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Commonly dubbed the “Pig of the Pond,” the assumption that carp will devour just about anything is slightly exaggerated. Talk to any seasoned carp angler about the countless hours, days, and even weeks spent anticipating a single bite, and it becomes evident that while the carp is indeed an omnivorous opportunist, it’s actually fairly discerning.
Mother Nature’s watery pantry, it seems, caters quite suitably to the carp’s dietary preferences.
The Carp’s Natural Menu
In this article, we’re going to delve into the microscopic and unicellular components of a carp’s natural diet, focusing on the constituents that could potentially be incorporated by an inventive angler.
Like any creature, carp have daily nutritional needs that encompass vitamins, minerals, proteins, specific amino acids (namely lysine and methionine), carbohydrates, oils, and fiber.
Amino Acids: The Building Blocks
Foods abundant in protein are reliable sources of lysine. For carp, this includes certain fish, such as their own offspring or those of other species, along with nuts, soybeans, spirulina (microscopic blue-green algae found in both salt and freshwater), and fenugreek seed. This sheds light on why anglers have had success baiting carp with tuna.
Methionine, another essential amino acid, is prevalent in numerous foods available to carp, such as seeds, nuts, and shellfish.
Plankton: Microscopic Powerhouses
Phytoplankton, microscopic organisms that flourish primarily on sunlight and carbon dioxide, are viewed as the foundational basis of all food chains. These unicellular organisms produce some 90% of the world’s oxygen and, for carp, they’re a veritable superfood, rich in vitamins, minerals, and beneficial omega-3 fats.
Zooplankton, another favored carp delicacy, are organisms that “drift” or “wander” in the water column. This explains why carp feed at varying depths. Rotifers, cladocerans, and copepods are three types of zooplankton that prominently feature in the carp’s diet.
These multicellular organisms can grow up to two millimeters in length and are distinguished by their rotating cilia, which give them their name. Many rotifers have transparent bodies, making their internal organs visible.
They thrive in freshwater, either swimming freely or attaching themselves to plant stems. Rotifers are primarily composed of carbohydrates (mainly glucose) and fatty acids, and they feed on phytoplankton.
Cladocerans, or water fleas, are small microcrustaceans that are free-swimming. They evolved from a type of clam shrimp over 200 million years ago. With a protein content of 71.2%, cladocerans are irresistible to carp. As an essential part of any freshwater ecosystem, cladocerans can even clear pollution-induced algal blooms in lakes when feeding.
Copepods, another type of small crustacean, are benthic, living on the lake bed rather than swimming freely. They can be identified by a single eye in the middle of their head, at least during their larval stage. For those anglers intrigued, live copepods can be purchased online, much as aquaculturists have done for years to enrich their aquariums.
Bloodworms: A Carp Favorite
Another important component of the carp’s diet is the bloodworm. These larvae of midges are packed with amino acids and exude a smell that attracts carp. Thriving on the bacteria produced by decomposing matter, bloodworms are abundant around sewage outlets and lakebeds where detritus naturally settles.
Their vivid red color and energetic wriggling stimulate the carp’s predatory instincts. With a composition of 62.5% crude protein, bloodworms lure all freshwater fish like a magnet.
Decoding the Carp’s Preferences
From the above, two things stand out for the angler:
- Proteins, amino acids, and carbohydrates are vital for the carp.
- There’s a valid reason for carp to swim at all depths, not just feeding at the bottom.
The above information offers a snapshot of some of the most studied elements of the carp’s natural diet in terms of microscopic and single-celled organisms. For further information on more substantial food items such as daphnia, snails, mollusks, algae, benthic, and tubifex worms, refer to our article on the non-microscopic elements of natural carp food.