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Care Guide for Dwarf Chain Loaches – Snail-Eating Nano Fish

Many loaches have the reputation for being fun-loving but boisterous schooling fish that may stress out their shyer tank mates. Dwarf chain loaches are more chill and come in a nano-sized package, making them suitable for peaceful community tanks. If you have a smaller planted aquarium with a pest snail problem, you have to try out the loveable pygmy loach.

What are Dwarf Chain Loaches?

Ambastaia sidthimunki come from rivers and floodplain forests in Thailand, and because they are endangered in the wild, the fish you buy from stores are all commercially bred. As one of the smaller loaches, their narrow bodies range from 2–2.5 inches (6 cm) long, and they have little barbels on their snouts. Their common name comes from the black, chain-like pattern running down the sides of their bodies. While most loaches are bottom dwellers, these fish swim both at the bottom and in the middle of the tank by fluttering their fins like hummingbirds. Also, many loaches are nocturnal, but dwarf chain loaches are awake and active during the daytime.

Are dwarf chain loaches aggressive? They are pretty energetic and constantly moving, but in our experience, we’ve never seen them bully other fish, even during mealtimes. They are quite curious though, so they will investigate and “sniff” new fish that are added to the aquarium.

Ambastaia sidthimunki (dwarf chain loach)

Ambastaia sidthimunki is known for the high-contrast, chain-like pattern on the top half of its body.

How to Set Up an Aquarium for Dwarf Chain Loaches

While Ambastaia sidthimunki are fairly small, we recommend getting a 20-gallon tank or bigger because of their activity level and need to be in a larger school of at least 7–10 dwarf chain loaches. This species is fairly pricey at $7-15 per fish, but a big group will help them feel less stressed, establish a social hierarchy, and display unique behaviors like playing “follow the leader” all over the tank.

Because of the annual rainy season in their native habitat, dwarf chain loaches are used to living in wide ranges of temperature, pH, and GH. We typically keep them between 75–82°F (24–28°C) but they can reportedly go even warmer. Provide lots of aquarium plants, little caves, and other hiding spots for them to dart into when startled. Also, they do have small spines underneath their eyes, so be careful when handling or netting them.

Do dwarf chain loaches jump? Despite being primarily bottom dwellers, they love exploring their surroundings, including outside of your aquarium, so we recommend getting a tight-fitting lid just in case.

What fish can live with dwarf chain loaches? They interact well with all sorts of similar-sized community fish. We have kept them with angelfish, corydoras catfish, platies, tetras, rasboras, plecos, and more. Dwarf chain loaches can sometimes be a little shy, so adding some dither fish will help them feel more comfortable and willing to come out into the open. Be aware that they feed on small bugs and crustaceans in the wild, so they will happily snack on cherry shrimp babies and any other tiny animals they find.

Dwarf chain loach (Ambastaia sidthimunki)

The pointy snout of a dwarf loach is perfect for eating small shrimp, snails, and worms.

What do Dwarf Chain Loaches Eat?

Loaches prefer meatier foods, so feed them sinking foods that are either small enough to fit inside their mouths or soft enough to nibble on. We like to give them a good variety of community fish foods — such as nano pellets, Repashy gel food, frozen bloodworms, and daphnia. If you have speed eaters in the aquarium, make sure the loaches are getting enough food so that they have nice, rounded bellies.

Do dwarf chain loaches eat snails? In general, loaches with pointy faces enjoy eating aquatic gastropods because their snouts are well-suited for digging into the openings of snail shells. Dwarf chain loaches will eat smaller snails and they have been known to pester bigger snails, so put them together at your own risk.

How to Breed Dwarf Chain Loaches

There are very few accounts of home hobbyists breeding Ambastaia sidthimunki because wild chain loaches normally migrate upstream to lay eggs and fish farms must use hormone treatments to artificially induce spawning. However, Mark Duffill, president of the International Loach Association, has written online articles about his breeding method, which entails feeding many different kinds of fish foods, lowering the pH from 7.6 to 6.8 using catappa leaves, and adding rock piles to save the eggs and provide shelter for the fry.

Ambastaia nigrolineata and A. sidthimunki

Ambastaia nigrolineata or the black-lined loach (bottom) sometimes gets confused for Ambastaia sidthimunki (top)

If you have never kept dwarf chain loaches, they are a must-have for every freshwater hobbyist’s bucket list. Just remember to save up to get the biggest group possible so that you and your family can fully enjoy their adorable antics. While we don’t ship live fish, you can see our list of preferred online vendors to get your own dwarf chain loaches. Also, check out this article about our top 10 favorite loaches of all time.

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