The Clown Loach, sometimes called the Tiger Botia, is an extremely popular aquarium fish. They’re very playful, colorful fish that liven up just about any aquarium, and happen to be moderately easy to care for, assuming you’ve had at least some experience or have done quite a bit of research before stocking them in your fish tank.

Aquarists love these schooling fish with orange and black striped bodies, red fins, and playful attitudes. Since they’re peaceful, they get along pretty well with many species, too, and don’t require incredibly strict water quality, making them a great community tank fish – with the right species, at least.

Quick Intro to Clown Loach

Family:Botiidae
Scientific Name:Botia macracantha
Common Names:Clown loach, Tiger Botia
Care Level:Intermediate

Natural Habitat, Identification, and Where to Buy

Clown Loaches are a tropical freshwater fish that is part of the Botiidae family. They are native to the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Borneo. They have bodies that are laterally compressed and are known to have a forked tail fin that they use for propelling through the water.  Instead of scales, this fish produces a type of mucus on its body for protection.

It is known for having an orange color with three black bars on its body. One of the bars is over the head and eyes like a mask, one is across its dorsal fin, and the other is in the middle. While most of the fish that have black bars over their dorsoventral use this as a sign of aggression to warn off other fish and predators. While the Clown Loaches have this mark, they are instead friendly and playful.

This breed of fish has two pairs of barbels on their snout. This is used to help the fish search through the substrate for food. Like most fish, they have a lateral line system that is used for sensing water pressure changes as an alert for potential predators around them.

There are two naturally occurring genetic populations of this species, the Borneo and Sumatra. The Sumatran species is known for having orangish-red pectoral fins. Borneo’s have black pigmentation on their fins. There is a rare albino/platinum coloring that can appear naturally in this species. This version of the species still has its orange background but has white bars instead of black ones.

These fish like to be in clear rivers and streams with slow-moving water that is located on islands.  When monsoon season comes around, they migrate upwards into the flood plains. The flood plains are teeming with plant life both over and under weather. The rivers they prefer are made up of rocky pebble and the flood plains have muddle substrate with a lot of plant growth.

It is during the peak of the monsoon seasons that the fish will spawn both the flood plain and the small streams connected to it.

The ideal water for Clown Loaches needs to be a temperature ranging from 77-86°F and a pH of 6-8. They like to live in places where there is plenty of floating and overhanging plant or where riverbanks can overhang. Besides allowing the fish to have lower light, these kinds of places help the fish to have cover from predators and reduce the stress of the fish. To keep these fish in a tank, they need similar protection.

Due to their color, they are extremely popular and over the last few decades have been extensively harvested from their homes to be sold in the aquarium industry. These fish can live up to ten years and can easily be purchased from local pet stores. Typically, they will be on sale if you purchase in shoals.

Optimal Water Conditions for Clown Loach

Water Temperature75 F to 85 F
Water Flow Rate: Moderate to high
pH: 6 to 7.5
Water Hardness: 5 to 15 dH

Tank Setup

Minimum Tank Size100 gallons
Optimal Tank Size: 150 gallons
Optimal Tank Shape: Long, rectangular
Recommended Filter Type: Canister filters are ideal for clown loach aquariums

For setting up the best home for your fish, there needs to be an ideal mix of various substrates like sand and pebbles. By including these materials in your aquarium, you will help give your tank a natural feel that your fish can appreciate.

Another key to your tank is making sure to have subdued lighting. The right kind of lighting can be achieved by adding in a variety of floating plants, like Java Moss, Hornwort, Water Spangles, or Riccia Fluitans. By choosing the right plants you will give your fish access to dark corners they will love.

Not only will the right plants give shade and a place to play for your fish, but they serve other functions. The plants will give oxygen and give a type of filtration that is necessary for keeping your fish healthy.

To ensure your fish’s health, you should strive to keep the water temperature of the aquarium at 86°F and with a pH level range of 7.4-7.8. This breed of fish enjoys warm water and to keep them healthy, it is important to make sure your aquarium has a quality filter and heater.

Creating the Landscape

When you start to create the tank for your Clown Loaches, there is a lot of opportunity for being creative. This species of fish loves to have an aquatic landscape where there a lot of plants and natural hiding spots.

In nature, this type of fish lives most of their lives in large and slow-moving rivers. The only time this fish moves is during monsoon season, and then they will move to shallow bogs.

If you want to try and recreate this environment for your fish, try having a sandy substrate at the bottom of your tank will help. If you desire to have a more natural look, you can mix in pebbles, rocks, and gravel.

After building the base, the next step is to add in live plants. These plants will act as a place for the fish to hide and provide shade. Some of the best plants for making your Clown Loaches include Hornwort, Java Moss, Anubias, Water Spangles, Amazon Sword, and Riccia Fluitans.

Clown loaches are known to uproot and nibble on weak plants. When you pick your plants it’s best to get strong plants that thrive in low light and can handle being chewed and pulled on.

Whichever plants you choose, it is important to incorporate a variety of them. After planting your plants, you can add a variety of rocks, caves, and driftwood to provide additional places for your fish. 

When you are trying to set up the areas of light and dark in your tank, it is important to make sure the area of light is subdued. They are a fish species that loves the dark, so any overly bright lights will mess up their natural cycles.

When looking at filtration systems for your tank, it is okay to use standard equipment. There is no need for getting a heavy-duty if the system you pick is effective at cycling out the nitrates and ammonia.

Best Plants: 

The best options for clown loach tanks are tough-leaved plants. Anubias, Java Fern, Hygrophila, Ludwigia all survive these big guys pretty well.
Best Lighting:Low lighting, at least than 1 watt per gallon space
Best Decorations:
Large rocks, sand, lots of plants, small pebbles as the bottom layer, caves, and hiding spots
Decorations to Avoid:Fragile décor items, sharp items with jagged edges that could snag your loaches’ tails or fins

Physiological Considerations for Clown Loach

Size: up to 12 inches
Lifespan10+ years
Temperament: Peaceful
Preferred Tank Region: Bottom of the tank
Scale Thickness: Clown loaches have scales, despite some rumors! Standard considerations.
Gill Considerations: If your clown loach has unusually red gills and seems to be breathing hard, he will need to be treated. Otherwise, their gills are fairly standard for care.
Swimbladder Considerations: Avoid overfeeding or feeding your clown loach the wrong food to avoid potential swimbladder issues.
Fin Shape Considerations: Clown loaches may get fin rot due to nitrates or ammonia presence in the fish tank. If their fins seem “off” to you, check the levels of nitrates and ammonia to avoid severe health issues for them.

Part of why Clown Loaches have become popular is because of their interesting look. Their distinct shape and colors help them stand out from other aquarium fishes.

Clown Loaches have an arched body. Their dorsal line of the fish is curved while the bottom is flat. Their upper dorsal line is curved from the base of the tail to their mouth.

The Clown Loach has a mouth that is like other loaches such as a catfish. It has several pairs of barbels around its lips that help it when scavenging for good.

This fish is known to have pointy spines which are located right below the eyes. These spines can be extended as needed for self dense. While these spines are not venomous, they are sharp enough to cut if touched.

Clown Loach is known for its vibrant colors. They are known for being an orangish-yellow color. The vibrant nature of their color can change from fish to fish. Some of these fish can have a pale yellow whereas others have a captivating orange coloring.

Regardless of how bright they may be, every fish has three black bands. The stripes run vertically and take on a triangle shape.

This species of fish is known for being sexually dimorphic. Males tend to have brighter colors and larger tails with an exaggerated V shape.

Society

Clown loaches are a very peaceful and extremely social species of fish. They thrive in schools and tend to be found foraging through the substrate of their habitat, whether that be in the wild or an aquarium. Ideally, they’ll be kept in large community tanks in shoals of at least five clown loaches. With fewer than five, you’ll find your little clowns are less playful and keep to themselves more.

These larger fish really enjoy playing with each other and chasing each other around the aquarium – which is part of why you need at least a 100-gallon aquarium for their true health and happiness.

Sometimes these fish can act a little odd, so be aware of that. They sometimes like to lie on their sides at the bottom of the tank, giving the impression that they’ve passed. This is normal for clown loaches, though and just a part of their unique character.

This species of fish also has a very complex hierarchy, usually with an alpha female dictating the patterns and lives of the others. Younger fish will shadow and mimic the alpha’s movements and behavior.

Critters and fish that make good companions for your clown loaches include:

  • Other clown loaches
  • Khuli loaches
  • Discus fish
  • Black skirt tetras
  • Neon tetras
  • Black widow tetras
  • Congo tetras
  • Dwarf rainbowfish
  • Borneo sucking loaches
  • Boesemani rainbowfish
  • Tiger barbs
  • Cherry barbs
  • Tinfoil barbs
  • Rosy barbs
  • Blue gourami
  • Moonlight gourami
  • Pearl gourami
  • Gold nugget plecos
  • Rubber lipped plecos
  • Bristlenose plecos
  • Bolivian ram
  • Angelfish
  • Blue lobster
  • Red clawed crab

For your clown loaches, you’ll need to avoid keeping these fish:

  • Highly aggressive fish
  • Bettas
  • Most gourami species
  • Guppies
  • Fish species with long fins
  • Goldfish
  • Snails – Clown loaches see them as dinner, not friends!
  • Shrimp – Clown loaches also think them a tasty treat

Gender, Breeding, and Reproductive Considerations

Clown loaches are omnivores and eat a wide range of things. To keep them in good health it is important to include quality fish food as a staple. This fish benefits greatly from being fed live or frozen blackworms. They will also happily eat tubifex and bloodworms.

Besides protein, this species needs to have plant matter in their regular diet. One option for this is to feed them slices of squash, zucchini, or potato that has been microwaved for at least twenty seconds. You can also feed them algae sheets or wafers.

Clown loaches are notoriously difficult to breed within captivity and even expert fish keepers can find it hard. While there are many questions that professional aquarist has about why a common thought is that in the wild clown loaches grow bigger than they do in the wild due to the typical aquarium not being big enough.

While there are no full-proof methods for making sure of breeding success for your fish, there are a few things you can do to help ensure it.

The first step is to acquire sufficiently old enough fish that are about six inches long. They need to be kept in separate tanks and fed highly nutritious food for several weeks. Over the course of time, the female will grow larger.

The next step should be to place both in an aquarium with high water quality and a lot of plants. Part of this involves keeping the water between 77.9-79.7°F and a pH of 6.2-6.4.

Nutritional Needs

Clown loaches are omnivores, though in the wild they tend to focus their attention on critters like snails, worms, and other small invertebrates. They eat a lot of plant matter as well, but don’t tend to find that as “exciting” as a live snack they can catch.

In the aquarium, clown loaches need to have a mixed diet made up of a wide variety of food options. They do well with a mix of algae wafers, live foods, and freeze-dried treats like brine shrimp and bloodworms.

Specifics to consider feeding your clown loach include:

  • Algae wafers – staple food
  • Sinking shrimp pellets – staple food
  • Bloodworms – limit to a couple times per week
  • Earthworms – once a week or less
  • Brine shrimp – limit to a couple times per week
  • Vegetables – regularly
  • Snails – A few times a week
  • Other small crustaceans – once a week or less

Beware that clown loaches especially love to snack on snails, so don’t bother to attempt keeping them together in the same fish tank – unless you mean for the snails to become dinner! In fact, you may want to consider setting up a separate small tank to raise snails in for using for live food for your clown loaches. They’ll love you forever for it!

Best Sustenance Food Type: No or low-grain flake food and sinking pellets
Additional Food For Optimal Health: Live worms, brine shrimp, small snails, banana bits, plant matter, tubifex worms
Special Foods and Considerations for Best Color and Growth: A mixture of low or no-grain pellets, vegetables, and protein foods
When and How Often to Feed Fish Based on Life Cycle: Two times per day, based on your schedule

Common Diseases and How to Avoid and Treat Them

Clown Loaches can susceptible to and are easily infected by all of the major freshwater fish diseases. One disease they are especially at risk for is called Ich. Ich is an ectoparasite that burrows into the gills and skin of fish and causes both fungal and bacterial infections to develop.

You can tell that a fish has been infected due to white spots appearing on the body and gills of the fish. While it may not be easy to see the spots when they first appear, the fish respond to this disease by scraping their bodies against their environments. Other symptoms of this disease include a loss of appetite and unusual hiding behavior.

Clown loaches are normally the first fish to show this symptom in a community tank, so if you notice any symptoms, it is important to provide care as soon as possible. If you act quick enough it is possible to prevent the disease from spreading to the other species in your aquarium.

Ich can be treated by a variety of over the counter medications. This includes using copper-based medications on your clown loaches. Once you identify that a fish is sick, they should be removed from the tank and isolated for a month, throughout their treatment.

Best Antibiotics: Because clown loaches may be very sensitive to a number of medications, it’s best to consult with your vet before administering anything.
Treatments to Avoid: Clown loach can be sensitive to a wide range of medications. Be sure to check with your veterinarian before treating your loach with anything and read all labels to ensure there are no specific warnings available for your loach.
Food Recommendations When Sick:High protein, live foods
Hospital Tank or Isolation Withing the Community TankAlways isolate your clown loaches from others if they present symptoms.

1-7 Facts About Clown Loach

  1. If clown loaches grow really long, they’ll max out at 20-inches.
  2. Clown loaches have four pairs of barbels, with one set on the lower jaw where it’s difficult to spot.
  3. These fish have a movable spine, which lies in a groove close to the mouth, below the eyes. It’s believed to be used for defense or even for predatory tactics. The spine can pierce another fish but is not venomous.
  4. You can tell where a specific clown loach’s family originated from by color variations. Borneo loaches have reddish-orange and black pelvic fins while Sumatran loaches have entirely reddish-orange pelvic fins.

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