Clown Loach (Natural Habitat,Tank Setup,Care,Feeding,Size)


Clown Loach Overview And Care Guide

Clown loaches are wonderful freshwater fish that can be a great addition to any freshwater aquarium. They are fairly easy to take care of with a little bit of know-how, and they get along well with many other fish.

The Clown Loach (Chromobotia macracanthus) or Tiger Botia is a freshwater fish with an elongated body and striped patterning. Their diet consists of plants, small crustaceans, worms, insects, and other invertebrates. Clowns should be kept in soft water with a pH from neutral to slightly acidic.

Clown Loaches are easily identifiable by their bright orange to yellow color and 3 dark vertical bands along their body, one of which usually covers the eye. A Clown Loach has two lower fins and parts of the tail that are dark orange or red in color, and they have a black dorsal fin and odd-looking barbels around the mouth, which are sensory organs.

As non-aggressive fish, Clowns are often thought of as good community tank fish, with many potential tank mates they are compatible with.

Throughout this article, I will cover everything you need to know, from how much space Clown Loaches need in a tank, what type of food they eat, their temperament, compatibility with other fish species, and much more.

By the end of this article, you should know everything you need to keep happy, healthy Clown Loaches that will live for many years.

Clown Loach Fish – Species Overview

Scientific NameChromobotia macracanthus
Common NameClown Loach
Adult Size6-12 Inches In Captivity and Up to 16 Inches In The Wild
Average Lifespan8-10 Years In Captivity and up to 20-30 Years In The Wild
Minimum Tank Size Per Adult20-30 Gallons
Tank Dwelling LevelBottom
Social TypePeaceful
Solitary Or Schooling FishSchooling (Prefered groups of 5-15)
DietOmnivorous
BreedingSpawners (Very difficult to breed in captivity)
Water ParameterspH: 6-7.5 (Neutral to Slightly Acidic)
Water Hardness: 100-200 ppm
Temperature: 78°F (26°C) – 85°F (29°C)
Care DifficultyMedium
The above metrics are averages aggregated from in-depth research.

A Clown Loaches Natural Habitat

Mainly found in the central and western parts of South East Asia on the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Borneo, you will usually find the Clown Loach fish in amongst the rocky streams or rivers with moderate to low currents, and a muddy substrate, where they like to lurk among the rocks and crevices.

The Clown Loach will prefer shady areas that are heavy in plants and other vegetation, which provide them with plenty of food and places to hide from potential predators.

When many areas become temporarily flooded during the monsoon season, the Clown Loach will migrate upstream to spawn.

To the people of Sumatra and Borneo, Clown Loaches are considered food fish which is hard to imagine when you watch them in an aquarium setting.

Clown Loach Size

Don’t be fooled by the small size of these fish when they are young. These botiids can grow up to 16 inches or more in the wild, and although unlikely in captivity, you can still expect sizes of 6 to 12 inches in length. If you give these fish plenty of room to move around, feed them well and care for them correctly, you will see the best growth from them.

I have written an article specifically detailing the expected size throughout this loaches lifespan and which factors will contribute to their growth which you can read here: Clown Loaches Size Chart – How Big Do Clown Loach Grow.

Clown Loach Lifespan

A Clown Loach can live for between ten and twenty years in the wild, with some living for up to thirty. There are many factors that affect the lifespan of these fish in captivity such as diet, health, and living conditions.

In captivity, you can expect to see these fish live for around 8-10 years.

Clown Loach Tank Size and Setup

A home aquarium may not be a Clown Loaches natural environment, but it can be customized to become one.

The best tank setup for a Clown Loach is a tank that has plenty of live plants and natural ornaments. As a freshwater fish, you will want to mimic their natural environment of rivers or lakes as much as possible.

These fish are omnivorous scavengers that like to find food on the bottom of tanks, so having sand or gravel at the base will be beneficial for them to forage.

Gravel Or Sand Substrate For Clown Loaches
Gravel or sand substrate is best for Clown Loaches

Clown Loaches are schooling fish that prefer to live in groups of at least 4 or 5, and even better, 10 to 15, so it is recommended that you get a tank that will be spacious enough to cope with their potential growth.

What Size Tank For A Clown Loach

A single adult Clown loach will need a minimum tank size of at least 20-30 gallons, and a school of at least four to five Clowns will need a minimum tank size of 110-150 gallons. A good rule of thumb is to allow 30 gallons for each fish.

Tank size is very important because although young Clowns are usually bought at around 1.5-2 inches, they can grow much bigger in captivity and large Clown Loaches will need much bigger tanks.

Don’t worry if you intend to increase tank size, later on, just make sure to follow the guidelines above to provide a spacious tank, if you want your Clown Loaches to feel happier and so they will exhibit much more natural behavior.

As these Loaches are usually non-aggressive fish, they generally make good community fish. You may want to have them in or create a community tank with several other species of fish. Good tank mates are not too hard to find for the Clown Loach, but when doing so, it is important to provide a spacious tank for all fish and to avoid any fighting or aggressive behavior.

Community tanks often contain Clown Loaches and are often well kept. Still, in my experience, there are many community tanks that are set up in places such as businesses and office blocks that are just for there for show or added ambiance. These tanks are not always well looked after, and you will find fish crammed together, often hiding out because they are stressed, and larger fish become more territorial.

The Clown Loach tank needs plenty of room for them to swim freely, and if you want to add other community fish, their need for space should also be considered.

Often, mixing fish that live at different levels within the tank will be the best solution for space.

Preferred Substrate For Clown Loaches

The ideal substrate should be made of sand, gravel, or a mixture of the two in order to avoid skin irritations for this fish that has rough boney plates on its body from which it can’t slough off any dead scales.

Clown Loach Water Parameters And Conditions

The best tank water conditions for a Clown Loach are clean and well-filtered water. The Clown Loach is a member of the loach family, which includes catfish and carp; they have many gills that are sensitive to pollution or impurities in the water, so they need to be able to breathe through their skin as much as possible.

Water parameters should be around pH from neutral to slightly acidic, water hardness around 100-200 ppm with a water temperature of 78°F (26°C) – 85°F (29°C). Water temperature as low as 75°F (24°C) can be tolerated but not advised over long periods.

Do not use untreated tap water as it can often have significant chemicals that could be harmful to the Clown Loach. A good filter is recommended to remove any impurities or chemicals from the tank water.

If you are adding Clown Loaches to a new tank, it’s important to first cycle the tank before adding them to avoid any potential health problems. Water hardness and pH should be tested before adding the Clown Loaches to ensure they are compatible with their new home.

Tank Lighting

Clown Loaches prefer softer lighting that will help them feel more at home as it is similar to where these fish live in their natural environment.

The best choice for lighting is a fluorescent tube on the blue/aqua spectrum because they are less likely to produce unsightly algae and can often be found with lower energy consumption than other lights. Some people also use full-spectrum bulbs under hoods to keep the water in the tank clear and sparkling and will be better for plants photosynthesizing many wavelengths.

Keeping a well-planted tank will also help the Clown Loach because they prefer a dark and shaded environment to help them escape natural predators.

Decoration And Plants

Once you have the aquarium set up, it is best to add natural ornaments and plants to make your Clown loaches feel as natural as possible.

A natural habitat for Clowns is a tank with plenty of live plants that have floating leaves, submerged ones, and natural ornaments like roots from trees or rocks to provide cover. You can use driftwood too if you want to make it look more natural but do not create an overgrown forest.

Aquarium Plants For Clown Loach
Clown Loaches enjoy well-planted aquariums for hiding and dietary needs.

The best plants to have in the tank are natural ones such as Java Fern or Vallisneria that will withstand the natural grazing of this fish.

Floating plants like hornwort can provide a natural hiding place for fry, and it also provides the Clown Loach with natural food.

Submerged plants like Java Moss, Water Wisteria, or Anubis will provide more natural cover for this fish while digging around on the bottom of tanks at night. They don’t usually eat submerged plants but sometimes use them as natural barriers.

A natural habitat for Clown Loaches is a must! It’s important to have plants that will be able to survive natural grazing and provide food as well as hiding places.

Ornaments are great for Clown Loaches as they like being able to explore natural-looking caves and tunnels.

They also like natural decorations such as plants that provide natural cover, cave/tunnel structures, or rock formations. They will even play with them by swimming behind it and hiding in the crevices between rocks!

Clown Loach Diet and Feeding

Clown Loaches are bottom-dwelling fish and eat natural food found on the bottom of tanks that they will scavenge for.

The Clown loaches diet is primarily plant matter, but they’ll also enjoy fresh vegetables and fruit in moderation. As bottom-feeders, you need to ensure that their food will sink to the bottom of an aquarium tank.

Diet is important for a Clown Loach, and I have written an article titled “What Do Clown Loaches Eat?” where you can find much more in-depth information about what they need and how to feed them the right way.

Below is a shortlist of live food that a Clown Loach will eat:-

  • Brine Shrimp and Baby Brine Shrimp and other small crustaceans.
  • Small Fish (Tiny Fry)
  • Earth Worms, Tubifex Worms, Blood Worms.
  • Snails (Yes, Clown Loach eat snails, so it will help with snail control). Take a look at my article titled “Clown Loaches Eating Snails – Is This Normal?“.

If you don’t want to feed live food, the Clown Loach will also enjoy a good quality commercial flake food or pellet food like shrimp pellets, and algae wafers. Make sure there’s always some left in the tank even if they haven’t touched it.

With snail populations usually an issue among most aquarists, Clown Loaches will get their protein even if you don’t want to feed them live food.

Some natural plant-based food that Clown Loaches eat are:-

  • Plants that provide natural cover (Java Fern, Vallisneria) or edible leaves (Anacharis).
  • The Clown Loach will also enjoy fresh vegetables such as lettuce, peas, spinach, broccoli, and cucumber.
  • They also like to eat fruit such as apple slices or grapes but only in moderation!

Feeding a Clown Loach is easy. They are predatory fish, so they will enjoy live food that they can hunt, and you will find natural evidence on the bottom of an aquarium tank. You should always provide fresh vegetables for them too and make sure not to overfeed them with fruit!

Clown-Loaches-Eat-Fruit-Vegetables-And-Plants
Plant and vegetable matter make up a large portion of the Clown Loaches diet.

Most fish stores will sell their own mix of fresh or frozen foods, or you can make your own mix at home.

By making your own mix, you will soon become accustomed to what your Clown Loach prefers to eat, and it can become an inexpensive way to feed them.

Many aquarists will mix tinned tuna or crab meat with other foods, turn it into cubes and freeze. Frozen foods mean that you can keep the food fresh, and it will sink easier before it thaws in the warm tank water.

Clown Loach Tank Mates

Clown Loaches love the company of other fish as they are generally very social fish. They enjoy living among larger groups of other Clown Loach and will also enjoy the company of other peaceful fish that share their placid nature.

Male Clown Loaches are territorial, so you should only have one male for every four females in a group; otherwise, they will fight over territory or breeding rights.

Often, the best Clown Loach tank mates are other bottom-dwelling fish like the Bumblebee Catfish, Pleco, and Corydoras.

Some other tank mates that a Clown Loach will get on with are:-

  • African Cichlids (Usually Non-Aggressive Dwarf Cichlids)
  • Tetras (Hemigrammus, Nematobrycon)
  • Tiger Barbs
  • Silver Dollar Fish
  • Gouramis.
  • Rainbow Shark
  • Bristlenose Pleco
  • Black Widow Tetra
  • Bala Sharks

All the fish listed will be good for a community fish tank and there are many others that will mix well with Clowns.

Gourami fish are a popular choice for Clown Loach aquariums and make great tank mates because they share similar traits and characteristics with the Clown Loach. They both enjoy living in groups and are very peaceful.

Clown Loach Tank Mates
Clown Loaches have many tank mates including the Pearl Gourami and Bloody Tetra in the picture above.

Many more fish make good Clown Loach tank mates, but this list is a good start!

Adding some form of crustacean may be fun, and providing they are not so small to become a meal, they will definitely be suitable tank mates. A couple of suggestions would be a freshwater lobster or red-clawed crab.

There’s no guarantee that any two specific fish species will get on with each other, but those listed above have all been observed to have a positive relationship with Clown Loaches and should make good tank mates.

Clown Loach Behaviors

Clown Loaches exhibit a number of behaviors that make them interesting fish for any aquarium keeper with an eye for the unusual. They are fun fish to watch, and they will be more than happy to show you their little quirks as long as you can provide them with an environment that suits them best!

A few of the behaviors you may observe from your Clown Loach are:-

  • They may constantly dig up dirt and sand and bury themselves in the bottom of a tank to stay cool or warm, depending on what season it is.
  • When they are stressed out, their dorsal fin can change color from red to black.
  • Sometimes when sleeping, Clown Loaches will go into something called a catatonic state. This is where they become inactive and unresponsive for periods of time, lasting anywhere from a few minutes to an hour or more, after which they return to normal behavior. They will lie at the bottom of the tank and may appear to be dead.
  • One really cool thing about the clown loach is that it can often change its color depending on its mood. Red is usually a sign of happiness, while black indicates stress.
  • Clown Loaches have also been observed to change color when they are in mating mode! It’s not unheard of for these fish to light up and glow with various colors.
  • These fish are called “Clown” loaches for a reason. They are a very friendly fish and will often nip at your fingers if you try to touch them in the tank, but beware as they have a small sharp barb called a suboccular spine which can be found retracted in their snout. Although not poisonous, it can poke the spine out and give you a nasty prick when the Clown Loach feels threatened.

Whether you are an experienced aquarist or not, few fishes are as incredibly rewarding to own as a Clown Loach. They are a fun and social fish to have in your tank and great fun to watch, so long as you remember their specific care requirements!

Clown Loach Breeding

Breeding Clown Loaches is better left to the experts because it is a difficult process, and reports of successfully breeding these fish in captivity are scarce, which is why most Clown Loaches are caught in the wild.

If you want to breed clown loaches, the adult fish must be a sexually mature pair. You need two or more pairs of clown loaches that are at least six inches (15 centimeters) long to have a good chance of successful breeding.

It takes about six months for an adult pair of Clown Loaches to reach sexual maturity, so if you want any chance to breed them, leave them in peace. In fact, it could be worthwhile using a breeding tank during this time.

To have the best chance to successfully breed Clown Loaches, the water temperature should be around 78°F (25°C). The male will clean the female’s body to remove any eggs, and then she will lay them on a flat surface.

The pair of Clown Loaches will create a bubble nest wherever they lay eggs, which is made up of air bubbles from the mouth or gills.

During breeding, the male has to go into a state of rest and can’t eat, so it’s important that he is well fed before you try to breed them!

A healthy Clown Loach can have between 25-100 fry per brood, and they will be a variety of coloring as the genes are spread out in each generation.

If you want to breed Clown Loaches, then it’s best to keep them with a group of females in the same tank rather than just one so that there is always someone waiting for the male when he becomes sexually mature and ready to reproduce again.

Whether you keep these fish in the same tank whilst waiting for the eggs to hatch is up to you, but the females are known to eat their eggs, so it may be wise to keep them in separate tanks.

Clown Loach Common Illnesses

The Clown Loach is quite susceptible to certain illnesses, and it is good to know what you should be looking for so that you can find the right treatment before it becomes more serious and widespread throughout your tank.

Some common illnesses that these fish can suffer are:

  • Ichthyophthirius multifiliis – Commonly known as “White Spot” or “Ich.”
  • Fin Rot
  • Stress

Ichthyophthirius multifiliis – Ich or White Spot

Ich is a parasite that causes fish to lose their color and become lethargic. A common way of treating it is with an antibiotic such as Kanamycin Sulfate or Tetracycline, but you also need to test the water levels for ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate, which can help this parasite to develop.

Ich can also be treated with a salt bath of one teaspoon (five grams) of aquarium salt per five gallons (19 liters) of water for three days in order to kill the parasite and remove it from the fish’s body.

Fin Rot

Fin rot is a bacterial infection that can be caused by an ammonia, nitrite, or nitrate level being too high, so you need to test these levels if your Clown Loach has lost color in its fins. Treating Fin Rot is with antibiotics such as Tetracycline and keeping the water quality high with regular partial changes.

Stress

These fish will show signs of stress in various ways, such as staying at one end of their tank or not eating, but if they’re showing these signs more often, it could also be because they have a bacterial infection, so you should give them antibiotics too.

Keeping an eye on water parameters and cleanliness in your fish tank will go a long way to keeping your fish healthy and happy while living in your aquarium.

Wrap Up

Clown loaches are a wonderful fish to have in your aquarium, in fact, they are one of my favorite fish. They come with many quirks and provide hours of entertainment for their owners.

If you want one, be sure that you know how big they can grow as well as the size of the tank they need before buying them because it’s not possible to return them after purchase if they don’t work out.

And always remember that these little guys like to hug plants too so make sure there is enough room between theirs and other inhabitants or else all your plants will get eaten!

I hope this article has been helpful in understanding these fascinating fish, we have many other articles about them on this site if you want to learn more about their needs and I have linked to many of these articles above.

If you do have any more questions about these fish, just pop me an email through our contact form.

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Jon O'Connell

I have kept both marine and freshwater fish and set up almost 100 aquariums. Happy to share my knowledge and experience to help others enjoy keeping healthy and happy fish.

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