Oklahoma’s buffalofish are often lumped with or called “carp.” Though buffalofish and carp are both deep-bodied and can grow to be quite large, buffalofish are native to our state’s waters while carp have been introduced. The smallmouth buffalo and common carp are featured in this Wild Double Take.
Buffalofish are members of the sucker family, Catostomidae. Three buffalofish species can be found in Oklahoma: the smallmouth buffalo, bigmouth buffalo, and black buffalo.
Carp are members of the minnow family, Cyprinidae. Four species of these non-native fish can be found in Oklahoma: the common carp, grass carp, silver carp, and bighead carp.
Find tips for identifying Oklahoma’s look-alike species in our video series on YouTube.
Similarities: The smallmouth buffalo and common carp are both large, deep-bodied fish that can be found in rivers and lakes. (As of 2023, the state record smallmouth buffalo weighed in at a little more than 66 pounds and the state record common carp weighed in at nearly 40 pounds.) Both species are opportunistic feeders with diverse diets. And both species are popular among bow anglers.
Differences: Even though buffalofish are often misnamed carp, these fish are in fact native to the state’s waters and are members of the sucker family. Smallmouth buffalo have a relatively large eye which is in line with its mouth. (Other buffalofish species tend to have a downturned mouth.) Buffalofish do not have whiskers. In contrast, carp, including the common carp, are not native to Oklahoma and are members of the minnow family. The common carp has a downturned mouth, and small barbels or “whiskers.”
If you see a buffalofish or carp while exploring Outdoor Oklahoma, consider sharing the sighting on free nature platforms like iNaturalist. Adding a photo to your observation can allow others to help confirm the identification.