Clown Loach: The Complete Care And Breeding Guide

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If you hear the name Clown and it’s referring to a fish, chances are you’re having visions of Finding Nemo.

But we’re here to discuss all about the Clown Loach (Chromobotia macracantha), which is perhaps less well-known outside of the aquarist hobby.

They can sometimes be known in the trade as a Tiger Botia, but whichever way you come across them, you will remember them.

A colorful schooling fish that is from the tropical freshwaters of Indonesia, these distinctive fish will brighten up any tank and are a firm favorite in the hobby. Two types of populations exist in the wild rivers of Borneo and Sumatra.

Let’s dive in to see why so many people choose to ‘Clown’ around with their tank communities.

Botia macracantha. Aquarian small fish close up

Clown Loach Behavior

Clown Loaches like to live with others of their kind and are generally peaceful in nature able to get along with suitable tank mates.

A highly social fish, they like nothing better than to chase each other around the tank, and for that reason, they need room to play which means a large tank size.

It’s important to keep them in a shoal of at least five but preferably more to keep them free from stress and to allow them to behave as naturally as they would in the wild.

If you keep one solo in a tank with other types of fish, it can display signs of aggression if it feels threatened. Much better to have a group of them so they will feel more secure with a shoal of their own kind which will keep them peaceful and easy to raise.

Because they are so naturally peaceful when kept with appropriate loach company they should be kept alongside other peaceful fish or they will become stressed.

They can display some bizarre behaviors to watch out for, though. Clown Loaches have been known to lie on their sides like they are dead, but for them, it’s quite normal so don’t be too alarmed! It’s worth noting here that you shouldn’t try to remove them from the water if you see them like that thinking they’re gone as they will likely jump as you attempt to do so!

Clown Loaches establish a firm hierarchy within the shoal, and they also exhibit shadowing behaviors. Smaller fish will press against larger fish, often the alpha female, and mimic their movements.

The behavior of the alpha will also affect the rest of the shoal. They will keep a close eye on her perceived threat levels in a community and behave accordingly, acting skittish and hiding or taking her cue that things are well and time to play.

This type of fish will provide a lot of interest and color to the bottom layers of your tank and give it some energy.

Clown Loach Lifespan

If you cater to the needs of your Clown Loaches, you could expect them to live for more than 10 years. Sadly, for many, this isn’t the case and a lot of this fish’s needs are not met by many more inexperienced keepers.

We will discuss more on tank requirements a little later in this article.

Large clown loach isolated in fish tank (Chromobotia macracanthus) with blurred background

Clown Loach Appearance

This is where the Clown Loach comes into its own.

This distinctively marked fish gets its name from having an orange base color, and three black bars with the first one masking the fish’s head and face.

They have a long, torpedo-shaped body that is oval in circumference and possess a forked tail that powers them through the bottom layers of tanks.

With a more conical-shaped head, they have a downward-facing mouth like a catfish and have two pairs of barbels which they utilize like all fish who have them. Barbels help them find food as they nose around in the substrate in constant search.

Their bodies have tiny scales but are more like catfish, and instead, they have a mucous layer that provides them with added protection. However, this makes them more prone to disease than fish who have regular scales.

Since almost all Clown Loaches are wild-caught for the aquarium trade, you might want to know which type you have.

The Borneo populations have red or orange pelvic fins that distinguish them from the Sumatran populations that have degrees of black on theirs. Other than that they are remarkably similar.

At full maturity Clown Loaches can grow up to around 12 inches in length in captivity, depending on tank size.

Care must be taken if you are moving around these fish as they have sharp rays in their fins that can tangle in collection nets or cause a sharp prick to the hands.

And while hard to see, they also have spines below their eyes as an extendable defense mechanism. Handle with care!

Quite a show-stopping fish!

Clown Loach Habitat And Tank Requirements

As always, we want to achieve optimum health for fish we keep in captivity by closely mimicking their natural habitat.

In the wild they enjoy the slowly flowing waters of the river systems they inhabit, so we want to keep water activity on the lower end of the scale.

These are steady-growing fish often bought as juveniles when they are only 2 or 3 inches long. This problem is compounded by distributors who may not tell a potential buyer that they are going to quadruple in size and that you need at least five for a happy camp.

They should not be kept in inadequate space and we will look at tank size further down, but it’s important to state here that if you are not prepared to have around a 100-gallon tank, you are going to be ill-suited to keeping this fish.

Let’s look at some specifics that are needed to provide these bottom dwellers with a great quality of life that best suits them for optimum health.

Tank Conditions

They are not keen on much active water flow, so water movement should be minimal and you want to keep filtration from creating unnecessary movement.

They don’t require any fancy type of filtration, but you need to ensure the filter can remove nitrates and ammonia effectively. Canister filters tend to do very well for these fish.

In terms of vegetation, these fish love an abundance of plant life for their sometimes shy nature and to keep their stress levels down. They need lots of places to hide and feel secure.

They don’t like a ton of light, so plants will help provide some cover and offer some dimmer nooks and crannies for them to settle into.

Plants in your tank setup should include anchored varieties, and a wide variety of freshwater vegetation. Some great options to include in your landscape would be Hornwort, Java Moss, Anubias, Amazon Swords, and Water Spangles.

Rocks, driftwood, and caves will keep them occupied and they also like tube-style structures to dart through.

Sandy substrates are safest, but you can punctuate the tank floor with smooth rock formations. Their barbels can be sensitive so avoid sharp gravel or anything that might catch or scratch them as they hunt for food.

A snug-fitting tank lid is also a point to mention here as these fish can jump!

Water changes will need to be weekly and at least 25% changed over.

Water conditions should be noted and maintained as follows:

  • pH of 6 – 7.5
  • Water hardness between 5 -15 dGH
  • Temperature between 75 – 86ºF (24 – 30ºC)
  • Lighting on low levels and plants that can thrive in such lighting

Tank Size

The minimum tank size needed is truly 100 gallons for a shoal of 5 specimens, knowing what we do already about their behavior, social setup, and large size.

But this is a bare minimum and if you can you should aim for a tank size of 150 gallons for ideal health.

Too often people buy these fish in the wrong quantities and keep them in too small a tank for their needs.

Tank size and Clown Loach shoal numbers will matter if you plan on keeping this fish and will impact them greatly.

Choosing Tank Mates For Clown Loaches

When it comes to finding friendly species for your peaceful, fun-loving Clown Loaches to cohabit with, there are a lot of options.

Any tropical freshwater fish that are suitably non-aggressive will tend to do well.

Some excellent tank mate pairings would include:

  • Discus Fish
  • Barbs such as Tiger, Cherry, Tinfoil, and Rosy
  • Gouramis such as Blue, Moonlight, and Pearl
  • Kuhli Loaches
  • Angelfish
  • Plecos such as Rubber-Lipped, Bristlenose, and Gold Nugget
  • Tetras such as Black Skirt, Neon, Congo, and Black Widow
  • Dwarf Rainbowfish
  • Blue Lobster
  • Red Clawed Crab

Ones to avoid are anything highly aggressive which will stress them out. Avoid Bettas, Guppies, Goldfish, Snails, and Shrimp.

While Loaches, in general, are well known for eating snails don’t expect to have them clean up an infestation in a tank

Clown Loach

How To Feed Clown Loaches

Clown Loaches are omnivores and are happy eating dry and live or frozen foods, flakes, and pellets, which means they aren’t too picky.

For live or frozen protein they love Brine Shrimp, Bloodworms, Tubifex, Earthworms, and the odd Snail or Invertebrate. Include high-quality flaked or pellet foods that have either no grain or are low grain.

They need diverse diets to give them their needed plant nutrition, so try sinking algae wafers or blanched vegetables to see what interests them. Good things to try are zucchini, pieces of squash, and even cooked potato!

Just be sure to remove any uneaten food offered to avoid fouling the water.

Clown Loach Common Health Issues

Clown Loaches are well known for being one of the first fish in a community to show any signs of disease if there are any unintended nasty elements in your setup.

The reason for this is their very thin, small scales which makes them susceptible to infection and also more reactive to medications.

Most freshwater fish are susceptible to Ich (White Spot Disease), which as the name implies is easily distinguished by white spots on the body due to a parasitic infection.

Ich is treatable when caught early and suitably medicated. If left untreated Ich is usually fatal.

Another disease that can occur is ‘Skinny Disease’ which is most likely a type of Spironucleus type of infestation. The fish will look undernourished and constantly lose weight. It is treatable, but a common problem from less careful importation

All of these issues are a good reminder of why maintaining good water quality is important and knowing where your water sources are coming from when doing tank changes.

Quarantining sick loaches is a must so that the medication can be dosed appropriately, but ensure that your ‘hospital tank’ has the same parameters and water conditions as the main one.

Freshwater aquarium fish, The clown loach from Sumatra and Borneo (chromobotia macracanthus)

How To Breed Clown Loaches

Clown Loaches are not a species that you are likely to ever breed in captivity unless you are very experienced in the hobby and have an unimaginable amount of tank space.

If you are determined to give it a try, you’ll need a breeding pair at least 6 inches long and keep them in a separate adequately sized breeding tank. Not the easiest to source!

Like other Loaches, these fish migrate to spawn which is why most in the trade are wild-caught. It’s just really hard to recreate the conditions necessary for the successful reproduction of these fish.

They need perfect water conditions, a nutritionally sound feeding regime, and a lot of good humor on the part of the hobbyist.

Even if you manage to get them to spawn often the eggs will not be fertilized. If they do, often the female will eat them!

Are Clown Loaches A Good Idea For Your Tank?

They are if you are able to meet their needs first and foremost.

Being such a social, playful species of fish it’s easy to see why so many people fall in love with them and want them as part of their setup.

But, you should only do so if you can manage the spatial requirements and have enough in your shoal to let them thrive. Too often they get short-changed and that is not what the hobby should be about.

There’s nothing happy about a sad Clown Loach.

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