Clown loach

What delights the palate in Asia, inspires aquarists in Europe in the aquarium – the clown loach. In order to avoid confusion, we will explain right at the beginning that there are many species of loach, you can read more about this below. Therefore, it is possible that some details may differ for certain species. The clown loach is not only very pretty to look at, but most of them are also very peaceful and enjoy swimming, which is why we present them today with all the information that is important. As always, you will not only get the complete profile, but all information in detail. We will have a look at the keeping and socialization.

Clown loach Profile

It is important to note that the data in the profile only represent ranges of certain types. Here it is important to obtain separate information for each species in order to provide the clown loach with the best living conditions. As an example: In the fact sheet we give a water temperature of 16-30° C. However, the water temperature is not the same for all clown loaches:

  • Botia macracantha 24-28° C
  • Botia histrionica 24-30° C
  • Botia udomritthiruji 24-30° C
  • Botia lecontai 23-28° C
  • Botia nigrolineata 20-22° C
]As you can see, you can’t lump together all the loaches

Age: up to 20 years (Botia macracantha)
Size: 7 cm (Botia nigrolineata) to 30 cm (Botia macracantha)
pH value: 6 – 7
Water: clear and oxygen-rich – with current
Water hardness: 2 – 20° dGH
Temperature: 20 – 30° C
Behavior: peaceful (Botia nigrolineata) to rough (Botia macracanthus)
Origin: Asia
Posture: Society, Group
Nutrition: mainly live food, partly also flake and frozen food
Aquarium size: medium to large
Facility: Hiding places in the form of caves and plants
Ground: sandy, fine gravel or stony (depending on type)
Swimming zone: Bottom to lower area
Family: Ornamental Loach – Botiidae
Order: Carp-like – Cypriniformes
Superfamily: Loach-like – Cobitoidea
Activity: tag active
Reproduction: Free spawners
Breeding: difficult
Price: 8-30 USD

Clown loach appearance

The most common form of the clown loach found in the aquarium is Chromobotia macracanthus, which is also called Hymenophysa macracantha, Botia macracanthus and Botia macracantha. It immediately catches the eye because of its bright orange with three broad, deep black cross bands. One of the black stripes extends through the eye of the clown loach. A disproportionately large head and a mouth with shelter form the typical appearance. At the mouth one finds Barteln.

Fin colouring and size

Loach © Mirko Rosenau

The dorsal and anal fins are pale yellow with a black stripe, the ventral fins and also the pectoral fins are orange to reddish. Also a common distinguishing feature are the particularly fine scales. They are so tiny that they can only be seen on closer inspection. This form of the clown loach is very large, and even if aquarium dealers sometimes sell the ornamental fish as small, you can be sure that it can reach up to 15 cm in the aquarium. In the wild the fish sometimes grow to over 30 cm in length.

In nature the colour serves as camouflage. The pattern and colour of the clown loaches change with age. Therefore you should not be surprised if you meet a specimen with a black nose.

Strong defence

At first glance, the thorn under the eyes of the clown loaches cannot be seen at all. This can be set up and rigidly protects against attacks by any kind of predators. The two teeth are an effective defence against birds of prey and larger fish. If the thorn is folded out, it can injure the oesophagus so severely that the attack of the predators ends deadly. A toxic secretion increases the effect and can also lead to paralysis in other fish. However, the popular rumour mill, which reports dangerous attacks on humans, must not be believed. The worst thing that can happen is a small allergic reaction.

Loach have a throat bone, which they use for communication. They communicate with their conspecifics via clicking noises. The fact that the head skeleton has a Weber apparatus enables them to perceive sounds and noises.

The differentiation between males and females is very difficult and one is often wrong. Actually you can only tell the difference when the female is ready to spawn and has a much larger circumference than the male.

Loach Origin

Since about 1930 the clown loach has been one of the most popular ornamental fish for the aquarium. As a rule, young fish caught in the wild can be found in the trade. In its native country, the clown loach is found in very fast-flowing freshwater waters with little vegetation. Originally, this magnificent fish comes from South East Asia – to be found in the rivers of the island of Borneo and Sumatra, i.e. in the Indonesian archipelago. But in Indonesia, they are also partly found in standing waters. In their native country, the fish are caught with gillnets or gillnets and are served as a meal.

In 1852 Pieter Bleeker discovered the fish and described it scientifically under the name Cobitis macracanthus. The monotypic genus Chrombotia, which differs from the other Botia by the colour of its body, was defined in 2004 by the Swiss ichthyologist Maurice Kottelat.

Loach for food and foraging

The clown loach prefers animal food, but is also not averse to vegetable delicacies. From a purely technical point of view they are omnivores. The big fish devours various worms, mosquito larvae, Artemia, water fleas and especially likes to crack snails alive. But also food tablets and frozen food can be served. When searching for food, the bottom is ploughed over, so sand can be used as a bottom ground, so it is very easy for the fish to get its nutrients. Gravel would impede the search here.

The search for food

So that the plants are not damaged by the sand and are not dug up, you can easily secure them with adjoining stones. However, the search for food varies from fish to fish. One is a little wilder, the other much calmer. The most important thing is that there is enough ground for digging. If the planting is too dense, you risk that the clown loach will chase other fish or at least chase them.

Feeding time and food

The feeding time is in the evening hours with live food or frozen food. To bring some variety to the menu, fresh vegetables and salad can be offered every few days. For example, you can easily place a peeled cucumber in an easily accessible place. To avoid too many germs, it is recommended to put alder suppositories, beech leaves or oak leaves in the aquarium. You also need a little patience here, because often “new” food is rejected at first and only accepted on further attempts.

You can put the following food on the menu:

  • Artemia
  • Krill
  • Mysis
  • Mosquito larvae red, white, black
  • Brook flea crabs
  • Mussel meat
  • Snails
  • various vegetables such as cucumbers, carrots or red peppers (red peppers support a particularly intensive colouring)
]A well-fed clown loach lives much healthier, especially with regard to the very common Ichthyo disease. By the way, the ranking of the loaches determines who may eat first

Clown loach attitude

Loaches can be a bit rough, but they are basically very sociable animals and especially love the company of their conspecifics. Basically the fish is very peaceful and has a strong need to swim. If you don't provide a sufficiently large group with at least five - better ten - conspecifics, you must fear that the fish will start to become aggressive or turn into the opposite and hide all the time. Not to forget that the ornamental fish have a ranking which is determined by fights. As soon as the ornamental loach is older, it will increasingly claim its own territory. The ranking order not only determines who takes food first, but also who swims in front.

Simple keeping, but a lot of space

If one refrains from breeding, then the keeping of the clown loach is not particularly demanding. In its natural environment it actually lives in warm, slightly acidic water with soft value. But it is very robust and does not interfere with other water values. This may also be due to the fact that during its long migrations to spawn it crosses various waters that show different water qualities - among others brackish water. The most important precautions are (as already mentioned) the structure of the tank and that it offers sufficient space. You should not keep them in an aquarium under 500 litres, better is an even bigger aquarium. Also you should be aware before buying that the clown loach gets very old, but grows relatively slowly.

Hiding places and bottom

As stated in the section "Food", a sandy bottom helps the fish to feed, although to my knowledge there is no book that prescribes sandy bottom. As long as the bottom is not sharp-edged, gravel can be used. As the gobbling up the ground also stirs up dirt which can cloud the water. It does not bother the fish, if this circumstance should bother you, then pay attention to a strong filtering when setting up the aquarium. So you still have clear water. Since the clown loach likes to hide in caves, you should also provide them and make sure that they are not visible, so that they get their undisturbed rest. For this purpose, one can, for example, lay some bogwood roots on top of each other, use bamboo sticks or clay tubes.

The dangerous thorns

The dreaded thorns of the clown loaches should not be feared, since they are rather harmless for the aquarium owner. If you have enough confidence, loaches can eat out of your hand, which you should not miss. If you have to catch the loaches, you should do this best with a food trap and not with a net, because otherwise they can get tangled up with the thorns in the net and hurt themselves.

Loach socialization

I have often read reports in which the clown loach is declared as a schooling fish, this is not correct. They may move around in larger communities, such as during extensive spawning migrations, but they are group fish. Particularly popular as aquarium inhabitants are gouramis and also barbels. These can be easily socialized with the clown loaches. As already described in the chapter "Keeping", clown loaches must not be alone, they need company. If the group of conspecifics is smaller than 5-10 animals, they can wither and show erroneous behaviour. These aberrations manifest themselves as aggression or fear.

It is very nice to see that the clown loach is particularly playful. You can either give them a small toy in the form of a rubber ring or watch them as they layer the gravel and sand back and forth. Please make sure that the rubber ring is so small that no fish can get stuck in it, but so big that it cannot be swallowed.

Loach snails

Often, the clown loach is sold as a miracle weapon against snails, but it is not pointed out that one needs an enormously large aquarium and also has to maintain a larger group of the proud fish. If it is only about the snails, then one should keep one's hands off the fish and rather fall back on a predatory snail or suck the snails off with a landing net. Although the clown loaches are quite busy eating snails, they are also very large in size. The snails will retreat into areas that are difficult to reach and continue to live.

Loach species

Whoever buys a clown loach does not necessarily get a Chromobotia macracanthus, because several groups of fish are listed under the apparently unambiguous name. The most popular is Chromobotia macracanthus, but other loaches of the old genus Botia, such as Botia, Chromobotia, Syncrossus and Yasuhikotakia are also traded here. This can be very confusing, but the appearance of most of them can be easily distinguished. In the English-speaking world the Chromobotia macracanthus is described as clown loach or tiger loach.

Popular clown loaches are:

  • Spectacled loach, Botia macracantha
  • Burma Loach, Botia histrionica
  • Emperor clown loach, Botia udomritthiruji
  • Panda loach, Protomyzon pachychilus | Yaoshania pachychilus
  • Red-fin loach, Botia lecontai | modesta | Yasuhikotakia lecontei
  • Black stripe loach, Botia nigrolineata

Loach breeding and reproduction

When the rainy season begins in Indonesia, the magnificent loaches begin their spawning migration. They migrate in large flocks to very fast flowing waters and upper reaches of rivers to start spawning. The young fish then migrate, driven by the current, to the estuaries and lower reaches of rivers, where there are significantly more nutrients. The easiest way to distinguish between female and male clown loaches is by the strong physique of the female when she is ready to spawn. In some books it is described that they can also be recognized by their caudal fin as soon as their body height exceeds 10 cm. The tip of the male's caudal fin is then curved inwards and that of the female is straight. As a mnemonic you can remember:

  • Female - staple shape
  • Male - pincer shape
]I have to say that I have trouble with this distinction

Whoever wants to breed the clown loach in captivity will have a hard time. Usually this succeeds rarely and rather by chance. This should be easier in large ponds, provided that the environment and temperature allow it. From the age of three years onwards, reproduction can be attempted. For a number of years now, the clown loaches have also been professionally bred in captivity, using hormones (pituitary hormone).

Even if one expects soon offspring when playing and mating wildly, one is usually disappointed without laying eggs.


The clown loach is a very beautiful fish, which requires an enormously large aquarium. A single keeping is not possible, otherwise the fish are not very demanding and give much pleasure. Those who go to buy a splendor loach should in any case pay attention that the loach is not too lean and well nourished. You should also make sure that the ornamental fish does not have a knife back. This minimizes the risk that the animal later falls ill with Ichthyo.

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