The sharpbelly Hemiculter leucisculus, an invasive species, has expanded its range throughout much of Asia and into the Middle East. However, little is known of its adaptive changes regarding life history traits such as age, growth and mortality that could possibly explain its success as an invasive species. A detailed study of the invasive sharpbelly was conducted based on 4539 samples collected from July 2009 to June 2011 in Erhai Lake, China. Standard length ranged from 4.3–19.1 cm for females and 4.6–12.3 cm for males. Length–weight relationships for females and males were significantly different and described as W = 0.0076SL3.2608 and W = 0.0084SL3.1901, respectively. Otoliths are ideal for age determination because of the single annulus formed each year. Based on marginal increment analysis, the total mean CV for age estimate between two readings was 3.55%. The von Bertalanffy growth curves computed by observed length-at-age data were expressed as Lt = 25.6 (1 − e−0.176 (t + 1.347)) for females and Lt = 16.4 (1 − e−0.354 (t + 0.819)) for males. According to the age, growth and mortality data, there are three possible reasons for H. leucisculus attaining such dominance within a short time in Erhai Lake. First, because of the simple age structure of this species: 97.58% of males were 1–2 years old with a maximum age of only 3 years; 93.14% of females were 1–3 years old, with a maximum age of 6 years. Second, females grew larger than males at any age. Third, instantaneous mortality rates were much higher for males (4.22 year−1) than for females (1.17 year−1).