From New World Encyclopedia
Fossil range: Eocene - Present
A harlequin rasbora
A harlequin rasbora
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Cypriniformes
Family: Cyprinidae

(many, see text)

Cyprinid is the name for any of the freshwater fishes in the minnow or carp family Cyprinidae, which includes such members as carp, goldfish, zebrafish, minnow, and chub. With over 200 genera and over 2,000 species, Cyprinidae is the largest family of freshwater fishes in the world, and may even be the largest family of vertebrates, with the possible exception of Gobiidae (the gobies) (Nelson 1994).

Cyprinids offer important ecological, commercial, nutritional, scientific, and recreational values. Ecologically, many are integral to freshwater food chains, variously feeding on plants, plankton, crustaceans, insects, mollusks, fish, and so forth, while being consumed by larger fish, mammals, birds, and so forth. Some are important food fish, of commercial and culinary value, raised in aquaculture farms, such as the silver carp and grass carp. Others, such as the goldfish (Carassius auratus) and koi (Cyprinus carpio, a variety of the common carp), are popular aquarium and ornamental species. The barbel and common carp are sought in sports fishing. The zebrafish (Danio rerio) is a model organism for developmental genetic research (Nelson 1994; Helfman et al. 1997).

Also of these values reflect the concept of bi-level functionality. That is, the various species not only advance a function for the individual (their own reproduction and survival as a species), but also provide a function for the whole (ecosystem, humans).


Cyprinidae is almost an exclusively freshwater family of fishes, with brackish water representatives occurring only very rarely. Common names associated with various members of this family include minnow, carp, chub, and shiner.

Cyprinidae is found in North America (from northern Canada to southern Mexico), Africa, and Eurasia (Nelson 1994). In his 1994 text, Fishes of the World, Nelson recognized 210 genera and about 2010 species in Cyprinidae, with about 1,270 species native in Eurasia, about 475 species in 23 genera in Africa, and about 270 species in 50 genera in North America. Nelson's 2006 edition recognized worldwide about 220 genera and over 2,420 species of cyprinids (Nelson, 2006), or over eight percent of the world's known fishes.

Members of the Cyprinidae are characterized by jaws and palate that are always toothless; pharyngeal teeth in one or two rows, with no more than eight teeth per row; usually thin lips; absence of an adipose fin; an upper jaw usually protrusible; an upper jaw bordered only by premaxilla; and the head almost always scaleless (Nelson 1994). The body typically is elongate, compressed, and fusiform, with a single dorsal ray and a forked caudal fin. While most cyprinids are covered with scales, some lack scales. The size of cyprinids ranges from the smallest freshwater fish, Danionella tanslucida, in which the longest specimen known is 12 millimeters, to the barbine Catlocarpio siamensis of Thailand, which is known to reach 2.5 meters in length and probably reaches three meters (Nelson 1994). The largest North American species is the Colorado pikeminnow (Ptychocheilus lucius), which reaches 1.8 meters (5.9 feet).

All fish in this family are egg-layers and the breeding habits of most is one of non-guarding of the eggs; however, there are a few species that build nests and/or guard the eggs.

While cyprinids are almost always inhabiting freshwater environments, there are a few species that spend part of their time, or have particular populations, in brackish water. For example, the roach, Rutilus rutilus, has populations that inhabit brackish water.

The earliest cyprinid fossils are from the Eocene from Asia, with the earliest European and North American fossils of Oligocene age (Nelson 1994). If cyprinids originated in Orient, then they may have invaded North America across the Bering land bridge about 32 million years ago while sea levels were lower during the Oligocene (Nelson 1994).

The term cyprinid comes from the Greek word Kypris, another name for Aphrodite.


Cyprinids are important for food, as ornamental and aquarium fish, and for biological research. Particularly widely used species include the common carp and koi (Cyprinus carpio), goldfish (Carassius auratus), and zebra danio or zebrafish (Danio rerio) (Nelson 1994).

Cyprinids are highly important food fish; they are fished and farmed across Eurasia. In land-locked countries in particular, cyprinids are often the major species of fish eaten, although the prevalence of inexpensive frozen fish products has made this less important now than it was in earlier times. Nonetheless, in certain places they remain popular for food as well as recreational fishing, and have been deliberately stocked in ponds and lakes for centuries for this reason (Magri MacMahon 1946).

Several cyprinids have been introduced to waters outside their natural range to provide food, sport, or biological control for some pest species. The common carp and the grass carp are examples of such in Florida. In some cases, these have become invasive species that compete with native fishes or disrupt the environment.

Numerous cyprinids have become important in the aquarium hobby, most famously the goldfish, which was first imported into Europe around 1728 but was cultivated by the Chinese well before then (Riehl and Baensch 1996). Other popular cyprinids kept in aquarium include the barbs, danios, and rasboras.

The zebra danio or zebrafish (Danio rerio) is the standard research animal for studying developmental genetics (Helfman et al. 1997).

Taxonomy: Genera

With about 2,420 species of cyprinids, placed in about 220 genera, Cyprinidae is the largest family of freshwater fish. The family belongs to the order Cypriniformes.

The bold black text indicates to which subfamily the listed genera belong. There is debate as to how many subfamilies exist in this family and to which subfamily certain genera belong. New taxonomies are continually being developed, and indeed Nelson (2006) recognized ten more genera than are listed in Nelson (1994). Two-hundred and five genera are listed here.

  • Acheilognathinae (bitterling-like cyprinids)
    • Acanthorhodeus (bitterlings)
    • Acheilognathus
    • Rhodeus
    • Tanakia
  • Barbinae
    • Barbus
    • Diptychus
    • Pseudobarbus
    • Puntius (spotted barbs)
    • Schizothorax
    • Sinocyclocheilus
  • Cultrinae
    • Chanodichthys
    • Culter
    • Erythroculter
    • Hemiculter
    • Ischikauia
    • Megalobrama
    • Parabramis
    • Sinibrama
  • Cyprininae
    • Aulopyge
    • Barbodes
    • Barbonymus
    • Carassius (crucian carps)
    • Cyprinus (common carps)
    • Kosswigobarbus
    • Osteobrama
    • Salmostoma
    • Sawbwa
  • Danioninae
    • Celestichthys
    • Chela
    • Danio (Brachydanio is no longer valid)
    • Danionella
    • Devario
    • Esomus
    • Inlecypris
    • Microrasbora
    • Parachela
    • Sundadanio
  • Gobioninae
    • Abbottina
    • Biwia
    • Coreius
    • Gnathopogon
    • Gobio (gudgeons)
    • Gobiobotia
    • Hemibarbus
    • Microphysogobio
    • Pseudogobio
    • Pseudorasbora
    • Pungtungia
    • Rhinogobio
    • Romanogobio
    • Sarcocheilichthys
    • Saurogobio
    • Squalidus
    • Xenophysogobio
  • Labeoninae
    • Hongshuia
    • Labeo
    • Longanalus
    • Osteochilus
    • Parasinilabeo
    • Qianlabeo
  • Leuciscinae
    • Aaptosyax
    • Abramis (breams)
    • Achondrostoma
    • Acrocheilus (chiselmouths)
    • Agosia
    • Alburnoides
    • Alburnus (bleaks)
    • Algansea
    • Anaecypris
    • Aspius
    • Aztecula
    • Blicca
    • Campostoma (stonerollers)
    • Chalcalburnus
    • Chondrostoma (nases)
    • Clinostomus (redside daces)
    • Couesius (lake chubs)
    • Cyprinella (satinfin shiners)
    • Dionda (desert minnows)
    • Distoechodon
    • Elopichthys
    • Eremichthys (desert daces)
    • Ericymba (silverjaw minnows)
    • Erimonax
    • Erimystax (slender chubs)
    • Eupallasella
    • Exoglossum (cutlips minnows)
    • Gila - includes Siphateles (western chubs)
    • Hemitremia (flame chub)
    • Hesperoleucus (California roaches)
    • Hybognathus (silvery minnows)
    • Hybopsis (bigeye chubs)
    • Hypophthalmichthys (bighead carps)
    • Iberochondrostoma
    • Iotichthys
    • Ladigesocypris
    • Lavinia (hitches)
    • Lepidomeda (spinedaces)
    • Leucaspius
    • Leuciscus (European daces)
    • Luciobrama
    • Luciocyprinus
    • Luxilus (highscale shiners)
    • Lythrurus (finescale shiners)
    • Macrhybopsis (blacktail chubs)
    • Margariscus (pearl daces)
    • Meda (spikedaces)
    • Moapa (moapa daces)
    • Mylocheilus (peamouths)
    • Mylopharodon (hardheads)
    • Nocomis (hornyhead chubs)
    • Notemigonus (golden shiners)
    • Notropis (eastern shiners)
    • Ochetobius
    • Opsopoeodus (pugnose minnows)
    • Oregonichthys (Oregon chubs)
    • Oreoleuciscus
    • Orthodon (Sacramento blackfishes)
    • Parachondrostoma
    • Pelecus
    • Phenacobius (suckermouth minnows)
    • Phoxinellus
    • Phoxinus (redbelly daces)
    • Pimephales (bluntnose minnows)
    • Plagopterus (woundfins)
    • Platygobio (flathead chubs)
    • Pogonichthys (splittails)
    • Protochondrostoma
    • Pseudochondrostoma
    • Pseudophoxinus
    • Pteronotropis (flagfin shiners)
    • Ptychocheilus (pikeminnows)
    • Relictus (relict daces)
    • Rhinichthys - includes Tiaroga (riffle daces)
    • Rhynchocypris
    • Richardsonius (redside shiners)
    • Rutilus (roaches)
    • Scardinius (rudds)
    • Semotilus (creek chubs)
    • Snyderichthys (leatherside chub)
    • Tribolodon
    • Tropidophoxinellus
    • Vimba
    • Yuriria
  • Rasborinae
    • Amblypharyngodon
    • Aphyocypris
    • Barilius
    • Opsariichthys
    • Oxygaster
    • Raiamas
    • Rasbora
    • Tanichthys
    • Trigonostigma
    • Zacco
  • Squaliobarbinae
    • Ctenopharyngodon (grass carps)
    • Mylopharyngodon
    • Squaliobarbus
  • Tincinae
    • Tinca
  • Xenocyprinae
    • Aristichthys
    • Hypophthalmichthys
    • Xenocypris
  • Incertae sedis (Unclassified)
    • Acanthalburnus
    • Acanthobrama
    • Acrossocheilus
    • Araiocypris
    • Balantiocheilos
    • Bangana
    • Boraras
    • Capoeta
    • Catlocarpio
    • Cirrhinus
    • Crossocheilus
    • Cyclocheilichthys
    • Cyprinion
    • Discogobio
    • Epalzeorhynchos
    • Garra
    • Gibelion
    • Gobiocypris
    • Gymnocypris
    • Hampala
    • Hemigrammocypris
    • Iberocypris
    • Mystacoleucus
    • Oreinus
    • Pachychilon
    • Paracheilognathus
    • Parasikukia
    • Phreatichthys
    • Poropuntius
    • Pseudobrama
    • Pseudolaubuca
    • Rectoris
    • Rohtee
    • Semilabeo
    • Semiplotus
    • Sikukia
    • Spinibarbichthys
    • Spinibarbus
    • Telestes
    • Tiaroga
    • Tor (mahseers)
    • Varicorhinus
    • Xenocyprioides
    • Yaoshanicus

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Helfman G., B. Collette, and D. Facey. 1997. The Diversity of Fishes. Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 0865422567.
  • Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS). 2005. Cyprinidae ITIS Taxonomic Serial No.: 163342. Retrieved June 1, 2008.
  • Magri MacMahon, A. F. 1946. Fishlore: British Freshwater Fishes. Pelican books, A161. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books.
  • Myers, P., R. Espinosa, C. S. Parr, T. Jones, G. S. Hammond, and T. A. Dewey. 2008. Genus Puntius (spotted barbs) Animal Diversity Web. Retrieved May 30, 2008.
  • Nelson, J. S. 1994. Fishes of the World, 3rd ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0471547131.
  • Nelson, J. S. 2006. Fishes of the World. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0471250317.
  • Riehl, R., and H. Baensch. 1996. Aquarium Atlas Volume 1. Voyageur Press. ISBN 3882440503.


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