Dwarf Chain Loach (Ambastaia Sidthimunki): Ultimate Care Guide


The Dwarf Chain Loach (Ambastaia Sidthimunki) is not the most common fish in the aquarium hobby. However, this interesting loach type should not be overlooked. If you’re looking for a spectacle in your tank, this fish is extremely active and is known to put on a show called a ‘loach dance’. They are even reported to produce a clicking sound which becomes louder as they get excited.

The Dwarf Chain Loach is a tropical, freshwater species that is found in the Mae Klong River basin in Thailand and surrounding areas.

This freshwater fish can be a difficult species to care for due to its aggressive temperament and need for specific water parameters. For this reason, they are recommended for aquarists who have some experience keeping semi-aggressive fish species. This guide will help you understand how to properly care for Dwarf Chain Loaches.

Dwarf Chain Loach Facts

This unique fish has a thick, barrel-shaped body that features a silver to golden base colour which is covered in black bars that have a distinct checker-like pattern. This pattern, which resembles a chain, is where they derive their common name from. They have a round head with four barbs extending from its under-turned mouth. Female Dwarf Chain Loaches can be distinguished from males by their slightly larger size and fuller bodies. Adult males will also have a slightly longer snout and noticeably fleshier and thicker lips.

The Dwarf Chain Loach has an average body size of 2” (5cm) and can grow to a maximum length of 2.5” (6.3cm). Most young Dwarf Chain Loaches found in pet stores are a maximum of 1” (2.5cm) in length. They have a considerably longer average life span of between 8 to 12 years with reports of them living up to 15 years if cared for properly.

Dwarf Chain Loach
Dwarf Chain Loach (Ambastaia Sidthimunki)

Dwarf Chain Loach Care

As a general rule, a 30-gallon (115-litre) tank is the minimum size required for a small group of five to six Dwarf Chain Loaches. They should not be kept in a smaller tank as they are a very active species and require more space to swim around.  The Dwarf Chain Loach’s tank must have a steady, moderate current that simulates their natural habitat and encourages them to come out of their hiding spots. Their tank will also need a tight-fitting lid as they are known to jump out of their tank.

One of the more difficult aspects to keeping a Dwarf Chain Loach is they do not adapt well the water parameter changes so it is essential their tank water is maintained at a high quality. The optimal water temperature for a Dwarf Chain Loach is 68°F – 86°F (20°C – 30°C). They prefer well-oxygenated water with a hardness level between 8 to 12 dKH. The recommended pH level for a Dwarf Chain Loach is between 5.5 to 7.5. As this freshwater fish is extremely sensitive to organic waste in their environment, it is recommended to change 30 – 50% of their water every week.

Creating a biotope aquarium with plenty of hiding spots will help to reduce the Dwarf Chain Loach’s aggressive behaviour. Start with a substrate of sand or fine gravel and smooth pebbles. This is a bottom-feeder fish and it will injure its stomach if a hard or rough material is used. Roots and branches, rocks, flowerpots and, PVC pipe can be used to create hiding spots which they will enjoy exploring. Don’t be surprised if you find your Dwarf Chain Loach wedged vertically or sideways between pieces of décor! Ensure that any sharp edges or small holes where they can get stuck are filled with aquarium-grade silicone. The Dwarf Chain Loach will also appreciate a well-planted tank but hard plants such as Anubias, Moneywort or Java Fern should be used as they will eat softer plants.

Dwarf Chain Loach Food & Diet

This freshwater fish is an omnivore and will usually readily accept most food sources it is offered.  The Dwarf Chain Loach can be fed a base diet of flakes and pellets as well as fresh fruits, vegetables and meat-based foods such as bloodworms brine shrimp, Daphnia and, Tubifex. Although they will greedily seek protein-rich foods, they must be fed this sparingly.

Due to their scavenger behavior, the Dwarf Chain Loach should be fed several small meals throughout the day. Experienced handlers have reported that as this fish matures, it may become pickier with food sources. If this occurs, continue to try different foods to find the ones that your specimen enjoys eating.

Dwarf Chain Loach Tank Mates

One of the most difficult aspects of keeping a Dwarf Chain Loach is their aggressive behaviour towards other species. They will even fight amongst their own. It is recommended that Dwarf Chain Loaches are kept in groups of at least five to six fish but ideally in a group of 10 or more. This will help to reduce their aggressive behaviour.

Despite their combative temperament, these freshwater fish can be kept in community aquariums. To prevent them from attacking other fish, they should be kept in a large tank and with species with a similarly aggressive temperament.  The ideal tank mate for a Dwarf Chain Loach is Corydoras, Zebra Danio, Black Skirt Tetra, Harlequin Rasboras and, Silver Dollar Fish. They can also be kept with larger Snails and Shrimp however they should be closely monitored as the Loaches may try to eat them. Dwarf Chain Loaches should not be tank mates with slow-moving and long-finned species such as Angelfish and Guppies as they have fin-nipping behavior.

Breeding Dwarf Chain Loach

It is not possible to breed Dwarf Chain Loaches in private captivity. Due to their declining population in the wild, they require hormone assistance to facilitate breeding in commercial captivity. There have been reports of young Dwarf Chain Loaches appearing in established aquaria however this is uncommon.

Where to Find Dwarf Chain Loach for Sale

Unfortunately, the wild population numbers of Dwarf Chain Loach are slowly declining. They have become a naturally protected species so all specimens found in pet stores are bred in commercial captivity. If you are looking to purchase your Dwarf Chain Loach in a pet store, you can expect to pay between $20 – $30 USD per fish.

With an aggressive temperament and sensitivity to water changes, the Dwarf Chain Loach is one of the more difficult fish species to keep. But if you are an aquarist with experience keeping similarly behaved fish, these freshwater fish are not found in a lot of aquariums and can add a unique, entertaining element to your tank.

Fish Laboratory

With decades of collective fishkeeping experience, we are happy to share the fish care tips that we've picked up along the way. Our goal at Fish Laboratory is to keep publishing accurate content to help fishkeepers keep their fish and aquarium healthy.

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