Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

June 9, 2009

Welcome to the Spawnorama

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 10:01 pm

This time of year is a great time to witness just how common the Common Carp can be. They have been quietly gathering into the weedy shallows from the big waters of Lake Erie for the better part of a month now. Huge groups of lusty males have been keeping company with gangs of plump females in anticipation of the “big event” that will take place there.  Although these imported fish are year-round residents, their presence goes largely undetected through most of the year. All it takes is a slight change of spring  temperature to bring this quiet army to the forefront.  Once that critical temperature is reached, nearly every little bay and marshy flat is converted into a boiling cauldron of giant fish.

The biological boiling point of marsh water is about 60 degree F., as it turns out.  The Lake Erie Metropark marsh reached this temperature last weekend and as a result, the normally quiet surface was rent asunder with carp spawning activity. During  the Spawnorama, due to the exertions of hundreds of amorous carp, the marsh literally appeared to boil (see above). 

The  basic spawning activity involves small clusters of 4 or 5 individuals consisting of  a female carp with multiple eager male escorts (see above and here).  Since the males are conspicuously smaller next to the roe-enhanced girth of their chosen females they are easily identified (see here), but they can just as easily be pinpointed by their “catching up” position in the cluster. The female swims about at a fairly brisk  pace and keeps just ahead of her pursuers. It is likely that this racing behaviour is a way for the female to insure the vitality of her suitors. Eventually, the group swims through a patch of submerged water plants and the female begins to shed her load of eggs. Triggered by her body movements, the males are prompted to release clouds of sperm into the water in the hope that they will be the legal fertilizer of at least a few thousand of her eggs. The effort breaks the surface and churns the water (see beginning picture) In the process of  jockeying for position, some over anxious males come entirely out of the water as they roll right over the top of the female (see below).

Perhaps the best way to appreciate the full impact of the carp spawnorama, is to watch this brief video (here). This event is full of sound and motion. The big show will repeat itself over the course of several days before dying down, but smaller groups will continue to spawn through the early summer until the water temperature reaches the upper 70’s or the females run out of eggs.

A female can lay from 100,000 to over 2 million tiny yellow eggs depending upon her size and age. It is little wonder that the genus name for the carp, Cyprinus, is a reference to the Cyprus home of Venus, the goddess of fertility. Each egg is about a millimeter in diameter. On it’s brief journey through the water, the sticky egg is fertilized and adheres onto a plant leaf  where it will hatch 4-5 days later.  The chances that any given larval fish will survive to spawning age is slight, but that is, of course, another story for another time.

1 Comment »

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    Comment by a — June 20, 2014 @ 10:45 am

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