10 Different Types of Loaches
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Loaches are some of the most valuable tank additions thanks to their bottom-feeding behavior and easy-going temperament.
Many species are colorful too, boosting your fish community’s aesthetics considerably.
It also doesn’t hurt that most loaches are peaceful and docile and don’t mind the presence of other fish.
They do, however, mind the presence of other loaches, especially if they lack sufficient food and space.
But what are the best and most popular loach species today? Let’s look at the 10 to consider, regardless of whether you’re a novice or experienced fish keeper:
1. Kuhli Loach
There’s no loach list where Kuhli loaches don’t occupy the first position. These loaches are the most recognizable in the aquarium trade thanks to their unique appearance and behavior.
Kuhli loaches have snake-like bodies that can reach up to 5 inches, although most adult loaches only grow up to 3-4 inches.
They showcase a black and yellow striped pattern which has earned them the name leopard loach. Which is rather unfitting, given that leopards have spots, not stripes. But what can you do?
Kuhli loaches live up to 7-10 years, depending on their environmental conditions, and are generally easy to keep.
Main water parameters include water temperature of 73-86 F, a pH of 5.5 to 6.6, and water hardness of up to 5 dGH.
These fish are omnivorous scavengers, so their food preferences include flakes, live and frozen bloodworms, sinking pellets, small crustaceans, etc.
They will feed from the substrate, so make sure that their food sinks.
Several things to consider when housing a Kuhli Loach:
- Consider building a loach community – Kuhli loaches can live solo, but they tend to be happier and more active when living in groups. Just make sure your loaches have sufficient space and food to prevent scuffles.
- Decorate the tank properly – Kuhli loaches are docile and shy animals that don’t like aggression and hide from overactive tank companions. Provide your loaches with plants, caves, driftwood, and other elements that they can use as safe spaces whenever necessary.
- Mind the substrate – Kuhli loaches are known substrate diggers. You want to opt for a fine, dark sandy substrate to prevent your loaches from hurting themselves. These fish lack scales, so rugged substrates with larger particles and rocks can cause injuries prone to infections.
- Night feeding – Kuhli loaches are nocturnal animals, so you should feed them during nighttime. So, the fish should have dark hiding spots to hide during the daytime.
2. Hillstream Loach
This is a small loach, only growing up to 2.5 inches in captivity. The hillstream loach ranks as a rock climber, as it uses its modified ventral fins to latch onto various hard surfaces for feeding purposes.
This makes them easy to keep, given that they don’t require as much food as other fish.
Your typical hillstream loach can live up to 8-10 years with proper care and is docile and indifferent to other fish species, for the most part.
The fish can, however, become aggressive towards other hillstream loaches if the fish don’t have sufficient space available.
You can easily recognize the hillstream loach by its flat, brownish, and spotted body, allowing the fish to keep a low profile in a rocky ecosystem.
Go for a water temperature of 68-74 F, water hardness between 10 and 12 dGH, and a pH level of 6.5 to 7.5.
This fish demands a lot of space compared to its size. While hillstream loaches only grow the size of a standard guppy, they need 25 times the space. One 2.5-inch hillstream loach demands at least 50 gallons of water.
This is due to the fish’s energetic temperament and unhinged appetite. The fish will cover a lot of space in its search for food. If not enough space is available, the loach will stress out and even turn aggressive towards its tankmates.
An even more important fact – this loach’s natural habitat consists of fast-moving river waters. Replicate these conditions in captivity by relying on a good filtration unit for controlled water flow.
And add a lot of rocks to stimulate algae growth so that your fish has sufficient food.
3. Clown Loach
What can I say about clown loaches that haven’t been said already? This is a large, peaceful, and schooling fish that requires a lot of space to thrive.
You need to consider investing in a 100-gallon tank to house your loach.
The clown loach grows up to 12 inches in captivity and comes with a staggering 10-25-year lifespan range.
The fish is resilient and hardy but can experience skin problems due to parasites and subpar environmental conditions.
Clown loaches are also among the most beautiful species, with gold bodies and thick, black, vertical stripes for a plus of style. They have short fins and elongated bodies with reddish tails.
Aim for water temperatures of 75 to 85 F, water hardness up to 14 dGH, and a pH of 6 to 7.5. Extensive tank cleaning and long-term maintenance are necessary to keep the loach healthy in the long run.
Fortunately, these fish don’t produce too much waste, so you don’t need to go overboard with the cleaning.
I suggest investing in a water tester kit to monitor water parameters regularly. You can perform a partial water change every week or every 2 weeks, depending on the ecosystem’s stability.
Clown loaches are friendly and peaceful, but they can get grumpy and territorial if there isn’t sufficient space for them.
A variety of hiding areas are necessary to provide the loach with the hiding places it needs. Especially since the fish avoids bright lights.
Plus, this is one of the few carnivorous loaches available. So, make sure you provide the fish with a lot of animal protein from various sources for optimal nutrient intake.
Keep in mind that clown loaches are difficult-to-impossible to breed in captivity. Almost all clown loaches sold in the aquarium trade are wild-caught.
Don’t try to breed them as this can cause aggression between the fish and even result in stress and disease.
4. Zebra Loach
Zebra loaches are pretty much the miniature version of the clown loach in terms of body shape. They look exactly the same, except for the size and coloring.
These fish only grow up to 4 inches and showcase a stripe-based body with brown and yellow vertical stripes covering everything. The small whiskers are a treat, and so are the small, energetic, and transparent fins.
This bottom-dwelling fish is easy to care for, provided you get its water requirements right. Aim for a water temperature range of 73-80 F with a pH of 6-6.5 and water hardness up to 12 dGH.
Clean environmental conditions and stable water parameters are necessary to keep the loach in good health.
You need to keep zebra loaches in groups of at least 5 individuals. These fish are quite acceptant of other botia species, but won’t tolerate other bottom feeders.
Also, avoid long-finned fish like bettas and guppies, as the zebra loach can bully them.
Constant monitoring is necessary because when stressed zebra loaches become vulnerable to ich due to a lower immune system.
5. Yoyo Loach
Yoyo loaches are generally peaceful but can become aggressive towards fish species that compete with them over food and space. They are also schooling fish, so you should have at least 4 specimens in the same habitat.
Be aware of the fact that yoyo males can become aggressive towards one another, especially if there aren’t sufficient females, food, or space for all of them.
Yoyo loaches are a mix of yellow and brown with an intricate randomized pattern covering the entire body. The fish’s body shape is similar to that of clown loaches.
The ideal water parameters include a temperature of 75-85 F, pH of 6.5 to 7.5, and water hardness of up to 12 dGH.
Yoyo loaches can feed on the surface of the water, which can often cause them to produce a distinct clicking sound.
This is the result of the fish passing surface air through the gills as it feeds.
Yoyo loaches are intelligent fish that can recognize their keepers and can play dead when stressed or threatened.
So, don’t pair them with aggressive or overly curious fish species that could bother the loach too much.
6. Chain Loach
The chain loach is probably the most exquisite entry on today’s list. This tiny loach is unlike any species we’ve mentioned so far.
This is a small fish, only growing up to 2.5 inches, that you should keep in larger groups. They are active, curious, and known to jump out of the tank if given the opportunity.
It’s extremely easy to identify a chain loach, given their white and long bodies with the black chain-like pattern covering them head-to-tail.
They also have transparent fins, which only add to their charm.
Chain loaches require the following water parameters:
- Temperature – 68-86 F
- Water hardness – 8-18 dGH
- pH – 5.5-7.5
Water quality is key to the fish’s health and overall survival rates.
Chain loaches are schooling fish, so always have at least 5-6 specimens in your tank. Most importantly, keep in mind that chain loaches are extremely sensitive fish.
They are susceptible to diseases due to poor water conditions, especially ammonia resulting from fish waste and decaying food residues.
You may need to consider weekly water changes of up to 30-40% each session.
Chain loaches also don’t breed in captivity. Only professionals can breed them via hormone assistance, so don’t try to breed yours.
7. Dojo Loach
The dojo loach is somewhat of a peculiar entry. This eel-shaped loach is unique in behavior and appearance, making it highly popular in the aquarium trade.
One of its special characteristics includes the ability to react to changes in barometric pressure, causing the fish to swim erratically at times.
The dojo loach can grow up to 12 inches, although most specimens won’t go over 8 inches. The fish is generally peaceful and requires approximately 55 gallons of water to thrive.
You can easily recognize the dojo loach by its snakey and slender body with a patterned brown coloring.
Dojo loaches can live up to 10 years in optimal conditions and are generally easy to keep. Aim for water temperatures of 68-72 F, a pH of 6.5 to 8.0, and water hardness of 5-12 dGH.
These nocturnal animals like to live in hiding, for the most part, so provide them with plenty of caves and rocks for hiding purposes.
They can swim fast and even jump out of the tank in case of stress, hunger, or overcrowding.
You should provide the fish with optimal water conditions to prevent stress. Consider a sandy substrate to entertain the fish’s burrowing behavior and numerous rock structures with crannies and cavers for exploration purposes. These should keep the fish occupied over the years.
8. Skunk Loach
I don’t blame you if you’re unaware of the skunk loach since this fish clearly precedes its fame. The skunk loach isn’t as popular as other loaches, primarily due to its semi-aggressive nature.
This makes them almost incompatible with community setups which is unfortunate, given that the skunk loach only grows up to 4 inches. The fish’s size could’ve opened the door to interesting community opportunities.
Fortunately, skunk loaches like to live in schools of 8-10 or more individuals. So, there is a potential for creating a thriving community of skunk loaches, provided you craft the ideal environment for them. This brings us to the fish’s overall requirements.
Skunk loaches love warmer waters with temperatures around 79-86 F and a pH level of 6.0-8.0. They also enjoy lush ecosystems with a variety of rocky hiding areas to shelter them from themselves and other potential fish.
This is a fast and energetic fish known to traverse its environment in snappy movements. So, make sure that your skunk loaches have plenty of swimming room. At least 30 gallons of water are necessary for a group of 4.
Skunk loaches are rather aggressive and territorial, so avoid housing them with any other fish species. Most aquarists keep them in species-only tanks, which is why these fish aren’t as popular as other loaches.
They also prefer to eat live food only for the most part, and it can be difficult to train them to accept pellets, flakes, or other commercial fish foods.
These fish are also extremely sensitive to water changes. A powerful filtration system is necessary to cycle the tank water at least 5 times per hour, and so is the strict cleaning schedule.
Weekly partial water changes are also a must, during which you must change around 30-50% of the total water volume per session.
9. Spined Loach
The spined loach is a different animal than what you may be used to. Spined loaches only grow up to 5.5 inches and will do just fine in a 20-30-gallon setup. You can easily recognize this loach by its long and slim body and the leopard color pattern with a distinct row of side spots.
The fish requires extremely low temperatures to thrive, around 57-64 F, which makes it incompatible with most other fish species. Aim for a pH level of 7.0 to 8.0 and water hardness between 10 and 15 dGH.
Also, a sandy substrate is necessary, because this fish is a professional digger. As a bottom feeder, the spined loach remains near the substrate and often buries in it to rest.
Only the head and the tail will remain visible.
This fish is pretty much avoided by a lot of aquarists due to its draconian temperature requirements. Spined loaches experience freezing winters in the wild which has caused them to adapt to colder environments than most fish.
Their environment in captivity should replicate these temperature conditions, but that’s very difficult to achieve safely.
You should only invest in a spined loach if you live in a colder geographical area with lower temperatures overall. Also, don’t get more than one loach. These animals are solitary and don’t like company.
10. Blue Botia Loach
The blue botia loach is an interesting last entry because this fish is quite similar to the red-tail shark. They are almost identical in body shape and color pattern.
While the red-tail shark is black with bright-red fins, the blue botia is dark blue with orange or light-red fins.
Body shape and fin size and shape are almost identical, and the 2 species are even close in size, around 5-7 inches. Blue botia can grow up to 10 inches in the wild but will rarely go over 7 inches in captivity.
The ideal water requirements include a 72-86 F temperature, a pH of 6.0-7.5, and water hardness of 8-12 dGH. Expect the loach to live up to 5 years in captivity in ideal conditions.
It’s also recommended to keep these loaches in groups with only one male present to prevent conflicts.
These loaches can actually exhibit signs of depression when being kept solo. Blue botia loaches rank as semi-aggressive, so you might want to avoid keeping them with similar-looking fish.
Daily tank maintenance is necessary to remove waste and food residues. These loaches are notoriously sensitive to ammonia and nitrites.
Also, consider a weekly water change of up to 50% of the entire water volume and a good filtration unit for proper oxygenation and water circulation.
Loaches are extremely useful in any tank setup. They spend most of their time in the tank’s lower regions, exhibit scavenging behavior, and don’t interact much with other fish.
Just be careful which type of loach you’re going for. As this list has demonstrated, the loach world comes with a lot of variety, coming with different expectations and demanding equally diverse approaches.