Kuhli loaches will either fascinate or freak you out because they look like a wriggly mass of miniature snakes hiding in your aquarium. In this care guide, we answer some of the most frequently asked questions about this popular oddball fish.
Kuhli loaches are a hardy, beginner-friendly fish, known for their unique eel-like bodies, beady black eyes, and bristly barbels or whiskers around their mouths. Multiple species are labeled as kuhli loaches, but Pangio kuhlii is the most common type with its alternating pinkish-yellow and dark brown bands. Black kuhli loaches (Pangio oblonga) and silver kuhli loaches (Pangio anguillaris) are other varieties found in the aquarium trade. Regardless of which species you prefer, make sure to choose healthy fish from your fish store that are alert and eating well.
There are many Pangio species known as “kuhli loaches,” all with unique patterns and coloration.
Given that kuhli loaches only grow to three to four inches long, they have a relatively low bioload (in other words, they don’t produce a lot of waste). Therefore, we highly encourage you to get a group of at least three to six for a 20-gallon aquarium (or larger) so that they feel safe enough to come out and explore. Given how peaceful they are, you can easily keep them with other community fish like tetras, rasboras, and even betta fish.
As nocturnal creatures, they tend to be a little shy in the daytime and like to seek cover, so provide lots of hiding spots and aquarium plants for their habitat. Also, they will appreciate any kind of smooth substrate that is safe to dig in as they scavenge for food at the bottom of the aquarium.
Kuhli loaches are great clean-up crew members when it comes to rooting out any crumbs leftover by other fish, but you must specifically feed them to make sure they don’t go hungry. They prefer sinking foods such as community pellets, Repashy gel food, frozen bloodworms, and live blackworms.
If the other fish in your aquarium are eating all the food before the kuhli loaches get to them, try feeding them at night when the lights are out, and they’re sure to get nice and plump.
As a side note, kuhli loaches won’t consume algae or aquarium plants and safe to keep in a planted tank. Also, unlike other members of the loach family, they are not known for eating snails or shrimp.
Kuhli loaches are not picky eaters and will readily eat most kinds of sinking foods.
Kuhli loaches are not commonly bred in captivity, but if you want to encourage it, feed them heavily and get a thick mass of java moss to provide lots of hiding areas for the fry.
Bottom line: these little oddball fish are easy to keep, distinctive in appearance, and readily available at most major pet stores and local fish stores. They won't be front and center in your aquarium though, so get a nice herd of them and you’ll have fun spotting them slithering among the anubias roots.