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Care Guide for Clown Loaches – The Pack of Underwater Puppies

Thinking about getting a group of clown loaches? Then you’re in for a treat. These jovial giants are an absolute pleasure to keep, and we’ve had the privilege of owning them for more than 10 years. That being said, they do come with a few caveats if you want to successfully raise them to their full potential. Based on our experiences, here are some of the delights and pitfalls of caring for clown loaches that you should know before making the leap.

What is a Clown Loach?

Chromobotia macracanthus is a large and beautiful loach originating from the western islands of Indonesia. The clown loach gets its common name from its colorful appearance, consisting of bright red-orange fins, a yellow-tan body, and three prominent black bands. They also exhibit silly, clown-like antics such as lying on their sides to sleep, making clicking sounds to communicate, and piling on top of each other in a tight corner. We’ve even seen a clown loach pick up a little stone with its mouth while the other clown loaches chase it around, like a pack of playful puppies.

What size do clown loaches get? Clown loaches are typically sold as relatively small juveniles in pet stores, and most people do not realize how big they get because they grow so slowly. In our care, they have reached lengths of 12-13 inches (30-33 cm) long with a beefy body of 5-6 inches (13-15 cm) tall, almost the size of an American football.

Adult clown loach 2

The colors of adult clown loaches usually fade over time as they get older.

Are clown loaches aggressive? Not in our experience. We will go over appropriate tank mates later in this article, but we have kept them in African cichlid tanks, community aquariums, and oddball fish setups. You may sometimes see them spar with each other, but this is normal behavior to establish their pecking order. (As a side note, be aware that they have a retractable spike under each eye that can accidentally get caught in your fish net or hand if you need to move them.)

How to Set Up an Aquarium for Clown Loaches

Our #1 piece of advice is to keep the water hotter than normal at 82-86°F (28-30°C). Clown loaches can be prone to ich (or white spot disease), especially since they are often transported in cooler temperatures, so when you take them home, make sure to isolate them in a quarantine tank first so that they won’t accidentally spread disease to your other fish. Treat them with Ich-X medication or salt if needed, and then wait until you’re sure they are healthy and eating well before transferring them to your main display tank. To make sure the water stays hot enough at all times, some clown loach owners invest in backup heaters or a generator for power outages.

In general, clown loaches tend to be more active at dawn and dusk when the sun isn’t as bright. If you find them disappearing all the time, consider dimming the lights or using Indian almond leaves to naturally stain the water with tannins. Also, add plenty of hides so they can dart into them and feel safe inside.

What size tank do clown loaches need? For juveniles, the minimum size we recommend is a 55-gallon aquarium. Because clown loaches are slow growers, this fish tank may last you until they are about 3 years old or 6 inches (15 cm) long. Afterwards, you will need to upgrade their aquarium to a larger size. Make sure you have enough room for a monster tank because it can be very difficult to rehome large fish.

juvenile clown loaches in planted tank

Try to keep as many clown loaches as possible, with the expectation that they will become 1-foot giants in the future.

How many clown loaches should be kept together? As a schooling fish, they can be a bit shy if you do not get enough friends (of the same species) to hang out with. If you have three, they may hide a lot. If you have six, they may hide some of the time. If you get 30, they will be out all the time. In other words, the more clown loaches you can house together, the more you will see them.

Are clown loaches good community fish? Yes, as long as you do not put them with fish or invertebrates that are small enough to fit in their mouths. In fact, if you cannot keep a giant group of clown loaches, try adding a bunch of schooling fish to act as dither fish. Dither fish are outgoing species that swim out in the open, signaling to timid fish that it is safe to come out. Rainbowfish, Congo tetras, and tiger barbs are all suitable tank mates that can encourage your clown loaches to stop hiding.

What Do Clown Loaches Eat?

The hot temperature that clown loaches prefer also raises their metabolism, so make sure to feed them a lot. They are not picky eaters and use their whisker-like barbels to scavenge the floor of the aquarium for any remaining crumbs. Feed them a protein-heavy diet of mollusks, bloodworms, tubifex worms, and  sinking pellets. They also like munching on blanched zucchini slices and Repashy gel food.

Do clown loaches eat snails? Yes, they are more than happy to help with your snail infestation problem. Do not add expensive pet snails to your clown loach tank unless you want them to become a quick snack.

clown loach eating a fish food wafer

Provide a wide variety of fish foods for your clown loaches to ensure that they get a well-balanced diet.

How to Breed Clown Loaches

Clown loaches can be hard to sex, but males have bright red on their dorsal fins, golden-yellow bodies, and slender frames. Females, on the other hand, have darker fins, broader bodies, and duller colors. While clown loaches can breed at an earlier age, adults that are older than three years and bigger than 4 inches (10 cm) tend to produce greater amounts of larger-sized eggs. Traditionally, fish farms used hormones to induce artificial breeding. However, some farms have learned how to naturally breed clown loaches by imitating their conditions in the wild.

In Indonesia, adult clown loaches swim upriver to spawn in small streams and flood plains during the rainy seasons. Based on experience, some farmers have figured out that the adults should be conditioned for breeding in hotter temperatures around 82°F (28°C), higher pH of 7.5, and medium to hard water (to imitate the rivers). Then breeding occurs best at cooler temperatures around 78°F (25°C), lower pH of 6.2, and softer water (to imitate the floodplains during the rainy season).

When the females become fat and swollen, spawning will occur soon. The eggs are loosely scattered throughout the aquarium and will swell up in size after being laid. The adults exhibit no parental care and should be removed to prevent the eggs from being eaten. Newly hatched clown loaches are large enough to eat live baby brine shrimp, but some breeders prefer live micro worms that sink to the ground for the fry to easily eat.

Adult clown loach

A 7-inch (18 cm) female clown loach can produce thousands of eggs per spawn, but not all of them will be fertilized.

Clown loaches are very popular fish because of their striking looks and fun-loving nature, but most people do not buy enough to make a healthy-sized school or they are not prepared to house them in the long run. If you have fallen in love with this fish, then be ready to build the right environment for them that will showcase their unique behavior. However, if you don’t have the real estate to keep clown loaches, consider some of our favorite loaches that have the same playful personality but come in a much smaller package.

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