Clown Loach 101: Size, Diet, Tank Mates and More…

The Clown Loach is one of the biggest and brightest Loaches you can find.

Their vibrant colors and comical personality will make them a star in any aquarium.

It is easy to be charmed by this intelligent Loach but keeping one is a big decision.

They will need a very large and well maintained tank or pond and their compatibility in communities is very limited. These Loaches are also more susceptible to illness and injuries because they do not have scales.

Although this is not the easiest fish to keep, it is certainly one of the most rewarding.

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about Clown Loaches…

Clown Loach

Clown Loach 101

Clown

The Clown Loach (Chromobotia macracanthus) is also known as the Tiger Loach and Tiger Botia.

They are endemic to Indonesia and are prized for their bright orange and black colors. Even in dimly lit aquariums they are easy to spot.

Their playful behavior is also part of their charm but this can unnerve smaller and more anxious fish.

Clown Loaches can grow up to 12 inches long and are one of the largest members of the Botiidae family.

Because they prefer to be kept in a group you will need at least a 100 gallon aquarium for a group of 3. If you are planning to keep more than 3 of these Loaches then you will need a large outdoor setup.

Expect to pay at least $20 for a juvenile and $100 for larger adults. The larger the fish, the higher the price will be.

Key Facts:

  • Experience Required: Freshwater Fishkeeping.
  • Nicknames: Tiger Botia, Tiger Loach.
  • Color Forms: Black and Orange.
  • Size: 8-12 inches.
  • Tank Size: Minimum 80 gallon.
  • Tank Temperature: 75°F to 86°F.
Pros

  • Excellent for pest control
  • Adapts well to transient water conditions
  • Playful, curious, and intelligent
  • Long lifespan
Cons

  • Too hyperactive at times
  • Eats small fish and invertebrates
  • Requires a very large tank
  • Lack of scales makes it sensitive

Clown Loach Size and Appearance

Clown Loach Swimming

Clown Loaches look very different from other popular Loaches.

At 12 inches in size this is one of the largest aquarium Loaches.

They have a bulky and cylindrical body with a sloping forehead. Their snout is also flanked by tiny barbels which is a common feature on any bottom feeders.

Their barbels help the fish to sense movement and vibration and to detect chemical changes in the water column. Beneath their eyes you will find tiny spines which are used for defense against predators. Be very careful when handling or feeding your Clown Loach.

There are 7 total fins on the Loach’s body. These include the dorsal and anal fin, a pair of pelvic fins, a pair of pectoral fins, and a V shaped caudal fin. Except for the dorsal and anal fin, the fins are bright orange in color.

As for their color, their orange and black banded pattern earned them the nickname Tiger Loach.

Their orange base color can be any shade from yellow to deep orange.

The first of its 3 black bands occurs around the fish’s eye and the last one ends just before the caudal fin. As the fish get older their colors will begin to fade to pale yellow and grey. You can tell how old they are by checking the intensity of their colors.

There are very few differences between males and females.

One of the few differences is the shape of their caudal fin. The males’ caudal fin curves inward, while the female’s is more of a straight line.

Females are also larger and much bulkier than males (especially when they are in breeding condition).

Common Colors

There are 3 different varieties of the Clown Loach:

  • Sumatran: Fish from the Sumatran population have bright orange fins except for the dorsal and anal fin. The 3rd black band is found very close to the caudal fin.
  • Bornean: Bornean specimens have black pelvic fins and the 3rd black band stops just before the tail.
  • Albino: Albino is a color variety bred specially for aquariums. The result is a pale yellow color with creamy white bands.

Clown Loach Care Guide

A Clown Loach

Although these fish are not the most difficult to care for, it is best to have at least a year of fishkeeping experience before taking them on.

This is because they do not have scales so they come with added sensitivities that scaled fish do not have. They are much more susceptible to illnesses, infections, and injuries. When a scaleless fish gets sick they are not able to take the same medication doses that a scaled fish can.

Each week you will need to change at least 25% of the water in the tank.

You must also clean the tank glass, vacuum the substrate, and remove rotting plants and decorations.

One of the most common diseases these fish get is skinny disease or Knifeback disease.

This is a wasting infection that is very common in all Loaches. It is caused by an infection by a spironucleus parasite.

The primary symptom is sudden weight loss, even if the fish is eating normal portions. The fish’s spine will begin to protrude and look like a blade. A sudden change in your fish’s appearance should never be overlooked. Skinny disease is fatal if left untreated but it can be treated with anti-parasitic medications.

Diet

In the wild Clown Loaches will eat worms, snails, shrimp, and other small live prey. They may even eat smaller fish from time to time.

Although live prey is their favorite they will also snack on any algae or plants that are available. There is not much that they will turn down.

In the aquarium you can feed them a mix of live prey and bottom feeder pellets. Live prey can include bloodworms, Tubifex, polychaete worms, and insect larvae. You can also offer them live shrimp and snails. You can give your Loaches earthworms as a treat – just make sure they are purchased from a pet shop and not caught in your backyard.

If your fish are not getting enough veggies then you can use spirulina tablets as a supplement. These Loaches also love homemade fish foods and cooked vegetables, including cucumbers, zucchini, broccoli, and peas. You can also give them fruits, such as bananas and berries.

Any food that you give them must be able to reach the bottom of the tank without being gobbled up by your other fish. Your Loaches will prefer to eat all of their food off of the substrate.

You should feed your Loaches 3 small meals every day. Each Loach should receive enough food to finish in less than 3 minutes.

If you are having trouble getting them to come out to eat then you can lure them out by turning on a blue fluorescent light.

What Food Can They Eat?

  • Bottom Feeder Pellets
  • Bloodworms
  • Tubifex
  • Polychaete Worms
  • Earthworms
  • Insect Larvae
  • Snails
  • Shrimp
  • Algae
  • Spirulina
  • Cucumbers
  • Zucchini
  • Broccoli
  • Peas
  • Fruits

Behavior

These fish are known as Clown Loaches for a good reason.

They are extremely playful and entertaining to watch!

Every so often the entire group may decide to swim laps around the edge of the aquarium. This is known as the loachy dance and it is similar to the zoomies in dogs and cats.

These Loaches are not aggressive to other fish; however they can be a little too boisterous while trying to play with their tank mates.

Most of the time they will stay close to the bottom of the tank (especially when feeding or resting). Occasionally their curiosity will lead them up to the middle levels.

When they are not playing you might notice your Loach lying on its side or even upside down. This is how the Loach fits into narrow spaces and it is not a cause for concern.

Clown Loach Substrate

Habitat and Aquarium Set Up

The Clown Loach comes from the lowland swamps in Sumatra and Borneo.

It inhabits flooded river basins and shallow floodplains.

They will move to shallow water during the dry season but return to deeper waters when it starts to rain again.

The water in these swamps tends to be quite acidic due to all of the rotting wood and plant material. The substrate is usually enriched with leaf litter and twigs. Floating and overhanging plants shade out this dimly lit environment and the tannins released by decaying plants turns the water the color of tea.

So let’s look at how you can recreate these conditions in your aquarium.

You will need at least an 80 gallon tank for just one Loach, but a group will need 100 gallons or more. If it is possible you should include both shallow and deep water sections.

The idea water parameters are:

  • Temperature: 75-86°F
  • pH: 6.0-7.0
  • Water Hardness: 5-12 dGH

Your substrate should be made of fine sand, mud, or soft rocks. The water should be slightly brown without being cloudy or turbid. You can achieve this by adding leaf litter, driftwood, and other plant material.

A large fish like a Clown Loach will produce a lot of waste so a canister filter is your best bet whether your setup is indoors or out. The filter should generate a very mild current.

Your setup should have a maximum light intensity of 2.5 watts per gallon. These fish tend to be attracted to fluorescent light so a blue tinted fluorescent bulb will encourage them to come out more often.

These Loaches love hiding out under shelves and in caves and will seek out narrow crevices to hide in. You can decorate the tank with driftwood shelves, hollow logs, and rock crevices. Just make sure that your decorations do not have any rough or sharp edges.

Most of all they appreciate the cover of floating plants. You can float Waterweeds, Crystalwort, Salvinia, or Frogbit over the surface of your tank or pond.

You can include rooted plants as well but keep in mind that the Loaches will nibble on them. Consider strong and hardy plants like Anubias and Java Ferns.

Tank Parameter Requirement
Minimum Tank Size 80 Gallons
Tank Type Freshwater planted
Temperature 75-86°F
pH 6.0-7.0
Hardness 5-12 dGH
Flow Light
Substrate Soft

What Size Aquarium Do They Need?

You will need at least an 80 gallon aquarium for a single Clown Loach.

However they do not like to live alone and are best kept in a group. A group of 3 will need at least 100 gallons, with around 30 gallons for each individual Loach.

Tank Mates

Chromobotia macracanthus

These fish enjoy living in communities but their boisterous activity makes it difficult to find the right tank mates.

They are not hostile or aggressive but they are hyperactive.

If you are new to this species then you should start out with a single species tank.

However, if you are experienced and are looking for compatible tank mates then you will need to consider:

  1. Size of the tank mates
  2. Temperament of the tank mates
  3. How much space you have available

Clown Loaches pair well with Bala Sharks, Tinfoil Barbs, Iridescent Sharks, and even Arowanas.

Other smaller freshwater sharks are also compatible with this fish. Rainbow Sharks, Red Tail Sharks, and Siamese Algae Eaters will fit in quite nicely.

They are also compatible with many different kinds of Catfish, including Common, Sailfin, and Gold Nugget Plecos. If you want to include another Loach then try the Zebra or Yoyo Loach.

All snails and shrimp are at risk for being eaten by a hungry Clown Loach.

You should avoid small fish that are prone to anxious behavior. This includes Chili Rasboras, Sparkling Gouramis, and Nano Catfish.

Larger Gouramis and other long finned fish should be kept away as well.

While some Cichlids are acceptable the more aggressive species like the Jewel or Peacock Cichlid will cause a lot of trouble.

In general any extremely aggressive or predatory fish should be avoided.

Keeping Clown Loach Together

Clown Loaches prefer to be kept in groups rather than alone.

A single Loach will be much less active and will spend most of their time hiding.

You will get to see all of their funniest behavior when in a group of 3 to 6. They will explore together, chase each other, and perform their famous loachy dance.

Remember each Loach will need 30 gallons of tank space.

Breeding Clown Loach

Clown Loach Breeding

These fish are nearly impossible to breed in home aquariums.

There have only been a handful of reports of successful breeding outside of a professional setting.

Their natural breeding season occurs from September to November. During this time they must migrate to shallow floodplains to spawn.

To breed them successfully you would need to create a tank that mimics the fish’s natural spawning ground.

The tank must have shallow water levels with a pH of 6, floating plants, and a breeding mesh.

The mated pair would need to be fed exclusively on live prey for 6 weeks until the female’s body begins to round out. Both the male and the female must be injected with breeding hormones.

Once the female does spawn the male will fertilize the eggs externally. Up to 1000 eggs may be laid at a time. Fertilized eggs turn from brown to pink and the parents should be removed once the eggs are fertilized. Any unfertilized eggs should be removed and disposed of.

Because captive breeding is so rare the gestation period is unknown.

Generally, it takes 3 to 7 days for a freshwater fish’s eggs to hatch.

After the eggs hatch the larvae will be planktonic and survive off of their yolk sacs for about 2 to 3 more days. After this, they must be fed infusoria. As the fry grow up they will be able to accept larger foods such as larval brine shrimp and Tubifex. Juveniles can join the main community tank once they reach about 3 inches long.

Most attempts to breed these fish at home result in loss of the fry or the parents. We do not recommend that you attempt to breed your Clown Loaches.

History and First Sighting

Chromobotia macracanthus was discovered by ichthyologist Pieter Bleeker in 1852.

At this time it was classified as Cobitis macracanthus, however its taxonomy was later revised to Botia macracanthus. They remained in this taxonomy until 2004 when famous ichthyologist Maurice Kottelat reclassified them under the new genus Chromobotia.

Until the 20th century this fish was primarily harvested for food in its native country.

Its exact introduction to the aquarium hobby is unknown but by the 1950s it had become an aquarium fish. Most specimens were harvested from the wild until the Indonesian government outlawed the harvesting of large adult fish. After this aquaculture programs were founded to breed this fish.

Juveniles under 6 inches long are still often harvested in the wild.

Today, the Clown Loach is still a popular fish for freshwater aquariums and has earned a following among monsterfish keepers in particular.

Should You Keep The Clown Loach? (Summary)

Clown Loach
Other Common Names: Tiger Loach, Tiger Botia
Scientific Name: Chromobotia macracanthus
Family Name: Botiidae
Distribution: Sumatra, Borneo
Size: 8-12 inches
Color: Orange with black bands
Care Level: Intermediate
Temperament: Energetic
Lifespan: 10 years
Minimum Tank Size: 80 gallons
Tank Mate Compatibility: Large fish and other Loaches

It can be great fun to keep a few Clown Loaches in your aquarium.

These lively fish certainly know how to entertain!

However, this is not an impulse buy and not a decision to take lightly. A Clown Loach is a decade long commitment and many things need to be considered when designing their habitat and community.

Do not underestimate their size while they are young. They will grow to be one of the largest Loaches you can get!

This fish is very curious and playful and will keep you amused for hours with its antics.

You never know what tricks this little clown will pull next.

Leave any questions in the comments section below…

David Thomas Author Bio Picture
David Thomas leads the team at Everything Fishkeeping as the Editor-in-Chief. David has been keeping fish since he was a child. In his first tank he kept goldfish and since then he has kept over 30 different species. Now he has 4 separate tanks and his favorite is a 100 gallon freshwater tank with a school of Rasboras, Tetras and Loaches.