp eggs and larvae. On the contrary, in other lakes that are clear and oligotrophic or where there is a high density of bluegills, carp are not invasive because their eggs and larvae do not appear to be able to survive the crucial developmental period.

After all, this amazing and powerful fish is drawing the attention of more and more anglers in North America nowadays.


In conclusion, carp and buffalo fish are two different species that somewhat resemble one another in appearance. But now that you know the highlights, it will be simpler to distinguish between them. So take your fishing gear and have fun on your adventure. We look forward to hearing positive news from you!

Rate this post
Related Post
Introducing The Best Hook Size For Carp
Introducing The Best Hook Size For Carp (Fishing Tips & Tricks)

Carp are willy, alert, wary, and easily spooked. This means that if you’re fishing this freshwater game fish, you need Read more