Loach Types, Size, & Care: The Ultimate Guide


Loaches are an incredibly diverse, bottom-dwelling species of fish. Their native habitats are varied, and they can be found across the world in Europe, Asia, and Africa. For the most part, Loaches share some common features. They tend to have long, scaleless bodies and barbels that look like whiskers on their face. Some aquarists have even compared loaches to puppies. This comparison is because of their friendly demeanor and their fun-loving habitats. If you’ve been searching for a friendly, unique, and easy-to-care species for your tank, look no further than Loaches. Continue to read for more information on these feisty little fish.

What are Loaches?

Loaches are a group of fish that contains fish from many families, such as Balitoridae, Botiidae, Cobitidae, Gastromyzontidae, Nemacheilidae, Serpenticobitidae, and Vaillantellidae. There are not many species of fish that are as friendly as Loaches. Some Loach owners even have experience interacting with and playing with their pets. Loaches can be found in Asia, Europe, or Africa in the wild. They are typically found in rivers or slow-moving streams. Most of the habitats that Loaches call home are devoid of plants. These diverse fish also have a very diverse size range. Some Loaches max out at just around 2 inches in length, while other species of Loaches can reach upwards of 12 inches or a foot in length.

While the water conditions that Loaches can be found in tend to be vastly different from one another, there are still some tank conditions that do not vary between Loaches. Most Loaches come from alkaline waters, which means their tanks should be maintained at a pH level between 6.0 and 8.0. Since most Loaches call rivers and streams home, you also want to ensure that you have a filter that can provide a moderate to strong water flow. After that, you’ll want to research the needs of each individual species that you plan to add to your tank. It is likely that they will have water requirements that require you to get a heater for your water. Regardless of the species in your water, it is imperative that you perform regular water changes of at least 10% to ensure the health of your fish.

Clown Loach
Clown Loach

Is a Loach an Eel?

Loaches and Eels are not related despite what you may think at first glance. They are not the same type of fish and are not in the same family. The confusion regarding the relationship between Loaches and Eels stems from the fact that these fish have remarkably similar bodies. Both Loaches and Eels are long and smooth species of fish. However, Eels tend to be longer than loaches despite their similar appearance. Eels and Loaches also come from different areas of water. Loaches call rivers and streams home. In those rivers and streams, Loaches are bottom-feeders, and they tend to live in the mud and rocks at the bottom. Eels, however, are different; they live in areas of water where rivers and oceans meet. Another big difference between Eels and Loaches is that some eels are migratory, meaning they migrate during the breeding season.

Types of Loaches

Loaches are an attractive choice for any tank. Most loaches are small, which means they can fit into a smaller tank. Loaches also tend to be straightforward to care for, which makes them an appealing choice for aquarists of any skill level. For the most part, Loaches tend to stay at the bottom of the tank. At the bottom of the tank, these quirky fish tend to scavenge for food. But, it is essential to keep in mind that Loaches do not like to be alone. They are a schooling species and prefer to be kept in a tank with others of the same species. Loaches are one of the most friendly species of fish. They have a very upbeat demeanor, and there have even been some notable instances of Loaches recognizing their owners and being happy to see them. Some species of Loaches also have a long life span which means that you’ll have a friend for life.

If you’re in the market for a new aquatic friend, you’ve come to the right place. If you plan on adding a Loach to your tank, continue reading, we will give a brief overview of some of the many species of Loaches. Perhaps after reading about these Loaches, you will find your new best friend.

Kuhli Loach (Pangio kuhlii)

Kuhli Loach
Kuhli Loach

First discovered in 1846, the Kuhli Loach (Pangio kuhlii), sometimes also known as the Coolie Loach of the Leopard Loach, is endemic to freshwater streams in Borneo, Thailand, Malaysia, and other locations in Southeast Asia. Kuhli Loaches have long slender bodies with small, hard-to-see fins. Their elongated, thin body often confuses inexperienced aquarists into thinking they are eels but actually are not. The body of Kuhli Loach is usually very colorful; they have a base color and then 10 to 15 dark stripes along the length of their body. In captivity, Kuhli Loaches reach a max size of around 3 to four inches, although, in the wild, they can grow slighter larger, about 5 inches.

These long, little fish can live for around ten years in captivity, as long as they are appropriately cared for. Since Kuhli Loaches are native to slow-moving waters in tropical locations, you need to emulate that in any tank you plan to add them to. You need to have a filter in order to create a bit of water movement. Temperature is also a crucial factor when setting up a tank. You need to ensure that a Kuhli Loach tank keeps its temperature steady and in between 73 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit. Because Kuhli Loaches don’t grow very large, you can keep them in a small tank. Most aquarists recommend a starting point of 15 gallons for a single Kuhli Loach. If you plan to have more than one Kuhli Loach, you’ll want to add around 5 gallons for each additional one.

Clown loach (Chromobotia macracantha)

Clown Loach (Chromobotia Macracanthus)
Clown Loach (Chromobotia Macracanthus)

Named for their vibrant and somewhat outlandish colors, Clown Loaches (Chromobotia macracantha) are among the most popular freshwater species in the aquarium hobby today. These exciting fish are appropriately named; they have a black and orange striped body with red fins. Their unique color scheme somewhat invokes the visage of a clown. Native to Indonesia, Malaysia, Kalimantan, Sumatra, Borneo, and other locales, Clown Loaches are much larger than some other species of Loaches; these fish can grow to be around 12 inches or a foot in length. Despite their large size and vibrant looks, the Clown Loach is not hostile or aggressive at all. It’s quite the opposite; Clown Loaches are a very peaceful species. The Clown Loach is unlike other Loach species in that they are not a nocturnal species. Clown Loaches tend to be active in the morning.

Some people consider Clown Loaches to be hard to care for. They’re considered complex to care for because Clown Loaches are large and a schooling species, meaning that you need to have a tank large enough to accommodate them. Most experts recommend a tank of at least 120 gallons as a starting point for a school of Clown Loaches. When setting up the tank for your Clown Loaches, you must also include plenty of hiding spots for them to play around or hide in. The water temperature of your tank needs to be between 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. At the same time, the pH level should be between 6 to 7.5. It is imperative that you perform routine water changes to reduce the chances of your Clown Loach getting Ich. Loaches tend to be very susceptible to Ich, and many medicines aren’t good for them. Make sure to research carefully before using any medications in your tank.

Hillstream loach (Sewellia lineolata)

Hillstream Loach
Hillstream Loach

Unlike most other Loaches, Hillstream Loaches (Sewellia lineolata), also known as Reticulated Hillstream Loach, prefer fast-moving waters. They can usually be found in rivers and streams in Southern Asia. Hillstream Loaches also have one of the most unique body shapes out of all the loaches. Their body shape is so unique that some people often confuse them with catfish or even stingrays. The body of the Hillstream Loach is somewhat flat and flared, which gives them an aerodynamic appearance and helps them quickly swim through fast-moving waters. On their underside, Hillstream Loaches have a flat belly and a sucker mouth. On average, the uniquely shaped Hillstream Loach grows to around 3 inches in length.

Experts recommend a starting tank size of approximately 50 gallons. That may seem like a lot for such a small fish. Fifty gallons is recommended because of groups, usually around 4 of them together. It would be best if you also had fast-moving waters, which isn’t very feasible in a small tank. Tank setup is crucial for any species, and the Hillstream Loach is no exception. The temperature of a Hillstream Loach tank needs to be between 68 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, which is a lower range than most other species of Loaches. The pH level of their tank is also as necessary; it needs to be between 6.5 to 7.5.

Yoyo Loach (Botia almorhae)

Yoyo Loach
Yoyo Loach

The Yoyo Loach (Botia almorhae), also known as the Almora Loach or the Pakistani Loach, is genuinely one of the most unique species of Loaches. They were given the name of Yoyo Loach by photographer Ken Childs, who thought these fish resembled a yoyo as they moved through the water. What makes things even more interesting is that the markings on their body appear even to spell out the word yoyo. The body of the Yoyo Loach is silver with black patterns that somewhat look like they spell yoyo. The lifespan of the Yoyo loach is on the shorter side of Loaches; they average a lifespan of just around eight years.

Yoyo Loaches are also on the smaller side, averaging just around 2.5 inches in length. Yoyo Loaches are very peaceful, but they have been known to get aggressive with others of their own species. Their temperament makes them a perfect choice for a community tank, as long as you don’t include any species more aggressive than them. Unlike other Loach species, Yoyo Loaches are not nocturnal, meaning they will be active during the day. Another difference between them and other Loach species is that Yoyo Loaches prefer extremely slow-moving or completely still waters. A single Yoyo loach can happily fit into a 20-gallon tank. That tank needs to have its temperature stay between 75 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit. The pH level of a Yoyo loach tank needs to stay between 6.5 to 7.5.

Dojo loach (Misgurnus anguillicaudatus)

Dojo Loach
Dojo Loach (Misgurnus anguillicaudatus)

Whether known as the Dojo Loach (Misgurnus anguillicaudatus), the Weather Loach, or the Pond Loach, these slender and long fish are easy to care for. Dojo Loaches are sometimes confused for eels because of their long, slim bodies and occasionally hard-to-see fins. They have a pointed head with a mouth surrounded by several barbels. The barbels around their mouth are usually used to feel around for food. They can also be used to dig into the substrate in order to bury themselves. On average, the Dojo loach maxes out at just around 6 inches in length while in captivity. Dojo Loaches can reach upwards of a foot in length in the wild. Because of their long bodies, most aquarists recommend a tank that is at least 55 gallons in size and four feet long.

Dojo Loaches are very easy to care for. They are easy to care for because they can live in a vast range of temperature conditions. Dojo Loaches can survive in temperatures between 50 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit, although it is recommended that the tank stay between 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. The pH range is not nearly as vast, but they can survive in a pH range of 6.5 to 8.0. Just like other loaches, Dojo Loaches are bottom-feeders, which means that the substrate you pick is essential, preferably something soft that won’t hurt them.

Zebra Loach (Botia striata)

Zebra Loach (Botia striata)
Zebra Loach (Botia striata)

Sometimes known as Candystripe Loaches, Crossbanded Loaches, Lined Loaches, Striped Loaches, Tiger Loaches, or Zebra Botia, the Zebra Loach (Botia striata) is a freshwater, bottom-dwelling fish native to slow-moving streams in India. Unfortunately, the native environments of the Zebra Loach have been destroyed due to deforestation and pollution in recent years. Because of that destruction, the Zebra Loach is now considered an endangered species. Their endangered nature means that it is imperative that you only purchase from a respected dealer that has only gotten their Zebra Loaches from those bred in captivity. If you do obtain a Zebra Loach that has been bred in captivity, the chances are that you’ll have that fish for a while. On average, a Zebra Loach can live for upwards of 15 years as long as they are given the proper care they deserve.

As their name implies, the Zebra Loaches have vertical stripes along the entire length of their body, and even their fins have stripes on them. Zebra Loaches are larger than most people initially think; Zebra Loaches are around 4 inches in length when fully grown. Zebra Loaches are easy to care for as long as you follow a few guidelines. You need to make sure that your tank is at least 30 gallons in size. The temperature needs to stay between 73 to 79 degrees Fahrenheit, while the pH level needs to be within the range of 6 to 7.5.

Panda Loach (Yaoshania pachychilus)

Panda Loach (Yaoshania pachychilus)
Panda Loach (Yaoshania pachychilus). Edited. Josh More. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

The Panda Loach (Yaoshania pachychilus) is endemic to China, where it lives in mountain brooks that are thousands of miles above sea level. The bodies of the Panda Loach are black and white striped while they are young. However, when they get older, their colors become less vibrant. Their eye-catching color scheme has made them a trendy choice for aquarists. Panda Loaches also don’t grow very large, usually only around 3 inches when fully grown. That small size makes them an excellent choice for many community tanks.

A well-oxygenated tank is essential for Panda Loaches. Another critical tank parameter is fast-moving waters; Panda Loaches are used to fast-moving brooks and streams. The pH level of a Panda Loach tank should be between 7.0 to 8.0. The tank’s temperature needs to fall between 68 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. If those conditions are met and properly maintained and ensure that you feed them a healthy and balanced diet,  your Panda Loach should live a long and happy life of around 6 to 8 years on average.

Horseface Loach (Acanthopsis choirorhynchos)

Horseface Loach
Horseface Loach. Alter welt, CC BY-SA 4.0

The Horseface Loach (Acanthopsis choirorhynchos) is a timid, bottom-dwelling fish native to locations in South East Asia, such as Java, Borneo, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Sumatra, and Vietnam. Horsehead Loaches are also sometimes known as the Banana Fish, Horsehead Loach, Long-faced Loach, and Long-Nosed Loach.

These fish are very peaceful, making them an appealing choice for any community tank. Horseface Loaches can be a bit tricky to care for. They can grow quite large, just under a foot in length, usually averaging 11 inches. The size of the Horseface Loach means they need to be kept in a tank that is at least 55 gallons in volume. The temperature of a Horseface Loach tank needs to be between 75 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit. You need to ensure that the pH level is between 6.0 to 6.5. If you care for them properly, the Horseface Loach has an expected lifespan of around ten years.

Gold Zebra Loach (Botia histrionica)

Gold Zebra Loach (Botia histrionica)
Gold Zebra Loach (Botia histrionica)

You may know the Gold Zebra Loach (Botia histrionica) by several other names: Burmese Loach, Golden Zebra Loach, Asian Loach, Silver Striped Loach, or the Burmese Zebra Loach. The Gold Zebra Loach can be found in the wild in slow-moving streams in Myanmar, China, and India. When kept in a tank, these fish tend to be incredibly active, making it imperative to have a tank large enough to accommodate that.

Most experts recommend a tank of at least 75 gallons in volume for a group of Gold Zebra Loach. Most aquarists recommend keeping a group of around 6 to 9 Gold Zebra Loaches in a single tank. These quick and active little fish don’t grow very large, maxing out at about 5 inches in length. As for tank setup, Gold Zebra Loaches need a temperature in the range of 72 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit. The pH level of their tank needs to be 6.0 to 7.5. On average, these unique fish don’t live very long, only around six years.

Dwarf Chain Loach (Ambastaia sidthimunki)

Dwarf Chain Loach
Dwarf Chain Loach (Ambastaia Sidthimunki)

Dwarf Chain Loaches (Ambastaia sidthimunki) aren’t very common in the aquarium hobby; most hobbyists haven’t even heard of this unique fish. They have a very similar body shape to most other species of Loaches. What sets Dwarf Chain Loaches apart is their coloring and the pattern on their body. They have a base color that is usually gold or silver, with black checkered-like marks on their body. As their name implies, the Dwarf Chain Loach is on the smaller side. These small fish grow to a max of around 2.5 inches. On average, the Dwarf Chain Loach lives for approximately ten years. The number is very dependent on the care that you provide your fish.

Dwarf Chain Loaches need a tank size of around 30 gallons. That may sound large for such a small fish, but they need plenty of room to swim because they are an active species. The key to keeping any species happy is to emulate their native habitat inside of their tank. The native environment of the Dwarf Chain Loach is native to fast-moving streams in Thailand. That means you need to have a filter that can provide plenty of water movement. Temperature isn’t as crucial for Dwarf Chain Loaches; these little fish can survive in a wide range of temperatures. The Dwarf Chain Loach has been known to be able to survive in temperatures between 68 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit. However, most aquarists would recommend keeping the temperature between 75 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit. The pH level needs to stay between 6.0 to 7.5.

Conclusion

There are many different types of Loaches not included in this list such as Sumo Loach, Skunk Loach, and many more. However, finding the perfect one for your tank isn’t too tricky. You should consider adding one to your tank, whether it be a Clown Loach, Panda Loach, or even the popular Kuhli Loach. You can find the right bottom-dwelling quirky fish with just a bit of research.

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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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