Carp Specialist UK
Ian Chillcott Columnists

Do carp talk to one another?

Carp communication: do they communicate? Do they have their own local dialect? And if so, will this make communication harder? Ian Chillcott voices his opinion on the subject…

It is strange sometimes how and where we get our inspirations from, and today has been one of the strangest. So strange, in fact, that I had to look at the calendar to ensure I hadn’t lost track of time and it wasn’t April Fool’s Day!

“I cannot believe I fell for that old chestnut again!”


I had been thrashing the keys on my computer to death, writing various carp-related articles, when it became obvious that I should save the documents and adjourn for a cup of tea and a sandwich. I had watched one of my saved programmes (Wicked Tuna actually), and had just deleted it when Sky News came up on the screen. Now, I have always wondered why carp find it so difficult to procreate in this country. After all, we see them going through the motions in the warmer weather and nothing should really stop there being a successful outcome. Was it instead of or because of the conditions they are faced with, or could it be a little more simple than that. I was just about to unearth a possible explanation for their problems!

“And there was me thinking you didn’t like pineapple…”

The presenter was introducing the next segment, and it was all about cod and how they communicated with each other. Interesting. The problem, as they saw it, was that the cod were having difficulty having a thriving sexual existence because of local dialects. Even more interesting! If you are unsure what I am on about here, try thinking about the conversation between a male Geordie mirror and a female Cockney common, I reckon it would go something like this:

“Yer a right canny lass, giz a deek”… “You’re a right Hampton Wick, now scarpa flow!”

They probably aren’t going to get too far, and much of the communication would have to be through sign language. So imagine if you didn’t have hands to communicate with, the situation will just get worse, and you are never going to get where you want to without a great deal of difficulty.

The problem for the poor old cod is that with the climate changing, and the sea water temperatures on the rise, they have to travel farther and farther North to find the right climate in which to get the proverbial fin over. Kind of makes me feel for the poor fish when you are pushed to migration further North to only get laid once a year. That, however, is their problem, but I couldn’t help pondering on what the scientist was saying.

The interview was being carried out on the River Mersey, and they were trying to lower a sensitive microphone over the side of a boat to listen in on what the local cod were debating on that particular day. The ferry across the Mersey spoilt that segment with its loud engine noise, but it really got me thinking. Especially when they started playing the noises that a cod makes in the natural scheme of things.

The scientist chap had been talking about the very basic needs of the fish and he listed them as: navigation, sex, food and safety. Ironically, these are the basic and only needs of the fresh water carp, are they not? He also went on to explain that the fish were communicating using the air in their swim bladder to make the necessary sexual advances, danger alerts and dinner-is-on-the-table remarks. I had never heard of the swim bladder being used as far as carp conversation is concerned, but I had been told by people who are far more qualified as far as carp are concerned, that their pharyngeal teeth were the primary method of communication. Evidently, they crunch the massive plates of teeth in their throats (if you were unsure of a carp’s metabolism) to talk to each other. About what, I have no idea, because no one has learned to speak carp-a-lese just yet.

However, you would have to be totally uninterested in the fish that consumes so many of our thoughts and theories, not to wonder what they find to discuss. Everyone I have ever spoken to that has studied this will verify that it is the very basics of life; after all, they don’t know how to use a computer and have never been to see a football match, have they? The problem, as I said at the beginning, is that they have dialects in as much as a fish from one area of the country will ‘speak’ in a completely different dialect from one in another district.

However they communicate, I’m just glad we can still catch them

Sexually transmitted carpy diseases?

It’s hard to believe isn’t it? But as they played recordings of cod in different parts of the UK, you could most definitely hear a difference in the sound that was being omitted from the swim bladder and the pharyngeal teeth. I am frightened of saying accent, but that is exactly what the guy with the big brain was saying, and if he and his massive brain were happy with that, then so am I.

Carp are bought and sold all over the UK, and much like the Geordie guy and the Cockney chick, they are obviously going to have problems communicating their intent once the season to get frisky gets under way. And if you thought that may be a difficult situation there is one other thing to consider.

In an age, sadly, that still sees the introduction of carp from foreign shores, this will obviously throw another communication dilemma into the melting pot. A French carp and an Israeli one are going to be hindered by the language being spoken, of course. But when you consider that the Israeli fish have an attenuated KHV virus, could that not be construed as a sexually transmitted carpy disease? The mind boggles! The problems have gotten even worse lately, of course, with the arrival of some very large carp from Hungary. I had never heard of them coming from there before, but I can only think that it has thrown another spanner into the carp’s sexual dilemma. Maybe that’s another avenue for the scientist to explore, eh? Only my point of view of course!