The Ultimate Kuhli Loach Care Guide: Tank Mates, Breeding and More…

If you are looking for a good cleaner fish, this might just be the fish for you.

The Kuhli Loach is a peaceful bottom dwelling fish, it is the water equivalent of an owl and will stay awake all night scavenging around the tank looking for food.

Its shy and peaceful temperament makes the Kuhli Loach fish the perfect tank companion. However, we do recommend only more experienced aquarists keep them.

Choosing the right fish for your needs is very important, as is making sure you have the right equipment for them.

If you want to know more about their natural habitat, where to find it, and how to successfully keep this colorful eel, keep reading…

Category Rating
Care Level: Intermediate
Temperament: Peaceful
Color Form: Yellow and brown bands
Lifespan: 10 years
Size: 4 inches
Diet: Omnivore (prefers live food)
Family: Cobitidae
Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons
Tank Set-Up: Freshwater
Compatibility: Peaceful fish

Overview Of Kuhli Loaches

Kuhli Loach
Kuhli Loach taken by AJC1 (Flikr)

The Kuhli Loach (Pangio kuhlii) belongs to the Cobitidae family. They are also known as the Coolie Loach, the Leopard Loach or 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.

If properly cared for Kuhli Loaches can live for at least 10 years.

Typical Behavior

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 a similar behavior. 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).

Appearance

Kuhli Loach Appearance
Kuhli Loach Appearance by Iidkk (Wiki Commons)

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.

Habitat and Tank Conditions

Kuhli Loach Habitat
Kuhli Loach Habitat by Catherine Bulinski (Flikr)

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.

Tank Setup

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.

Kuhli Loach Tank Mates

Otocinclus
Otocinclus makes a great tank mate

Kuhli Loaches are peaceful fish. They are best kept with other small non-aggressive fish such as Corydoras, Danios, Rasboras and Tetras.

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.

White Cloud Mountain Minnows, Oto Catfish and shrimps like the Red Cherry Shrimp are also good tank mates.

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.

Avoid keeping your Loaches with other large territorial fish such as Cichlids and Arowanas. Other big no-no’s are nipping fish and bullies such as Tiger Barbs, Chinese Algae Eaters and Angelfish.

Blue Gouramis, Bettas and Red-Tailed Sharks are also not great companions. They are very territorial and this can end up causing your Kuhli stress.

Finally, don’t keep them with snails. Your Loaches will try to eat them.

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.

What To Feed Kuhli Loaches

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.

Care Guide

Kuhli Loach Care

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 this fish and make the 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 medication.

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.

How To Breed Kuhli Loaches

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.

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? (Summary)

Kuhli Loaches are small freshwater fish. They are a nocturnal animal 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.

Are you ready for the challenge? Let us know what you think in the comments section below…

Robert Woods Portrait
Robert Woods is the creator of FishKeeping World, a third generation fish keeper and a graduate in animal welfare and behavior. He is also a proud member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Marine Aquarium Societies of North America and the Nature Conservancy.

3 Comments

  1. I loved reading this article, very informative… I can only hope our kuhli loaches live to be 10! We have 3 in our 55 Gallon (though after reading this article I’m going to add 3 more) ours are so fun. They definitely aren’t just night scavengers. Ours all three come out when I get ready to feed them and are active in our tank all the time. We have an eclectic mix and they get along with everyone. We recently added the khuli loaches (6mth ago) and I am so glad we did

  2. I had 3 of these in a community tank years ago. One of them dissappeared for A YEAR. I never saw it through numerous substrate vacuuming and water changes. Then one day, there were once again 3 of them foraging around the bottom eating food flakes.

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