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Caresheet: Kuhli loach | Pangio kuhlii

Last Updated June 14, 2020
pangio kuhlii

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

Keep reading for everything you need to know about kuhli loach care and keeping this small striped bottom feeder in your own aquarium.

Minimum tank size20 gal (75 L, long)
TemperamentPeaceful
DietCarnivore
Temperature74-79 °F/23-26 °C
pH5.5-7

Name

Pangio kuhlii, also known as Acanthophthalmus kuhlii, is commonly referred to as the kuhli loach, the coolie loach, the leopard loach, or the slimy loach.

Natural habitat

The kuhli loach is native to the tropical climates of Indonesia and the Malay Peninsula. Here, they live in calm freshwater rivers and clear mountain streams with sand substrates. The water is often quite acidic with pH ranging between 5.5 and 6.5 and warm temperatures. It is usually stained with tannins and shaded by the thick forest canopy.

Kuhli loaches are nocturnal and quite social fish in the wild. While they don’t naturally tend to school, they do enjoy being in small groups with other loaches and surrounded by other peaceful fish. They live on the bottom of the water column close to plants and rocks, sifting through detritus and substrate for food with their four pairs of barbels. Kuhli loaches are extremely cautious and will hide if threatened. They can live up to 14 years and grow to a maximum size of 13 centimeters (5 inches).

Interestingly, the different wild populations of Pangio kuhlii differ so much in yellow and black variations that they may become separate subspecies one day!

Kuhli Loach Care Guide

Identification

Kuhli loaches have a long eel- or snake-like appearance with a yellow body and dark brown/black vertical stripes. They have very small scales across their bodies, with none at all on their heads. Like other loaches, they have barbels around their mouths, which are used to find food on the bottom substrate.

With a maximum length of 10 cm (4 inches) in the aquarium setting, they are one of the smaller loach species you can get for your tank. Male kuhli loaches are very difficult to tell apart from females, but 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 large 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 minimum tank size of 31.5 inches (80 cm) is a good place to start, but larger is always better. A sand substrate is preferred, so your loach can feed on the bottom without getting injured or having to push gravel out of the way.

In the wild, the kuhli loach lives in big groups in dark habitats with plenty of plants and places to hide. Try to prevent lots of open space in your tank where your kuhli loach will be exposed to bigger freshwater fish! Also, keep your loach in groups of at least 5 as this will help them be more active and present.

Because kuhlis prefer to hide with the group for part of the day, it’s very important to give them enough places in your tank to do so. This doesn’t have to be complicated: a few shrimp caves can be enough to keep them happy. You can also use Indian almond leaves to create natural, dark water with live plants for added coverage throughout your tank.

Remember that as with most fish, the rule is that the more hiding places you supply, the less they will use them. If the environment is very open, your kuhli loach will stay hidden because it doesn’t feel it’s safe enough to come out.

Kuhli loach fish are very peaceful, so be sure to go for calm tankmates. Aggressive fish can scare and possibly harm them, causing them to go into hiding and disappearing for extended periods of time. Other freshwater fish that will get along with your loach are danios, tetras, and gouramis.

It is not recommended to keep any invertebrates with your kuhli loach. They are carnivores and may resort to eating any smaller shrimps or snails that you have in the tank. One idea is having a kuhli loach tank that resembles their natural habitat, with a group of these colorful fish shining on the bottom of your planted aquarium!

Always gauge what your tank size can handle, have an appropriate substrate and filter, and have consistent water quality before buying any new fish.

Filtration

The kuhli loach loves to bury itself in the sand and emerge at night. It can be alarming when you look at your aquarium and don’t immediately see your loach! There is a very good chance that it is just hiding in the substrate, as long as you already have the proper filtration. Because some filters resemble spaces that your kuhli loach can get into, it is important to buy a filter with a well-protected intake tube. You don’t want your fish getting stuck in the filter!

Diseases

Because kuhli loaches have small scales, they are more prone to getting diseases. While mostly treatable, you should always have special medication that considers their special body care and give the recommended dosage.

Kuhli loach diet

These loaches are mostly carnivorous. Kuhlis usually accept pellets and flakes, but their diet should also be supplemented with frozen and live foods like blood worms, mosquito larvae, and brine shrimp. Brine shrimp can easily be grown in a separate tank to ensure there is never any food shortage.

Regular fish food usually doesn’t contain all the nutrients they need, so go for some variety! Also be sure to feed foods that are designed to sink in water, like loach pellets, because your kuhlis may not be able to find floating fish foods that stay higher up in the tank.

Having trouble feeding your kuhlis? Try feeding after you’ve turned off the tank lights. As we’ve discussed before, this species is nocturnal and might not come out to eat if they think it’s still daytime. This especially applies if you recently introduced your kuhli loaches and they’re still acclimating to your tank. It is also possible to adjust when they feed. If you begin giving frozen food and pellets during the day, they will get used to a schedule.

Kuhli loach behavior

Kuhlis are one of my favorite fish species not only because of their adorable looks but also because they bring life to the bottom of any tank. They are peaceful towards their own species and other fish, which makes them suitable for even the calmest setups.

Any kuhli keeper will tell you that the most fun part of keeping them in your tank, 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 one tiny spot.

No clue where your kuhlis have gone? No need to worry just yet. These fish are known for going into hiding for extended periods of time if you’ve provided soft sand and ample hiding spots. This is especially likely to happen if you’ve just introduced them into the tank.

Breeding kuhli loaches

I have not been able to find any clear reports of kuhli breeding and spawning. It is often recommended to do a water change with slightly cooler water to stimulate spawning behavior, after which the eggs will be 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, eventually moving on to a larger variety of food. The water should be kept clean and water quality should be stable. If you have a more detailed breeding/spawning report, let me know!

The video below shows kuhli breeding behavior. Kuhli loaches are partly nocturnal, hence the red night lights.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for a fun, interesting, and relatively easy-to-keep fish species for a peaceful aquarium, I would totally recommend considering kuhli loaches. If kept correctly, they are a great addition to the community tank.

Pangio.jpg
The original uploader was Marrabbio2 at Italian Wikipedia. – Own work by the original uploader, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Cover photo: Nathalie Nyman

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28 Comments

  • ReplyRachel PenaMay 4, 2020 at 8:23 pm

    hi i’ve got a 20g (not a long unfortunately) but currently have 10 ember tetras, a few cherrys, and plan to add a betta. for substrate i have fluval stratum and am wondering if i could happily add a group of kuhlis

    • ReplyJennifer DollMay 6, 2020 at 1:57 am

      Hi Rachel,
      Unfortunately, 20 gallons is not that large. With all the fish that you have, plus the betta, a group of kuhlis would be too much; also keep in mind that your other fish might nip at/stress out a betta.
      Perhaps look into pygmy cories instead of the betta!
      Good luck!

  • ReplyOliJanuary 21, 2019 at 3:39 am

    Hi! I’ve got a 20 gallon planted tank with extremely fine gravel substrate (it’s almost sand (; ). It’s currently home to 10 or so balloon molly fry, but they can be rehomed. I was thinking about getting 1 or 2 male dwarf gourami and a group of kuhli loaches. I will be sure to supply lots of hiding spaces and possibly a few more plants. There are only two large ones at the moment – one with broad leaves and the other with extremely fine leaves. What do you think of this stocking, and also how many balloon mollies would i be able to keep?

    • ReplyMariJanuary 21, 2019 at 12:48 pm

      Hi,

      Your set-up sounds fine for the stock you’re considering as long as you add more hides and plants for the Kuhlis. I would personally rehome the mollies, though. They don’t really match with the other fish pH-wise and might also be a little too active to combine with shy dwarf gourami. Speaking of those – always get a pair, not 2 males. They are quite territorial.

      I hope that clears things up, good luck!

      • ReplyOliJanuary 23, 2019 at 8:53 am

        Thanks so much! I’ll definitely rehome the mollies and try to find a female gourami. There are none at my local pet shop… but that probably isn’t the best place to go anyway. I haven’t looked very much yet though… and I should be able to find some quite easily! If I go with the Kuhlis then I’ll definitely get lots more plants and hiding places. Thanks so much for your advice!

  • ReplyShrimp caresheet: Orange sakura shrimp (Neocaridina heteropoda var. Orange) / The Shrimp FarmOctober 10, 2018 at 3:10 pm

    […] Small peaceful and herbivorous fish should work well: think pygmy Corydoras, small tetras, kuhli loaches and anything else that isn't able to fit an adult shrimp into its […]

  • ReplyJessicaJuly 7, 2018 at 5:11 am

    I have a 55 gal tank with three Fancy tail goldfish. Lots of caves and rocks and one pelco . Would this set up work for two?

    • ReplyMariJuly 7, 2018 at 2:04 pm

      Hi! No, unfortunately Kuhli loaches and goldfish are not a good combination at all. They prefer different water values and temperatures. The same goes for Plecos: they are tropical fish that need a tropical aquarium with ifferent water values than goldfish. I strongly recommend rehoming the Pleco ASAP! Sorry I don’t have better news.

  • ReplyOscarMay 1, 2018 at 4:35 am

    I have a 20 gallon and i’m wondering if i could put the 2 or 3 Kuhli loachs along with a single BN catfish.

    • ReplyOscarMay 1, 2018 at 4:40 am

      Me again, i know this would not be ideal but the 20 gallon would only be temporary. (At most a year)

    • ReplyMariMay 5, 2018 at 2:55 pm

      Hey! I would skip the bristlenose Pleco, I recommend no less than 30 gallons for them as they are real poop machines that can quickly foul your water. You can always get is when you upgrade 🙂 Why not expand your group of Kuhlis instead for the time being? As mentioned in the article they are group fish that LOVE plenty of company and will be less shy if there are other Kuhlis around. 10 would be awesome.

  • ReplyChristApril 11, 2018 at 4:01 pm

    My kuhli loaches arent so responsive when i feed them and keep hiding under the rocks, and bcs of this the pellets (i use both sink and float type) and the worms that i feed already got eaten by the other fish 🙁

    • ReplyMariApril 15, 2018 at 10:52 am

      Hey! Kuhlis can be pretty shy. Are you feeding with the lights on or off? You could consider trying to feed after dark, they’re partly nocturnal and will feel safer at night. It also eliminates some of the problems with tankmates eating the foods, as many of them will be in “sleeping mode” and probably less reactive to food.

      I hope that helps, good luck!

  • ReplyBrodyApril 5, 2018 at 12:55 pm

    I have a 16 gallon 30 long 22 and have 7 tetra neons a betta a long fin a golden bristle nose will one or 2 be suitable or not thx

    • ReplyMariApril 6, 2018 at 7:42 pm

      Hi! No, unfortunately that’s not going to work. Kuhli are group fish and unfortunately your current stock is not ideal to start with. Bristlenose plecos get much too large for a 16 gallon, they need at least around 30. Bettas and neon tetras are unfortunately not compatible.

  • ReplyAlejandroJanuary 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

    • ReplyMariJanuary 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.

  • ReplyShrimp caresheet: Red rili shrimp (Neocaridina davidi var. 'Rili') / The Shrimp FarmJanuary 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 […]

  • ReplyKaylaAugust 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?

    • ReplyMariAugust 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 🙂

  • ReplySeaDragonApril 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???

    • ReplyMariApril 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! 🙂

  • ReplyMyaFebruary 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?

    • ReplyMariFebruary 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. 🙂

  • ReplyBrittneyMay 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?

    • ReplyMariMay 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!

  • ReplyVictorMay 20, 2015 at 10:27 pm

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

    • ReplyMariMay 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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