What Do Carp Need To Survive?

Ponds have become a landscape and design staple due to their relative accessibility and the zen-like attention to detail it often takes to keep one running. Fish from all over the world make it to the public markets and pet stores to meet this growing demand. In this world, carp is king, especially koi. The common carp alone, as a base, has so many varieties and colors. From there, the price and prestige tiers just go up. They’re absolutely beautiful creatures that can accent any place, spruce up any aquarium, and even a meal. The versatility of this animal has driven up the demand by many odds of magnitude over the past century. Here we’ll explore everything about the humble carp, from its history to its diet in and out of its natural habitat. 

Why Are Carp and Koi So Popular?

Carp have exploded into popularity because of its rich history and its presence in popular culture. This is especially true of Koi fish, the Japanese variety of carp that has become associated with palatial mansions of eastern flare. But how did one fish corner the market so thoroughly? Is there something special with these fish that make collectors and admirers alike flock in droves?


Like all hobbies surrounding a specific animal, there is a thriving breeding market. Breeding carp, especially Koi, spells big business for massive operations. There are professionals who not only breed carp, but breed every kind of variety according to various specifications. There is a niche market for every kind of carp around, but the top tier ones are always the center of attention. Breeding Koi is an art in itself. You need to know the exact conditions and combinations of pairs that can yield a successful spawn. Not only do you need to be able to control the environment, you need to be able to anticipate the kind of Koi you’re going to get. Once the spawning process is complete, you can hold and grow them until they’re ready to sell. Their prime to sell is between three and six years. This kind of work may seem like a lot, but like any animal, the markets yield great payoff.

Zen Aesthetic

The idea of a Koi pond leds a lot of its modern popularity to the idea of zen. It may not be a main focus, but the pan-eastern aesthetic and notion of meditation has become the go-to for tech billionaires and intellectuals alike. The Koi pond is a popular go-to feel. Why? It’s real. The time it takes to care for them, and the patterns of their movement fit right into the ideology of zen. There is a process, as well as a payoff. It’s not a big show of extravagance, although koi have been sold for up to USD$1,700,000. It’s a show of grace and natural beauty. 


Along with their beauty, Koi fish can often be a symbol of prestige. Admittedly, not a lot of people have them at their home or their office. The ones that do, or often those in higher positions. That doesn’t mean that there is a huge barrier to entry. But one has to be ready to spend a significant amount of money for the upkeep and the price of the Koi themselves. This, of course, is no different than any other hobby. It’s not going to send you back more than restoring a classic muscle car would, unless you’re really trying to collect from upscale breeders. It’s not going to take more of your time then making jewelry would. Carp, and all its varieties, are right in the middle in that regard. 

Koi Types and Prices

As stated before, the world of Koi fish breeding and buying has multiple tiers and varieties. The Japanese have really perfected and cornered the various pigments and phenotypic presentations of the fish. Here are “Big Three” of the most sought after koi and their relative costs.


Kohaku Is the most popular variety of koi in Japan. They’re white with red blotches on them. Because of the rigorous standards The white scales on the fish and the red blotches are going to be extremely vivid and clearly separated. Because of their popularity, they have a wide variety available between breeders. Because of their simplicity and beautiful patterns, they’re highly sought after. For a well bred Kohaku koi, you’re going to probably be spending around US$1000-US$5000. That number, of course, can’t shoot all the way up to US$10,000.


The Taisho Sanke, or just Sanke for short, is the second most popular koi. It has three pigments: red, white, and a blotch of black. This variety should not have any black pigment on its head. Instead the qualifications are a pearly white base, red pigments throughout, and smaller yet pronounced patches of “sumi” or black blotches. Sanke fall within the same price range as the Kohaku. For the lower breeder variety, it’s going to be around $1000-$5000. Although, it isn’t unheard of to spend $50,000 on a well bred koi. The range is massive. 


The Showa Sanshoku, or Showa, is another combination of red, black, and white. The main difference is that the Showa Sanshoku are a naturally black variety that is pigmented with white and red. Regardless of whether there is more white or red, the black really is at the base of this fish. Like the other two, the Showa varieties hover around $10,000 and up. What buyers and breeders are looking for in the Showa is the balance. A great balance of color is indicative of a high quality Showa. It’s created by breeding Kohaku and Shiro Utsui. 

Carp In The Wild

As much as were extremely used to seeing carp in tanks and ponds, they’re actually quite abundant in nature as well. Carp isn’t just for sitting and looking. People catch and observe carp of all sorts in their natural habitat. If you’ve ever been curious, here’s what they’re like out there in their natural habitat. 

The Amur

Carp Is a Cyprinid fish that is common in Central Asia. There are hundreds of different varieties all over the world, but the one that’s most commonly referred to when we talk about commercial “carp” is the Amur carp. The Amur carp, like all carp, can live in various environments and bodies of fresh water all around Vietnam, Laos, and China. They especially love murky, muddy waters and tend to feed near the surface. Because of this, carp has its reputation in the fly fishing world as “unsavory for catching,” choosing to go for deep feeding fish in clearer waters, like its fellow Cyprinid: the trout. The Amur takes its name from the river where it’s most abundant, which starts out in Russia and empties to the basins of China and the Southeast Asian countries. 

Historical Value

Carp are generally not eaten today. They are known to have a “muddy” sort of flavor, and are often left off of the menu at fish markets for this reason. Although catfish has been described as having a somewhat similar flavor, the carp is a much bonier, and heartier fish then the soft and oily (and delicious) catfish. In Asia, it is often reserved for stews. Although this is true, carp are edible, and have been used as a food source for thousands of years. They were most popular early eaten in the eastern bounds of the Roman empire, towards the Danube River. That is actually the origin for the European variety of carp. The same European variety of carpet made its way to the United States in the 1800s as a source of protein. Because of this, every state in the United States has carp except for Alaska. You can find them in the highest concentration at the Great Lakes.

What Do Carp Eat In The Wild?

Carp are natural omnivores. That means that they eat both plants and animals, and can interchange between the two with no issues. They survive in the wild on a steady diet of aquatic vegetation, and bottom feeding creatures. 

  • Carp love to eat things that are floating on the lake. If you are out on a trip, and you see a carp in the wild, most likely it’s because it’s coming up to eat that little bit of lake salad floating at the top. 
  • Another favorite of the carpet is freshwater clam. The carp’s mouth is similar to an accordion with powerful molars at the back. The carp can take a clam, press it between its teeth, and crush the shell in order to get the soft bivalve meat inside. 
  • You can usually find a high concentration of carpet underneath the fruit tree hanging over the water. Carp love to nibble on black berries and small fruits or nuts. 
  • Carp absolutely love bottom feeding creatures. One of the favorites is the crayfish. Because the crayfish are so readily available in their habitat, all it takes is a bit of a deep dive, a snap at the head, and a crunch between the molars. 

Reading this list of foods that carp like to eat, their diet doesn’t seem bad at all. In fact, they like a lot of the same things that we like. Nuts, berries, and crayfish? That sounds like a wonderful dinner. The carp is highly adaptable in that manner. It is why there is a species of carp in every single continent except for Antarctica.

Ensuring Your Carp’s Survival

Carp, by nature, are survivors. You can throw them into any body of freshwater and they’ll find a way. They’re thick, omnivorous, and live a very long time. But for the purpose of a home koi pond, no matter what size, you’re going to have to keep a very specific set of metrics. Now, the range within these metrics may vary, but at all times, you should know some key things to ensure that your carp are healthy, thriving, and looking beautiful. 


Space is huge when it comes to carp. As hearty as they are, they need a lot of room in order to move. A single carp will need up to 250 gallons of water to survive. If you see a whole school packed into a tiny area like in a restaurant, they’re doing it wrong. If you have multiple koi, you’ll need a least 1,000 gallons of water. Ideally, you should have a depth of 5 to 6 feet. There’s a rule of thumb when it comes to carp and koi: 10 gallons for every inch of grown carp you’ve got. 


The pH of any pond should be between 6 and 9. Now, that’s a pretty wide range. The lower the number is on the scale, the more acidic the water is. The higher it is, the more alkaline. Now, don’t follow the unsubstantiated trend that alkaline is better. Unlike humans, who have an international pH balance that turns everything neutral regardless of what kind of water is ingested, fish rely on the water to be within certain conditions. Basically, the average would be slightly more alkaline than total neutral. This can be achieved through adding limestone to your pond to your pond construction or adding pH balancers into the water until it’s at the desired balance. 

Plants and Foliage

Adding plants is not just an aesthetic thing. It’s about providing nutrients and stimulation to the fish inside. Some of the best aquatic plants you can add are water hyacinths and cattails. If you can get floating pondweed, throw that in, too. That kind of foliage will attract bugs and snails. That’s going to provide a more natural food source for the koi, as well as provide a wonderful ecosystem for them to live in.

Pond Food

A good mix to give carp is a mix of both natural and store bought food. The bugs the foliage provide are great, as well as the plants themselves and the algae. You can introduce brine shrimp to your pond and allow them to multiply. When you’re feeding them, you can add 3 servings of pellet food a day at various points during the day.


There are some diseases that carp can get, even if they’re known for their long life span and survivability. Two of the main ones you have to look out for is herpes and carp louse. Herpes varieties are among the most common in the entire natural world. We’re familiar with the human kinds, of course, but the fish variety can be quite devastating. Feeding them well during the winter and regularly keeping up with filtration protocols are the best way to prevent diseases from entering the pond. Do not overcrowd the pond, either. If you find one that’s sick, you’ve got to quarantine it and make sure the others aren’t infected by giving a thorough inspection. 

Carp maintenance and care is some solid work. It takes measurements, inspections, and general care in order to keep them alive for the 30-50 years that they can live up to. Needless to say, if you’re planning on keeping them, they’re going to be with you for a good chunk of your life. They make wonderful heirlooms and are even better as gifts. The aesthetic, method, and zen of owning carp is second to none. Just keep a log to make sure you’ve got things down and scheduled, and enjoy them for the beauty the posses.