Keeping the bottom level of a community tank abuzz can be challenging. Most bottom-dwelling fish are either nocturnal, shy, non-swimmers, or a combination of these characteristics.

Clown Loaches offer a perfect solution.

Their bright orange bodies with bold black stripes, interesting swimming patterns, and quirky behavior announce their presence indisputably.

Besides, a long life span and peaceful demeanor with most other fishes make them an apt choice for any community tank.

However, they have a few care requirements due to their large size and tiny (literally invisible) scales.

By the end of this article, you will be able to understand what it takes to own Clown Loaches. You will understand them better if you already own them.

Species Overview

Generic Facts (Clown Loach)
Scientific Name Chromobotia Macracanthus (in 1852), Botia Macracanthus (since 1989)
Other popular names Tiger Botia
Family Botiidae
Origin Indonesia
Life Span 10+ years
Adult Size Up to 12 inches
Type Freshwater

Habitat and Origin

Clown Loaches originate from the rivers and streams of the Indonesian islands (Borneo and Sumatra).

Seasonal floods drift them to the muddy plain waters.

They thrive in slow-moving waters having thick plants and detritus (fallen leaves, decomposing organic matter, etc.).

Their scientific classification (taxonomy) underwent several changes since their identification in 1852. They were named Botia Macracanthus (from Chromobotia Macracanthus) in 1989. In 2004 their genus was amended to Chromobotia.

All bright-colored tropical freshwater fishes with stripes are known as clown fish generally.

Loaches are fishes having barbels, spines (near the eyes), and long noses.

Clown Loaches have both of these characteristics, explaining their name.

Some suggest their typical behavior (refer to section 1.6), which bemuses everyone, also contributes to their nomenclature.

Life Span

Their average life expectancy is at least a decade.

Many hobbyists claim to own them for 20 years, and they are still going strong due to proper care.

In the wild, they may live for 30 years.

Did you know? Anthia, a large Clown Loach in captivity, completed 26 years on 1st Jan 2020.

Image credit by: forums.loaches.com

Size

A fully grown adult Clown Loach grows 11.8-12.0 inches long on average. Some may reach 13.0 inches.

The growth rate is fast till 4.0-6.0 inches (juvenile years) but slows down afterward.

At 6.0-7.0 inches in size, they are sexually mature.

Physical Appearance

Image Credit: Wikipedia

Clown Loaches have compressed, slender bodies. The upper bodyline is slightly curved, whereas the lower bodyline is relatively flat.

Their bright orange or yellow bodies have three vertical broad black stripes covering both sides.

The first one runs through their eyes. The central stripe ends at the start of the dorsal fin. The last one begins from the center of the dorsal fin and ends at the start of their tails.

Their fins are red and may have black markings, depending on their origin.

Tails are forked and bright red to orange in color.

Their droopy heads form long noses with a snout.

The mouth has thick lips and four whiskers (or barbels), two near each lip. The lower whiskers are not easily visible, as the upper lip protrudes slightly over the lower lip.

They have a sharp spine below each eye, under a membrane. Clown Loaches use them to attack or defend.

These spines are sharp enough to wound anyone. Hence, you should always wear gloves while handling them.

Although they appear scaleless, they have tiny scales.

Stripe Patterns and Color Changes 

Martin, The one (a famous author) has shared the below stripe patterns observed in Clown Loaches.

Image Credit: loaches.com

Many hobbyists report that the stripes of a Clown Loach turn pale or gray.

This “graying out” happens when they are stressed due to bickering within the group while selecting a leader, competing during feeding, high stress, etc.

The loaches of Borneo origin are relatively dull in color compared to the loaches from Sumatra.

While the exact reasons for color change are still unclear, they are commonly associated with their moods. Many loaches change their colors once or twice a day.

Their skin pigmentation can change as they mature.

As long as the water parameters and other known stress factors are in place, consider it their normal behavior.

Did you know? A rare variety called Albino Clown Loach has a white body with creamish orange stripes due to a genetic mutation.

Image Credit: themindofshadow
Image Credit by themindofshadow

Typical Behavior Patterns

  • They are nocturnal bottom-dwellers but not shy.
  • Once they feel safe in the aquarium, they become active during the day and may swim at all levels.
  • They are particularly active after evening and before dawn.
  • They keep within their group and are peaceful with other fishes.
  • They swim in a hierarchy with their leader in front.
  • Hiding under the plants and caves is their favorite play.
  • It is amusing to watch them playfully swim upside down tirelessly.
  • They love playing dead for fun. It can worry clueless first-time owners.
  • If you see them playing dead for long, try knocking the aquarium glass wall or make them respond to some stimuli before concluding.
  • They make clicking sounds using their pharyngeal teeth when happy, spawning, or while eating (biting hard foods).
  • They often sleep sideways (flat) at the tank bottom.
  • Their behavior is so extreme that many consider them active and playful, while a few consider them non-attention seekers. A lot depends on the environment and care, which impacts their moods.
  • They are not fussy when it comes to food.
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Male Vs. Female

We cannot differentiate between a male and female Clown Loach till they mature.

At the size of 6.0 inches, they display minute sexual differences listed below.

  • Tail fins – Female loaches have straight forked tail fins, whereas the tail fins of male loaches curve slightly inwards towards the end.
  • Male loaches are slimmer than their female counterparts, who have fuller bodies.
  • Bodies of female loaches are claimed to be grayish with black stripes, whereas male loaches have yellow to orange bodies with black stripes. There is nothing to validate this claim.
  • Tubercles – An adult male Clown Loach develops two tiny, transparent horn-like tubercles on the head when it is ready to spawn. It is the most conclusive differentiating feature.

How to Select

Clown Loaches are available for sale online/offline.

Their price varies depending on their size, availability, and offers on bulk sale.

Consider the following while buying them.

  • Use their correct name when buying. Clown Fish and Royal Clown Loach are different species altogether.
  • The terms monster or giant clown loach are often used to describe large-sized loaches.
  • Check their appearance (or photo) before buying, now that you can distinguish them.
  • Never buy from a newly arrived stock. You cannot judge its adaptability to captive environments.
  • Too small loaches might show unexpected issues when they grow. Hence, select slightly grown or middle-sized loaches which have displayed good health so far.
  • Examine them for any physical discrepancies with swimming, color, white spots on the body, broken or missing barbels, snipped fins or tails, etc.
  • If buying online, check them after receipt before acclimating.
  • Follow the seller’s instructions to the tee to avail of the after-sale warranty/service.
  • Get the tank water parameters from the seller so you can replicate them.

Care Guide for Clown Loach

Quick Care Facts
Care Level Moderate/Medium
Diet Omnivorous
Temperament Peaceful
Breeding Difficult to breed in captivity, Egg laying
Social Non-aggressive, Keep to their group
Tank Level Bottom-dwellers

Food

In the wild, they eat anything that can fit into their mouths (like worms, small invertebrates, decaying organic matter, algae, snails, etc.).

They are not fussy about food.

How and What to Feed

Clown Loaches are bottom-feeders, so use sinking foods that can reach them.

Serve for two-three minutes and wait till they eat.

They are toxic to copper, so avoid any food consisting of copper in any form.

Feed them smaller portions twice a day.

Whatever you feed should fit into their mouths, depending on their size.

Always use good quality food to avoid any parasitic/bacterial infections.

They scavenge and eat leftover food from the tank bottom, besides nibbling on tank plants.

Avoid overfeeding. Uneaten food at the bottom can contaminate the tank water quality.

Feed a variety of foods in rotation to maintain nutritional value.

  • Live food – like earthworms, bloodworms, blackworms, brine shrimps, snails, etc.
  • Frozen food – Defrost before feeding frozen foods.
  • Dried foods – Algae wafers, Powdered fish foods, etc. Moisten it slightly so it can sink to the bottom.
  • Veggies – Cucumber, Peas, Zucchini, boiled potatoes, etc.
  • They also accept fruits like bananas.

Breeding

Breeding them in captivity is challenging.

Let us understand how Clown Loaches breed in the wild to understand the challenges in captive breeding.

Spawning in the Wild

Research indicates that:

  • Juvenile loaches are found in flood plains, while adult loaches prefer to hide in the deeper (bottom) waters.
  • Loaches of the size 10 cm (3.93 inches) or more migrate upstream to spawn.
  • They spawn when the water level rises (September to December) and temperatures lower (for the egg larvae to survive).
  • There is no information about where they spawn in the wild, including water temperature, PH value, etc.
  • Juveniles (2 to 8 cm in size) returning downstream are wild-caught.
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Challenges in Captive Breeding

  • It is difficult to identify their genders till they mature. So pairing becomes a challenge.
  • If you are lucky to find a pair, replicating their spawning triggers is another barrier due to a lack of information.
  • Generally, breeding migratory fishes in aquariums is rare as it involves drastically different environmental changes, and aquarium sizes are a limiting factor.

Few claim to have managed to breed them. There is nothing to confirm their claims except their videos, where the breeding methods are not shared.

There are commercial breeders in aquaculture in Asia and the Czech Republic. For some reason, their breeding methodology is a well-kept secret.

Researchers suggest that captive breeding is difficult without injecting hormones.

The below video footage is an example of aquaculture breeding.

Report of an Accidental Captive Breeding in Community Tank

A clown loach owner from Scotland shared his experience of accidental in-tank breeding with proof. The article states that:

  • He had four Clown Loaches. They were 4 to 5 years old and measured 14-20 cm in length.
  • Three males chased the female loach actively in mid-level tank water.
  • It was unlike their normal playful behavior.
  • After noticing this, he transferred them to a smaller breeding tank.
  • The breeding tank was 90 x 45 x 45cm/36x18x 18, with minimal setup to capture the eggs safely in the bottom.
  • Of the numerous eggs released in the tank water, only 20 fertilized.
  • The owner believes that the possible factors leading to this spawning were low PH (4.5, which dropped further to 4.1 after eggs were scattered) and a nitrate level of 10 ppm in the tap water used to make the water changes in the main tank.
  • The breeding tank temperature was 20 degrees C (against the community tank temperature of 27-28 degrees C).
  • It was 25 degrees C when the female loach released eggs.
  • Maybe, moving the already spawning loaches from the main tank caused stress. The female loach delayed releasing the eggs, rendering many of them infertile.

Glimpses from Research

Research about fertility rates of Clown Loaches states

  • They were successfully spawned by the induced breeding method, using Ovaprim and hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin).
  • They spawned at 26 degrees C after 9-16 hours of injection.
  • The number of ova laid per spawning (fecundity) and fertilization rate were as follows:

Further studies on the importance of water temperature and water movement while incubating their eggs indicate that –

  • Clown Loach eggs and fry(s) display little tolerance to temperature changes compared to other freshwater fish.
  • Their eggs hatched faster (than the calculated time based on water temperature and egg size) when compared to other egg-laying fishes.
  • The eggs do not develop in steady water. At the same time, they cannot bear mechanical shocks.
  • Eggs left to hatch in still water (without current) develop deformities.
  • Having the correct water current and temperature is vital to their growth.

Thus, tendering egg larvae to fry(s) requires extreme care and expert knowledge.

Diseases

Clown Loaches are sturdy but sensitive due to their tiny scales.

Like most other freshwater fish, they are prone to bacterial or parasitic infections resulting from poor tank management, high stress, or any infected water, fish, food, or equipment entering the home aquarium.

They are toxic to copper, so use copper-free medication.

Always administer only half the recommended dose of over-the-counter medicines, as they are sensitive.

Always consult a vet for diagnosis and treatment.

They are prone to

  • Ich. Ick, or White Spot disease – This is the most commonly found disease
  • Gill Flukes
  • Velvet, Rust, or Gold Dust disease
  • Skinny or Wasting disease
  • Swim Bladder disease
  • Ammonia/Nitrate poisoning

Know more about these diseases, their symptoms, treatment, and ways to prevent them.

Acclimating

Since it is challenging to breed Clown Loaches in captivity, they are likely to be wild-caught and sold.

Always deworm and quarantine them like any new addition to your collection to avoid bacterial/parasitic infection.

Acclimate them using any of the three methods, after which you can safely add them to the home aquarium.

Tank Recommendations

Tank Specifications Overview (Clown Loach)
Minimum Tank Size 75 Gallons
Water Temperature 75 to 85 degrees F/24 to 30 degrees C
PH Level 6 to 8
Water Hardness 5 to 15 dGH

Tank Size

Clown Loaches are schooling fish. They prefer to live in groups of their own. Hence, it is advisable to add at least 3 of them.

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It is best to have five to six of them. Being in their group will make them happier and more playful.

Considering they grow in length up to 12 inches, you need at least 30 gallons of water per loach. Thus, a 75 gallons tank is apt for three Clown Loaches.

Using smaller aquariums to house them can restrict their growth. Hence, change to a larger one periodically to promote their growth.

It should be broad as they grow in length (and not height).

Tank Setup

A setup replicating their natural habitat helps keep them happy and healthy. Hence, thickly planted tanks with enough hiding spots are best.

Sterilize and rinse everything before adding it.

Avoid using any material or fertilizers containing copper.

Substrate

They use their delicate barbles to scavenge leftover food from the tank bottom. Hence, a soft sand and gravel substrate is better.

Lighting

Use subdued lighting to encourage them to move freely. Using a dim bluish light can also help.

Plants

Clown Loachesmight uproot the plants while moving as they grow.

Hence, place them near aquarium walls for better support. You can also tie the plants to a rock to keep them in place.

They will nibble on the plants and the algae growth. So choose your plants accordingly.

Choose actual plants over artificial ones, as they improve oxygen levels besides providing hiding spaces.

Add floating plants to dim the light reaching the tank bottom.

Use plants like Java Moss, Java Fern, Hornwort, Anubias, Amazon Sword, etc.

Decor

Caves, tunnels, bridges, rocks, etc., can provide good hiding spots. Use clay or PVC decor. Try to make it colorful and creative.

Everything you use should have rounded edges, smooth surfaces, and enough space to allow the loaches to swim through them without getting stuck.

Oxygen and Filtration

Use natural and mechanical filters to clean the tank water and reduce ammonia/nitrate levels.

Use only copper-free chemical filters if need be.

You can use a standard HOB filter or a Canister filter. Use an air stone to regulate the water current.

It should be strong enough to keep the water moving, as the Clown Loaches prefer to swim with or sometimes against the current.

Perform partial water changes every week to maintain the aquarium water quality.

Tank Mates

Clown Loach is not aggressive and prefers to play within their group. Hence, ideal tank mates should:

  • Not be aggressive or interfering.
  • Not feast on your loaches, nor should they be too small to fall prey to them.

Angelfish, Discus, Gouramis, Barbs, Tetras, Rainbowfish, Other Loaches, etc., are apt choices.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Hopefully, most of your queries are clear now, except the ones below.

Can Clown Loaches live with Cichlids?

Clown Loaches do well with non-aggressive and non-interfering fishes, which 90% of Cichlids are.

As informed earlier (refer to section 4.4 above), Discus and Angelfish can be added to the same tank.

Besides, many hobbyists have successfully kept other South American Cichlids like Bolivian and Blue Rams with Clown Loaches.

African Cichlids should not be kept in the same tank though.

Ensure your tank size is appropriate to house both of them and that their tank/water parameters are manageable. Else, opt for either the loaches or the Cichlids.

Are Clown Loaches Filter Breeders?

No, they are not.

Will Clown Loaches nip the fins of other fishes?

Clown Loaches have nipped the fins of tank mates, as per many hobbyists.

It might be out of curiosity, as they are mostly peaceful with other fishes.

Avoid adding long-finned fishes like bettas and plecos to the same tank.

Why are Clown Loaches dying in my tank?

Clown Loach is hardy and has a long life span. However, they are sensitive to water changes.

Refer to section 2.3 above. The most common culprits for their poor health and death are:

  • Contact with copper (via food, tank decor, fertilizers, chemical filters, medicines, etc.).
  • Poor tank water quality. They need pristine water.
  • Addition of any infected fish, food, or other equipment to the tank.
  • High stress due to environmental factors (aggressive tank mates, transportation, handling, etc.).
  • Lack of nutrition or overfeeding.
  • Diseases.

Remember, they often play dead. Try to make them react to a stimulus (like tapping the tank wall, or holding it, etc.) and consult a vet before jumping to conclusions.

Conclusion

Clown Loaches are not for beginners. If you have some prior experience, you must consider adding them.

These master entertainers will thoroughly engage your guests, family, and friends.

Your tank is not likely to have a dull moment with them around.

Just a little care can bring loads of joy for a decade or more! That is a high return on investment.

So, when are you adding them?

We wish you a happy fish parenting time!

About the Author

Victoria Lamb

Victoria is a freshwater aquatics specialist, fish keeper, and amphibian enthusiast. She has had more than 6 years of experience caring for aquariums and keeping several fish species, and her home boasts of 3 aquariums and a garden pond. Her goal is to educate fish owners on raising healthy and happy aquatic pets.

Career Highlights:

  • Has worked with several aquarium manufacturers as a consultant
  • Organized and hosted workshops on freshwater fish keeping at retail stores, educational facilities, and libraries
  • Released content for the amphibian community through her writings

Educational Highlights:

Bachelor of Science in Animal Behavior and Welfare

  • University of Lincoln, Lincoln, UK (2014-2018)

Writing Experience

Victoria has done ghostwriting for many aquarium and pet websites in the past. She has also worked for Canada's largest natural health magazine- ALIVE, with 300,000 monthly circulations as a freelancer. She had six published articles on animal behavior and welfare during her graduation for her thesis.

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