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Caresheet: Kuhli loach | Pangio kuhlii

Last Updated January 23, 2020
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.

Keep reading for everything you need to know about Kuhli loaches and keeping this striped bottom feeder in your own aquarium.

Minimum tank size20 gal (75 L, long)
Temperature74-79 Β°F/23-26 Β°C


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

Kuhli loach natural habitat

Slow moving forest streams and rivers in Indonesia. The water is often quite acidic, warm 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. You won’t see them here during the day, though: they are nocturnal.

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 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. An 31.5″/80 cm 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 plenty of places to hide. A very exposed environment without hiding places and other Kuhlis will stress them out. 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 with the group 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 few shrimp caves can be enough to keep them happy. You can also use Indian almond leaves to create natural, dark water.

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 Kuhlis stay in hiding more because they don’t feel it’s safe enough to come out.

Kuhlis 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 disappear for extended periods of time. Not very fun.

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.

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 skittish.

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.

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 the soft substrate and hiding places they need. This is especially likely to happen if you’ve just introduced them into the tank. Give them some time and they’ll come out in the open more often.

Breeding kuhli loaches

I have not been able to find very 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.

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

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 Oli January 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?

    • Reply Mari January 21, 2019 at 12:48 pm


      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!

      • Reply Oli January 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!

  • Reply Shrimp caresheet: Orange sakura shrimp (Neocaridina heteropoda var. Orange) / The Shrimp Farm October 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 […]

  • Reply Jessica July 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?

    • Reply Mari July 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.

  • Reply Oscar May 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.

    • Reply Oscar May 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)

    • Reply Mari May 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 πŸ™‚ 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.

  • Reply Christ April 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 πŸ™

    • Reply Mari April 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!

  • Reply Brody April 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

    • Reply Mari April 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.

  • 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 πŸ™‚

  • 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! πŸ™‚

  • 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. πŸ™‚

  • 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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