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Caresheet: Clown Loach | Chromobotia macracanthus

March 20, 2016
chromobotia macracanthus

Juvenile clown loaches can be found for sale in almost any aquarium store. Their bright stripes and snail eating capabilities make them a popular beginner choice, but they are actually on the list of the 8 worst beginner aquarium fish due to their adult size, activity level and sensitivity to bad water quality! However, don’t write them off entirely: they are fun to keep, have great personalities and make a wonderful aquarium ‘centerpiece’.

Keep reading for everything you need to know about clown loach care!

Minimum tank size140 gal (530 L), long
TemperamentMostly peaceful
Temperature78-87 °F/25-30 °C


Clown loach, Chromobotia macracanthus

Natural habitat

Clown loaches can naturally be found in Borneo and Sumatra, where they live in dark, soft water rivers.

Clown loach appearance

Clown loaches have a body shape similar to other fish from the Botia genus, like Yo-yo and zebra loaches. They are clearly bottom dwellers, with a down-turned mouth and a total of 8 small barbels.

Clown loaches are widely appreciated because of their colorful appearance: their body is a yellow color with three vertical dark brown to yellow stripes and bright orange fins and tail. Aquarium stores often sell them as juveniles, which can mislead aquarists to think they are relatively small fish. This is definitely not the case: adults, especially females, can reach a size of up to 12 inches (30 cm) and have a much deeper body than the fish you are likely to see on display.

Clown loach requirements

If you’re considering clown loaches, be sure to keep in mind that they are very active, large fish that need to be kept in groups of at least 6-8. This means they are not suitable for small aquariums, and you should be going for a setup of at least around 140 gallons (530L)! Because they are bottom dwellers, it’s best to go for a long aquarium with plenty of floor space and a sand substrate to protect the barbels.

Heavy planting/decorating and relatively subdued lighting is also a good idea, as loaches like to have some hiding places. They also like to uproot and even nibble on weaker plants, so it’s a best to go for strong plant species that thrive in low-light aquariums and can handle being harrassed occasionally. The hardy Anubias is a great choice.

Clown loaches are very sensitive fish that will easily succumb to diseases like ich or ammonia poisoning if the water quality in the aquarium is less than ideal. This means the aquarium should always be fully cycled and established before the loaches are introduced. Doing regular water changes and filter maintanance is a must, and you should keep a close eye on your water values to catch any problems early on.

Because they naturally occur in rivers with soft acidic water, clown loaches prefer a strong water flow and a pH of around 6-7, although they can tolerate slightly higher. If your filter doesn’t create a strong flow, you can consider placing an air pump at the surface to increase the water flow and oxygenation.

Clown loach tankmates

Although these fish can be kept in tropical community aquariums, many clown loach keepers prefer a single-species setup dedicated entirely to their clowns. If you do want to keep yours with other fish, it’s important to do plenty of research beforehand.

Long-finned or very calm and peaceful tankmates like guppies, bettas and gouramis may be stressed out and nipped at. Good choices may include larger mid-dwelling schooling fish, catfish species and other Botia varieties.

Clown loach diet

Clown loaches are well known for their taste for aquarium snails, but should never be purchased just to combat a snail problem and will often stop eating snails if plenty of other food is available. They are omnivores, and although they prefer ‘meaty’ foods they will eat almost anything.

As with most aquarium fish, a varied diet is very important to keep them healthy. Shrimp pellets are usually appreciated and can be supplemented with frozen/live food as well as blanched vegetables.

Clown loach behavior

As mentioned before, clown loaches are known for their silly behavior and their common name was based on it. Their social structures are quite complex and they will establish a hierarchy within the group with one dominant individual as a ‘leader’. You may occasionally see your clown loaches fighting or dancing! While fighting, playing and eating, your loaches may also produce loud clicking noises.

Another interesting and sometimes rather disturbing clown loach behavior is the way they sleep and hide. They love crawling into even the smallest spaces and then stay there for extended periods of time, which can make them very difficult to locate. When you do finally manage to find them (wedged under some rocks or driftwood), they may be upside down, upright or on their sides, appearing dead or dying. Quite a worrying sight, but this is a natural behavior and nothing to be concerned about!

Note: Botia species have a sharp spine on the side of their head that can be raised as a defense mechanism when the fish is agitated. Always keep this in mind when handling your clown loach as it can easily hurt itself or even you! Be sure to prevent the fish from getting tangled in nets and consider wearing gloves if you have to catch them.

Breeding clown loaches

In their natural habitat, clown loaches migrate into calm waters to breed. The fry stay here until they are large enough to return to the main river.

This is very difficult to imitate in home aquariums and there has been no documentation of any aquarist breeding clown loaches (yet!), although they are commercially bred on a large scale using unnatural techniques.


Clown loaches are not beginner fish and should never be bought for small aquariums or just to combat a snail problem.

However, they are a wonderful choice for more experienced aquarists with large setups, and when they are provided with the necessary care their clownish, cheerful behavior can really brighten up an aquarium!

If you have any more questions about keeping clown loaches or if you want to share your own experiences with these fish, be sure to leave a comment below. Happy fishkeeping!

Cover photo: Baby Found Food by Daniel McDermott

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  • Reply Umberto August 7, 2016 at 3:18 am

    I bought two clown loaches in 2000 when I set up my ‘Millennium tank’. They were both about the size of my little finger. I was told they would not grow beyond 15cm (6″) or live more than 5 to 7 years. They are still going strong, now about 25cm (10″) and very active (mainly at dawn/dusk). I find them ‘gentle giants’ who do not bother tankmates , even fry. But they eat invertebrates, especially worms. They love squirming into dense foliage to sleep or swim through it just for fun. Sadly, the plants get ripped to shreds by this play so my tank is now thickly planted with silk plants and some tough veggies like Java fern. I know they prefer to live in shoals so my dream is to one day set up a very big tank with plenty of swimming room – not possible in my current rented home so the loaches remain in the original tank (100*50*50cm) with their original tank mates such as otocinclus cat fishes (5cm) or descendants born in the tank e.g. cherry barbs (4cm). The size difference looks odd but the fish don’t seem to mind. Although I have been lucky, I agree that these gorgious affectionate fish which make real pets deserve the right set up for their needs.

    • Reply Mari August 9, 2016 at 9:57 am

      Wonderful story! I hope you’ll be able to upgrade the loaches one day when tank size is not restricted any more. 🙂

  • Reply Gregg Martin March 20, 2016 at 3:12 pm

    Almost your first sentence says it most, LFS sell these to the uninitiated as and never discuss their future size. I see this with many fish, plecos, barbs, actually other loaches. Shame on them. I don’t have a tank or soft water for these guys, unfortunate as they indeed are clownish.


    • Reply Mari March 26, 2016 at 10:37 am

      Yup! I’d love to keep them as well but unfortunately a tank that large isn’t available in the near future.

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