Panda Loach (Yaoshania pachychilus): Ultimate Care Guide

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Panda Loach is a type of loach fish that are native to the fast-moving mountain streams in Guangxi Province, China. This active and peaceful fish gets its name from irregular black bands over a lighter-colored body. This species is available to hobbyists but is rare. While the fish isn’t endangered or threatened, authorities in China have laws restricting capture and export.

A subtropical fish, the Panda Loach, needs cooler water than much tropical fish. Combined with its high sensitivity to water parameters, this means it is harder to care for successfully. This species is not for the beginning hobbyist but can be an eye-catching addition to a subtropical aquarium.

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

Panda Loach Care

Panda Loach can be a difficult species to care for correctly. They have specific dietary and environmental needs and cooler water temperature requirements. This is a subtropical species, and their care is different than what many hobbyists have come to expect when dealing with tropical freshwater fish. If you are planning on keeping this rare and finicky fish, there are some facts you’ll need to know first. Let’s find out more!


A subtropical fish, the Panda Loach needs cooler temperatures between 64° – 72° F.

Water pH

Panda Loach prefers slightly alkaline water in a range between 7.0 and 8.0 pH with little to no hardness.

Panda Loach Size

Panda Loach will only reach a maximum size of 3 inches.

Food & Diet

In nature, the Panda Loach is almost entirely herbivorous, mainly eating algae and other plant matter. They will eat algae and biofilms in an aquarium but should be provided with sinking algae wafers. While this species can be omnivorous, there are some signs that a high-protein diet can lead to early death.

Avoid feeding these fish meaty foods or high-protein prepared foods. While they may have loach in their name, the Panda Loach isn’t a natural omnivore like a Clown Loach. They will not harm other tank inhabitants, and this includes snails.

You’ll want to plan for some algae growth in their tank. Provide bright aquarium lights and smooth rocky surfaces to allow algae to grow. Ideally, Panda Loaches should not be placed in new tanks. Mature aquariums with some algae already established are best.

Panda Loach Lifespan

A Panda Loach can live 6 to 8 years with excellent care. For the best health and longest lifespan, don’t feed this species a high-protein diet.

Panda Loach Tank Size

Panda Loach is a smaller fish, and a 20-gallon aquarium should be enough for a small group.

Tank Setup

Panda Loach are native to fast-moving, subtropical mountain streams in China, and their tank environments should try and duplicate these conditions. Provide large rocks and gravel with lots of cover and hiding spaces. This isn’t a particularly shy fish, but they do like to rest under rocky cover.

While Panda Loach can tolerate some alkalinity, they do want soft water. It is best to use RODI or very soft water. This species can acclimate to tap water, but water in their natural environment has very little hardness. Avoid rocks or substrates that contain coral.

While substrates like crushed coral or aragonite sand can buffer alkalinity, they also slowly dissolve and harden the water. Don’t include bogwood or driftwood in your Panda Loach tank, as these woods can raise the acidity of your water beyond what this fish needs. Smooth river rocks and pebbles that won’t change water pH are the best choices for this species.

The Panda Loach originates from fast-moving, rocky streams. You’ll want to ensure your tank has strong currents to keep this fish happy. Often this can come from having powerful filtration. On larger tanks, canister filters can provide strong flow in addition to their main job of filtering water. Panda Loaches are often kept in smaller aquariums that usually aren’t large enough to justify a canister filter system.

For these tanks, consider installing wavemakers. These fan-like devices are popular in marine aquariums to create powerful flows for reef fish species. They can also be a good choice in freshwater aquariums when a strong current is needed. A side benefit to all this water flow is oxygenation. This fish needs water with high oxygen content. Anything that keeps your water moving will raise your tank’s oxygen levels. You can also include one or more aquarium bubblers for good measure.

Maintaining proper water temperature is one area where caring for Panda Loaches can get tricky. This is a subtropical fish, so they need a water cooler than you might expect. Depending on your climate and ambient room temperature, you might need to include a chiller to keep water temperatures in line. Different kinds of chillers are available depending on your needs and budget. They range from simpler, self-contained devices attached to your tank to more complicated external units that must be plumbed into the aquarium system.

While Panda Loach will eat prepared foods such as sinking algae wafers, they also enjoy grazing on tank algae and biofilms. For this reason, it is best to add this species to mature tanks. A newly prepared aquarium won’t have the biological diversity to provide supplemental food for this species. Their tanks should also have enough bright light to encourage algae growth. Many LED aquarium light fixtures allow you to adjust the light schedule and brightness.

Once your Panda Loaches are established, adjust the lighting intensity to encourage enough algae growth to provide food for your Pandas without overrunning your tank.

This species also needs much more filtration than most other tropical fish species. The normal recommendation for freshwater aquariums is to have a filter system that can turn over 4 to 5 times the tank volume in an hour. Panda Loach tanks will need filtration capable of turning over 10 to 15 times the tank volume in an hour! This means a 20-gallon aquarium will need a filter that runs between 200 and 300 GPH (gallons per hour). Not only will this help keep the water clean, but it will also create the strong currents this species prefers.

Panda Loach Breeding

Panda Loach are very difficult to breed in captivity. It has been done, but only rarely. If you want to attempt to breed this fish, make sure you have a group of 4 or 5 with only 1 to 2 males. Due to the rarity of successful breeding, detailed information is scarce.

Usually, the best you can do is keep their water parameters stable and hope for the best. Panda Loach fry are small and vulnerable to predators. It is best to keep your breeding group in their own tank so other fish don’t eat any resulting fry. Make sure your breeding tank is mature enough to have biofilm and algae growth for the fry to feed on. Also, use sponge filters if possible to avoid filtering out the small, vulnerable fry.

Male and Female Panda Loach

Panda Loaches are very difficult to sex correctly. It is best to attempt this in groups of four or more. The females have slightly thicker and fuller bodies than the males.

Panda Loach Disease

Panda Loaches aren’t particularly susceptible to disease, but they are picky about water parameters. Bad water chemistry will kill this fish before it leads to disease. Many tropical fish are tolerant of a range of water parameters but may be more prone to develop the illness if their tanks aren’t clean.

On the other hand, Panda Loaches won’t survive the water quality problems that would normally only lead to disease in tropical fish. To keep this fish successful, make sure and perform regular water changes and keep a close eye on your water chemistry.

Panda Loach Tank Mates

Panda Loaches are easy to get along with and won’t cause trouble for other tank mates. Exercise caution when including other fish species that are more aggressive or which might attack this fish. Good tank mates would include other subtropical fish such as Spanish Killifish, White Cloud Mountain Minnow, Golden Dwarf Barb, and Rosy Barb.

Other algae-eating species, such as Hillstream Loach, are competition for food and may fight. Paradise Fish are another possibility. These fish can be aggressive, but they often stay in upper to mid-tank regions and won’t have much contact with Panda Loaches. This combination must be watched closely for signs of violence against the Pandas.

How many Panda Loach should be kept together?

Panda Loaches enjoy the company and do best in groups of four or more.

Panda Loach and Shrimp

Panda Loach and Shrimp are a great combination. The Pandas will leave shrimp alone even though they eat algae and biofilms.

Panda Loach and Betta

Panda Loach and Betta are a bad combination. The cool water temperatures the pandas need are lower than the lowest temperature that tropical Betta can tolerate.

Panda Loach and Snails

Unlike other Loaches, Panda Loach will not eat snails. This makes for a good pairing in a community tank.

Panda Loach and Goldfish

Panda Loach and Goldfish are a great tank mate combination. Many Goldfish are kept at room temperature, but they prefer the lower temperatures of the subtropical Panda Loach aquarium.

Panda Loach and Discus

Panda Loach and Discus are a bad tank mate combination mainly due to their different temperature requirements. Discus are tropical fish that need much higher temperature water than the Panda Loach can tolerate.

Where Can I Find Panda Loach for Sale?

The Panda Loach is a rare fish and can be extremely difficult to find. Your best bet will be Internet sources. Even online, this fish is often out of stock. Expect to pay $30 to $60 USD each.

Panda Loach (Yaoshania pachychilus)

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