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Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Cypriniformes
Family: Catostomidae
Genus: Carpiodes
C. cyprinus
Binomial name
Carpiodes cyprinus
(Lesueur, 1817)
  • Catostomus cyprinus Lesueur, 1817

The quillback (Carpiodes cyprinus) is a type of freshwater fish of the sucker family.[2] It is deeper-bodied than most suckers, leading to a carplike appearance. It can be distinguished from carp by the lack of barbels around the mouth. The quillback is long-lived, with age beyond 50 years documented[3].

Physical description[edit]

The quillback is a large, ectothermic, deep-bodied fish found throughout North America. It has a small head, humped back and deeply forked caudal fin. The compressed body of the quillback makes it look flattened when viewed from the side.[4] The quillback has a subterminal mouth with no barbels, and no nipple-like protrusions on the bottom lip. It has large, reflective, silver cycloid scales that are responsible for giving the quillback its characteristic silver color. They have a white belly with yellow or orange lower fins. The tail and dorsal fin are usually gray or silver. The quillback gets its name from the long quill that is formed via the first several fin rays of the dorsal fin. Quillback are typically 15–20 inches on average, weighing between 1 and 4 pounds. However, they can grow up to 26 inches and weigh 10 pounds. The quillback Carpsucker has a nearly straight, hyper-sensitive lateral line, composed of at least 37 lateral line scales. This helps the fish locate predators and prey.

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The quillback is found throughout much of North America, from Saskatchewan to Florida, and from South Dakota to Alabama. The quillback occupies temperate, freshwater habitats. This includes many streams, lakes, channels and rivers. They prefer water that is clear, slow moving, highly productive and moderately deep. The quillback can commonly be found in the Hudson Bay, Mississippi River Basins, the Great Lakes, and drainages from the Delaware River, Apalachicola River, and the Pearl River.[5] They often comprise a large portion of the biomass of warmwater rivers, but they are very difficult to catch with traditional American angling methods.[6] The quillback carpsucker is closely related to the highfin carpsucker and the river carpsucker. All three species are rarely caught by anglers due to their feeding habits, but they have been caught occasionally on worms, minnows, and artificial lures.


Quillbacks usually feed in schools. They are omnivores and bottom feeders that prefer lakes, rivers and streams in which the water is clear at the bottom. The school of quillbacks move slowly over a sand or gravel bottom when they eat. Their typical diet consists of insect larvae and various aquatic vegetation, crustaceans, and protozoa including algae, leaves, mollusks, and clams.


The quillback reproduces once yearly, typically in late spring or early summer. The timing of reproduction depends on the water temperature. Ideal temperatures for reproduction are between 7–18 degrees Celsius. Spawning occurs upstream of the typical quillback habitat, and they migrate in schools to the spawning site. The female quillback produces between 15,000 and 60,000 eggs, and scatters them in shallow water over a sandy or mud bottom.[7] Fertilization then happens externally, and the eggs are left in quiet water. Since the quillback is oviparous, the eggs are hatched outside of the fish's body. The quillback possesses a polygynandrous mating system, meaning that two or more males have an exclusive sexual relationship with two or more females. The numbers of each sex can vary, and do not need to be equal.

Relationship with humans[edit]

The quillback is currently at risk for extinction in various states throughout North America including Vermont, New York and Michigan. Other places prove vulnerability to the species including Alberta, Saskatchewan, Quebec, South Dakota, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina. Quillbacks benefit the ecosystem they reside in because they are bottom feeders. Bottom feeders help keep their natural environment clean by feeding on the material at the bottom of the habitat. In Minnesota, and other areas of the United States, the quillback does not provide any economic benefit to humans because it is not a commercial fish. The quillback does serve some economic benefit to Mexico. The IGFA world record for the species stands at 8lb 1oz taken from Lake Manitoba in Canada in 2016.[8]


  1. ^ NatureServe (2013). "Carpiodes cyprinus". The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN. 2013: e.T202054A2733163. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2013-1.RLTS.T202054A2733163.en. Retrieved 3 January 2018.
  2. ^ "Carpiodes cyprinus". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved 30 January 2006.
  3. ^ Lackmann, Alec R.; Andrews, Allen H.; Butler, Malcolm G.; Bielak-Lackmann, Ewelina S.; Clark, Mark E. (2019-05-23). "Bigmouth Buffalo Ictiobus cyprinellus sets freshwater teleost record as improved age analysis reveals centenarian longevity". Communications Biology. 2 (1). doi:10.1038/s42003-019-0452-0. ISSN 2399-3642.
  4. ^ "Quillback". Critter Catalog. 2006. Retrieved 2015-05-07.
  5. ^ "Quillback Sucker". South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks. 2010. Retrieved 2015-05-07.
  6. ^ roughfish.com – Quillback carpsucker Archived July 15, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ "Quillback Carpsucker". ODNR Division. 2012. Retrieved 2015-05-07.
  8. ^ "Quillback". igfa.org. International Game Fish Association. Retrieved 17 May 2019.