The kuhli loach, sometimes called the coolie loach or leopard loach, is a peaceful, freshwater, bottom-dwelling fish.
Its shy and peaceful temperament makes the kuhli loach fish the perfect tank companion. However, we recommend only more experienced aquarists keep them.
To learn more about the kuhli loach’s natural habitat, where to find it, and how to successfully keep this colorful fish, keep reading.
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Kuhli Loach Facts & Overview
|Color Form:||Yellow and brown bands|
|Diet:||Omnivore (prefers live food)|
|Minimum Tank Size:||20 gallons|
The kuhli loach (Pangio kuhlii) belongs to the Cobitidae family. It is also known as the Coolie Loach, the Leopard Loach, and the Cinnamon Loach.
This Loach has an eel body shape and they are scavengers making them great aquarium cleaners. The advantage of this Loach over others is its size. It rarely grows over 3-5 inches in length, and they don’t create much waste.
Despite their small size, they are better suited for experienced aquarists because they are prone to diseases. They have a head with no scales, and they are very sensitive to medications. Some experience in treating scale-less fish is advised if you want to keep these night owls.
They are moderately priced at about $3.00 per fish.
Watch out when you are buying them to always ask also for their scientific names, so you are sure you are buying the species that you want. They are often confused with Pangio cuneovirgata, Pangio myersi and Pangio semicincta.
Check any potential fish carefully for signs of injury or disease before you buy a Kuhli Loach. They can be quite susceptible to disease, so you want to make sure that you are starting with healthy individuals.
You do not want to introduce diseases to any fish that are already established in your aquarium either, though a quarantine tank can be used to prevent this.
Look out for strange markings, faded colors, and unusual behaviors as they move around in the pet store. Shop elsewhere if you spot anything out of the ordinary.
If properly cared for, Kuhli Loaches can live for at least 10 years.
The Kuhli Loach is a peaceful fish. Although they are not a schooling fish, they are more comfortable with some companions. They can be very shy and you will hardly see them if left alone in your aquarium.
They are very quiet during the day, then come night-time they are active. They are known as demersal fish.
This means they spend their time near the river bed, scavenging food which sinks to the bottom.
In your aquarium, they will have similar behaviors. They will spend most of their time at the bottom of the tank scavenging in the substrate for food.
They are very curious fish and will appreciate caves and crevices to hide in.
This fish likes burrowing into the sand and often they will swim to their death if you leave filter inlets unprotected (more on this later).
The Kuhli Loach is a small eel-looking fish. It can reach a maximum of 5 inches in the wild and will be a bit smaller in your aquarium (usually around 3 inches). It has 4 pairs of barbels around the mouth and small fins.
Unlike many other fish, their dorsal fin starts well beyond the middle of their body and their eyes are covered by transparent skin. Usually they have 10 to 15 dark vertical bars with a pinkish to yellow color in the middle. The underside is usually lighter.
A peculiar characteristic is that they have very faint body scales and no head scales; this feature makes them very susceptible to diseases.
Males and females look very similar when not actively breeding. The only difference is that males have a more muscular dorsal cross-section and larger pectoral fins. Females become larger when breeding and their ovaries can be seen through their skin before spawning.
Often Kuhli Loaches are confused with other Loaches.
In the same Loaches group (Pangio) you can find the Pangio oblonga, Pangio myersi, Pangio cuneovirgata, Pangio semicincta, Pangio shelfordii and the Pangio robiginosa.
Black Kuhli Loach Appearance
Very similar in shape and sizes to the Kuhli Loach, black varieties are completely black or dark brown. They are one of the most sought after varieties.
Also known as the Chocolate Kuhli Loach, they can reach the maximum size of 3.2 inches.
How Big Are Kuhli Loaches?
Kuhli Loaches grow to a maximum of 5 inches, but it’s more likely they will grow to between 3-4 inches in your aquarium.
The Kuhli Loach is found in South-East Asia, in Malaysia, Sumatra, and Borneo. However, the full extent of its distribution still remains unclear.
They inhabit the shallow slow-moving waters of forest streams; a similar environment to old peat swamps with black waters. These habitats are often shaded from direct sunlight by the streams dense vegetation and the tree canopy above the water.
Waters can be very acidic, with a pH as low as 3.0-4.0, with a very low mineral content due to the organic materials such as plants which are decaying.
The river bed’s substrate can vary in different locations from peat to mud or sand.
It’s very important to keep the water clean and well-oxygenated.
Kuhli Loaches require a soft substrate such as sand and fine gravel mix. The water should be soft, 0-5 dGH, slightly acidic, pH 5.5-6.5, with moderate lighting. They are tropical fish and the temperature should be kept between 73-86°F.
We suggest an under gravel filter to improve oxygenation and reduce waste. They prefer good water movement with a turnover of at least 10 times per hour; you will need a good quality filter for this.
Any filter you use will need a cover over the outlet and inline pipe so your Loach doesn’t swim inside and get trapped.
In the wild they are used to lots of vegetation so include plenty of plants such as Cryptocoryne and Java Fern. In the wild, Loaches like spending time in leaf litters so you can spread peat moss inside the aquarium to recreate this.
Some large rocks and a couple of pieces of driftwood can also be used as tank decoration; they will also appreciate twisted roots as a place to hide.
Make sure to have a firm cover on your tank as these fish can jump out of the tank.
Kuhli Loach Tank Size
They require an aquarium of at least 20 gallons.
Allow 3-5 gallons of water for each Loach you add to your tank.
They will spend most of their time swimming at the bottom of the tank, scavenging and eating the leftover food that has sunk onto the sand. Therefore ideal tank mates are those fish which occupy the upper regions of the tank.
Peaceful pelagic fish such as gouramis are also ideal tank companions. Pelagic fish spend most of their time swimming near the middle or the surface of the water tank.
Finally, don’t keep them with snails. Your Loaches will try to eat them.
They will flip a snail over and eat them from the shell, like dinner in a bowl. It is possible that they could do this to shrimps as well, but this is rare since shrimps are much more capable at escaping.
Keeping Kuhli Loaches Together
These fish are at their best when kept together in a group of 6. If kept alone, they will be very shy and will hide most of the time.
Kuhli Loach are omnivorous fish, eating larvae, small crustaceans and plant material found on the river bed.
They usually sieve through mouthfuls of substrate in search of food. They don’t actively hunt for food but instead are known as scavengers. They will wait for the food to sink from the water above and then search for it to eat.
It will eat most of the things you feed to them, frozen or live food.
Despite not being fussy, they do prefer a meat-based diet. To give them a balanced diet you can also feed them vegetables and fish flakes or pellets.
Flakes and pellets are ideal as they will easily sink down to the substrate and they will be easily eaten by your eels – these foods should form the base of your Loaches diet.
In your aquarium you can feed your Loaches Daphnia, Artemia, Bloodworms, Microworms and Grindal Worm. There are also many homemade recipes that you can try to give them a balanced diet.
You should feed them several times per day, only as much as they can eat in 2-3 minutes.
Unfortunately, these fish are more susceptible to disease; this is due to them having no head scales and very faint body scales.
You should be careful when introducing these fish into an established community.
They are very sensitive to the different medications which are used to treat diseases, and some disease require water temperature changes along with medication which can cause further stress to these fish and make them more prone to diseases.
The most common disease is known as Ich or “white spot disease”. Most aquarium fishes are susceptible to this disease, but Loaches are often the first to be attacked.
Another common problem is parasites which can cause what is known as skinny disease. If your fish is eating healthy and still seems to lose weight, it is likely being affected by a parasite. This can be treated carefully with different medications.
When keeping such a sensitive type of fish, prevention is the key for a successful aquarium. Try to maintain good water quality with a proper environment suitable to their needs and a well-balanced diet.
It can be very challenging to breed Kuhli Loaches, but it can be done if you set up a breeding tank with the following parameters.
Keep low water levels with very dim light. Females will use floating plants to lay their eggs, and dense vegetation will also help to promote spawning. The water hardness should be lowered with a pH of 6.5.
The more comfortable the Loach is in your aquarium the more likely they will spawn. Kuhli Loaches are communal spawners and therefore if kept within a community of their own species the chances of spawning occurring will be increased.
Also plenty of food is always appreciated to encourage spawning; live foods are often the best for this.
You will have to be patient with your fish, as Kuhli Loaches only reach sexual maturity at 2 years old.
Females will grow very large when laying their eggs. Occasionally you can see the eggs through their skin. When the females are ready to spawn, they will release bright green colored eggs that will attach to the underside of your floating plants.
Adult fish will likely eat the fry and the eggs so make sure you remove the adults when the eggs have been laid.
Eggs hatch approximately 24 hours later. You can feed the fry with Infusoria or brine shrimp. Also, commercially prepared fry food is suitable as a first food.
Perform small partial water changes every day to ensure that the fry have a clean environment, as they can be quite delicate whilst newly hatched.
The fry will grow fairly quickly, reaching an inch long after about six weeks. If you have too many fry, you may have to move some into a new tank before they get any bigger.
They can be sold once they reach 2 inches long.
As we mentioned early, it is extremely difficult to breed these fish so don’t be disheartened if they don’t breed.
Are Kuhli Loaches Suitable For Your Aquarium?
Kuhli Loaches are small freshwater fish. They are nocturnal animals that will shy away if not kept within a small group of the same species.
They are lively during the night, so keep a tight cover on your tank or they might attempt to escape!
This fish requires a bit of attention as they are very prone to diseases if not kept in the proper environment with good oxygenation and frequent water changes.
Breeding these fish is not very easy but for this reason, can be very rewarding if you’re successful.