10 Best Loaches You Have to Try
If you’re looking to add a lot of fun and excitement to the bottom third of your fish tank, loaches might be the perfect fit for you. It’s hard to describe this very diverse group of freshwater bottom dwellers, but many of them have a long-bodied shape, scaleless appearance, and whisker-like barbels on their faces. Find out which ones we love the most and how to best care for them.
1. Clown Loach (Chromobotia macracanthus)
These gorgeous loaches are popular in the aquarium hobby because of their puppy-like behavior, beautiful black and yellow bands, and red-orange fins. However, most do not get the proper care they need because they get as big as a foot-long sub sandwich (30 cm) and prefer to live in larger schools of six or more buddies. They also do best at warmer temperatures over 80°F (27°C) or else they can be prone to diseases such as ich. If you’re prepared to keep a monster-sized aquarium for 10-20 years, clown loaches are well worth the investment. Their funny antics include playing chase with each other, sleeping on their sides like they’re dead, and cramming themselves into tight corners or tubes.
2. Kuhli Loach (Pangio kuhlii)
This zebra-striped oddball fish isn’t for everyone since they can look like a squiggly mass of worms, but they are quite enjoyable and easy to care for. As a nocturnal species, they love to hide under fish tank decorations and live plants and then come out to scavenge for food after the lights are out. You can feed them any kind of community omnivore diet, but they especially love to slurp down worms, such as frozen bloodworms or live blackworms. If you’re looking for a peaceful bottom dweller that only gets up to 4 inches (10 cm) and won’t eat your snails, you have to get a school of kuhli loaches. For more details, read our kuhli loach care guide.
3. Reticulated Hillstream Loach (Sewellia lineolata)
Hillstream loaches are another oddball on our list because they look more like baby stingrays than loaches. Their streamlined bodies and powerful fins are capable of clinging onto surfaces in the midst of rushing rapids, but they also do well in regular community aquariums with slower flow. As with most loaches, they are not picky with their diet and will eat sinking wafers, Repashy gel food, and frozen bloodworms. Plus, they have the added bonus of being excellent algae eaters that will attack hair algae, brown diatoms, and even black beard algae if they’re hungry enough. Finally, they are relatively easy to breed if you feed lots of good food and have plenty of cover in the fish tank. Learn more about hillstream loaches in our full care guide.
4. Dwarf Chain Loach (Ambastaia sidthimunki)
If you’re looking for a classic, snail-eating loach that doesn’t get very big, consider the dwarf chain loach. At only 2-2.5 inches (5-6 cm) long, this little loach packs a lot of punch when it comes to their personality and the striking, black chain pattern along its body. Not only do they provide a lot of activity around the bottom chasing each other and searching for food, but they also “flutter” their fins and swim in the middle of the tank. Dwarf chain loaches can be a bit on the pricier side, especially since you need at least 6-10 in a group, but they’re a great alternative for people with smaller planted tanks that need snail control. For more information, read our full care guide.
5. Yoyo Loach (Botia almorhae)
This popular species gets its common name from the markings that looks like the word “YOYO” spelled out on the side of its body. Some people refer to them as the budget clown loach because they still get fairly large at 5-6 inches (13-15 cm) but only cost $5-8. They have a relatively mild temperament but can get a little ornery with each other, so get a school of at least six to even out any aggression. Yoyo loaches are great for larger tanks with certain African, Central American, or South American cichlids, but keep them away from invertebrates like snails and shrimp.
6. Angelicus or Polka Dot Loach (Botia kubotai)
If you want an upgraded version of the yoyo loach that is slightly smaller and more peaceful, look no further. This 4-inch (10 cm) loach doesn’t have a mean bone in its body, is pretty outgoing, and has vibrant, high contrast colors. However, they’re not the easiest to source and may cost you about $13-20 each. If your fish store is able to order some for you, get a bigger group of at least 6-10. Also, deworm them when you bring them home because they are usually caught from the wild and have a higher likelihood of carrying parasites.
7. Zebra Loach (Botia striata)
Unlike the clown and kuhli loaches that have wide, vertical bands, the zebra loach is covered with lots of skinny stripes. At 3.5 inches (9 cm) long, they are slightly shorter than angelicus loaches but have the same sloped nose that is perfect for eating snails, baby shrimp, mollusks, and other invertebrates. Similar to other loaches, they can handle a wide range of water parameters and would do best in a group of six or more of the same species. Zebra loaches are one of our favorites because they tend to be more outgoing and laid back in personality, so if you have a 30-gallon aquarium or larger, give them a shot.
8. Silver Kuhli Loach (Pangio anguillaris)
There are several Pangio species that are referred to as “kuhli loaches,” but this type is all silver with no patterning. They have very similar requirements as the Pangio kuhlii mentioned above, where they like to be kept in big groups and eat at night when the aquarium lights are off. However, their metallic color is quite eye-catching, so they’re always a huge hit when we are able to find and bring them into our retail store. You can keep them with normal kuhli loaches so that you have multiple varieties of "miniature eels" crawling around your aquarium substrate.
9. Rosy Loach (Petruichthys sp. ‘rosy’)
Male rosy loach (left) and female rosy loach (right)
The smallest loach on our list is the rosy loach because it only reaches 1-1.25 inches (2.5-3 cm) long. This nano fish is sexually dimorphic, such that the males have that classic rosy color with a dark horizontal stripe and the females are predominantly brownish-gray and covered in spots. You can keep a group of them in a 5-gallon or larger aquarium, where they can be found actively swimming in the middle to bottom layers of the tank. Hobbyists have successfully bred rosy loaches in heavily planted, well-established aquariums by feeding plenty of tiny foods (like frozen cyclops and Easy Fry and Small Fish Food) and then removing the adults after spawning behavior is spotted.
10. Dojo Loach (Misgurnus anguillicaudatus)
This fun, lovable species looks like a giant hot dog, ranging from 6-11 inches (15-28 cm) in length. They come in several colors, such as regular brown, golden yellow, and albino. They are often called the “weather loach” because of their excited behavior when they sense an approaching storm or rainfall. Their other common name is “pond loach” because they are a cold water species and can live in unheated aquariums with larger species like goldfish. Try to keep them below 80°F (27°F) because they can catch bacterial and fungal infections when the water gets too warm.
Loaches come in many different sizes, shapes, and patterns, so there’s bound to be a species that will capture your heart. To get your own loaches, visit our Live Fish page to see a listing of our favorite online fish retailers.