If you’ve ever seen a school of clown loaches, it’s hard to resist bringing a few of them home. It’s even harder to imagine that this beautiful fish is eaten as food fish in Indonesia and Borneo, where it grows to over a foot in length. Fortunately for the clown loach, among aquarium enthusiasts, it’s a staple in the community tank rather than on the dining table. Its orange and black striped body, red fins, and active behavior have made it one of the most popular loach species for fishkeepers.
What is a clown loach?
Native to the waters of Indonesia, a clown loach is a tropical freshwater fish that is part of the Cobitidae family. Named for their vibrant colors like on a circus clown, they feature an orange and black striped body and red fins.
The clown loach is a peaceful fish and coexists well with nearly any tankmate. It is also an amusing species to watch feed, as it is very active during the day. Clown loaches will even eat any annoying snails that wind up in your aquarium. The clown loach is sometimes called a scaleless fish, but it actually does have small scales embedded in its skin.
COMMON NAME: Clown loach
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Botia macracantha
ADULT SIZE: 12 inches
LIFE EXPECTANCY: 10 to 25 years
|Minimum Tank Size
|Spawners (rarely bred in captivity)
|6 to 7.5
|5 to 15 dH
|75 F to 85 F (24 C to 29 C)
Origin and Distribution
The clown loach hails from the rivers and tributaries of Malaysia, Borneo, Sumatra, and Kalimantan. During spawning periods, they migrate to flooded areas of the rainforest where soft, tea-colored water flows through boggy, slow-moving streams. This loach prefers waterways that are shaded by leafy plants and lined with plant detritus, such as fallen leaves, twigs, and branches.
Colors and Markings
Like all loaches, the clown loach has a long, pointed nose surrounded by sensitive whisker-like barbels and a sharp spine beneath each eye. These spines are used for defense; in captivity, these may prick fingers or snag on nets, so it’s important to be careful when handling your loach.
The clown loach’s arched body is long and lean, ideal for cutting through the water. True to its name, its body is bright orange to yellow, and its fins and tail are bright red. It has two wide, black V-shaped bands on the sides of its body and a third black band running vertically through its eye.
Peaceful with its own and other species, the clown loach prefers to have companions with which it will form a school. Virtually all non-aggressive fish are suitable as tankmates. Because they prefer to live in groups, it’s wise to keep four or more in a tank. They don’t like bright light, will hide among plants or rocks as well, and sleep in holes, caves, and other hiding places.
Clown Loach Habitat and Care
Clown loaches are large schooling fish, and they are quite active. You will need a large tank with plenty of space for your loaches to move around. At the same time, however, each and every loach should have several hiding spots available; loaches love enclosed spaces and will sometimes “hide” in caves, tubes, and other hidey-holes. Hiding places can be made of wood or rock; strong, sturdy plants are also a good addition.
Unlike many loach species that are only active at night, the clown loach can be active during the daytime hours—though it’s likely to be most lively in the early morning and after dark. To watch your loach at play during waking hours, consider installing a blue “moonlight” bulb or another form of bluish lighting, which will encourage your fish to come out to hunt during the day.
Water quality is critical for keeping clown loaches healthy. Take care to keep the water very clean, well-aerated, and warm. An efficient filtration system and frequent water changes are critical. Tank lighting should be subdued, and the substrate should be soft and sandy.
Loaches are particularly prone to Ich infections; watch them closely whenever new fish or plants are added to the tank. In the unfortunate event that an infection does occur, keep in mind that loaches, like catfish, are very sensitive to some medications. Often medication dosages must be cut in half to be safe. Read product information carefully before treating any loach.
Clown Loach Diet and Feeding
Clown loaches will accept a wide variety of dry and live foods, but their preference is for live foods, especially worms. You can even feed them on earthworms, as long as you harvest the worms from soil that hasn’t been fertilized recently. Ideally, you should feed them several small meals throughout the day.
Males can be identified by the tail fin, which is larger, forming a more pointed V-shape, and is more brightly colored. There are very few documented cases of clown loaches breeding in captivity. As a result, very little information is known about their breeding habits and needs.