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Caresheet: Kuhli loach | Pangio kuhlii

August 20, 2014
pangio kuhlii

Kuhli loaches are one of my personal favorite tropical aquarium fish species, and for a good reason! They are peaceful, fun to watch and easy to keep, which means they’re a great choice for beginners and experienced aquarists.

Tank size 15 gal (54L) rectangular
Temperament Peaceful
Diet Carnivore
Temperature 74-79°F/23-26°C
pH 5.5-7


Pangio kuhlii, Kuhli loach, Coolie loach (also sometimes referred to as Pangio acanthophthalmus)

Kuhli loach natural habitat

Slow moving forest streams and swamps in Indonesia. The water is often quite acidic and stained with tannins. The substrate consists of sand and/or leaves. The loaches live in larger groups and use the leaf litter to hide in.

Kuhli loach appearance

Kuhli loaches have an eel- or snake-like appearance with a yellow body and dark brown vertical stripes. Like other loaches, they have barbels around the mouth, which are used to find food in the substrate. With a maximum length of 10 cm (4 inches) they are one of the smaller loach species. Males and females are very difficult to tell apart, although when the females are carrying eggs they usually grow a bit larger and broader than the males.

Kuhli loach requirements

Because they stay relatively small, Kuhli loaches don’t need a very big aquarium. Floor space is more important than the amount of water, as loaches mostly stay on the bottom of the tank. This means it’s a good idea to go for a longer, rectangular aquarium than a higher one. A 54 L (15 gal) long aquarium is a good place to start. Sand substrate is preferred, as these fish like to use their barbels to sift through the substrate, which isn’t possible with gravel.

In the wild, Kuhlis live in big groups in darker habitats with plnty of places to hide. A very exposed environment without hiding places and other kuhlis will stress them out, so try to prevent this! Keep your Kuhlis in groups of at least 5. If you do keep them alone, you likely won’t see them much. Because Kuhlis prefer to hide together for part of the day it’s very important to give them enough places to do so. This doesn’t have to be complicated: a shrimp cave can be enough to keep them happy. You can also use Indian almond leaves to create natural, dark water.

Kuhlis are very peaceful, so be sure to go for calm tankmates! Aggressive fish can scare and possibly harm them.

Kuhli loach diet

Mostly carnivorous. Kuhlis usually accept pellets and flakes, but their diet should also be supplemented with frozen and ideally live foods like blood worms, mosquito larvae and brine shrimp. Regular fish foods usually don’t contain all the nutrients they need, so go for some variety! Also be sure to feed foods that are designed to sink, like loach pellets, because your Kuhlis may not be able to find floating foods.

Kuhli loach behavior

Kuhlis are one of my favorite fish species not only because of their adorable looks, but also because of their behavior. They are peaceful towards their own species and others, which makes them suitable for even the most calm setups.
Any Kuhli keeper will tell you that the most fun part of keeping them, though, is watching them interact with each other. They love to share hiding places with as many other Kuhlis as possible, which means you’ll often see ‘piles’ of them forming in a tiny spot.

Breeding kuhli loaches

I have not been able to find clear reports of Kuhli breeding. It is often recommended to do a water change with slightly cooler water to stimulate spawning behavior, after which the eggs are attached to plants and driftwood in the tank. The fry will feed off tiny food particles at first, and you can start supplementing their diet with microworms and eventually bigger foods. The water should be kept clean and water values should be stable. If you have a more detailed breeding report, let me know!The video below shows Kuhli breeding behavior. Kuhli loaches are partly nocturnal, hence the red night lights.

If you’re looking for a fun, interesting and relatively easy to keep fish species for a peaceful community aquarium, I would totally recommend considering Kuhli loaches. If kept correctly, they are a great addition to the community. We’ve only had our Kuhlis in our tropical community for a few weeks, but they’re already one of my favorites.

If you have any questions about Kuhli loaches or want to share your experiences, leave a comment below. Happy fishkeeping!

Cover photo: Nathalie Nyman

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  • Reply Alejandro January 29, 2018 at 10:41 pm

    Hi I’m looking to put some discus in my 300lt tank so don’t want to pu any sand or gravel will this be ok for kuhli loaches

    • Reply Mari January 30, 2018 at 2:11 pm

      Hello! So no substrate at all? I guess it could be done if you add plenty of rocks, tubes and other hides. If providing hiding places is not an option then I wouldn’t recommend it, kuhlis need a lot of shelter! Good luck.

  • Reply Shrimp caresheet: Red rili shrimp (Neocaridina davidi var. 'Rili') / The Shrimp Farm January 23, 2018 at 1:42 pm

    […] but the most peaceful fish! Calm bottom dwellers that are too small to eat an adult shrimp, like Kuhli loaches, should work […]

  • Reply Kayla August 1, 2017 at 3:31 am

    I’m planning on upgrading my female betta from a 2.5 (which is small, I know) to a larger tank. I’d like to get some kuhli loaches, since I know they do well with bettas and they’re just generally really interesting little guys. Would a 20 gallon be large enough, and if so, how many loaches could I get?

    • Reply Mari August 1, 2017 at 11:26 am

      Hi! Great to hear you’re planning on upgrading your Betta, she would love a 20 gallon. If you get a rectangular one with plenty of bottom space then that’s also enough to add a group of loaches. If you don’t add any more fish the bioload won’t be too high and you can get quite a few (which is great because they are less shy in large groups). Maybe try ten loaches and see how that goes? Plenty of leaf litter, some shrimp caves and they should be very happy 🙂

  • Reply SeaDragon April 3, 2017 at 11:33 pm

    I have a 5 gallon gank, and unfortunately it’s all I can get for a while. It has led lighting and I plan to have sand, driftwood and some small plants in it, along with Indian almond leaves.
    I have fallen in love with Kuhli loaches, and considering getting 3 (apparently their bio-load is incredibly small)

    I will only get them if this will make them live happy lives, so can I keep these loaches???

    • Reply Mari April 5, 2017 at 3:43 pm

      Hi! Unfortunately that’s not enough for Kuhli loaches at all, as you can read in this caresheet the minimum to keep them is 15 gallons and I would actually recommend going for a minimum of 20 just to be sure. There are almost no fish that can be kept in a 5 gallon with its super limited size. A Betta fish is a fun option and there are also some interesting inverts to try – I’ve got an article about stocking 5 gallon aquariums here.

      Good luck! 🙂

  • Reply Mya February 23, 2016 at 11:25 pm

    How many times a day shold i feed my Kuhli Loaches? I just got three new Loaches, is that enough or should i buy more?

    • Reply Mari February 24, 2016 at 3:00 pm

      As mentioned in the article, kuhli’s are group fish and you should consider getting a few more. You can feed them a little bit twice a day or a bit more once a day. 🙂

  • Reply Brittney May 24, 2015 at 9:13 am

    What type of plants would be suitable for a 20 gallon tank for the loaches and is fake plants okay to have or would real plants be better?

    • Reply Mari May 24, 2015 at 10:42 am

      Any plant that is suitable for your setup will be appreciated by the loaches. They love hanging in plants! Real ones are preferable because they help sustain a stable cycle in your aquarium. If you don’t really have a green thumb there is a list of super easy aquarium plants that are all suitable right here!

  • Reply Victor May 20, 2015 at 10:27 pm

    Could the kuhli loach live happily in a tank with a ph of 7

    • Reply Mari May 22, 2015 at 5:37 pm

      Yes. As mentioned in the article, a pH of 7 is fine (as long as the rest of the setup is suitable as well!).

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