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Thread: Loaches: A Primer
07-27-2008, 08:16 AM #1
Loaches: A Primer
Members of the Cyprinid family of carps and minnows are the Cobitids; the loaches. All are from clear, swift streams in primarily Southeast Asia, with a few species in Europe.
First, nomenclature. Cobitidae, which is the family loaches belong to, means 'sardine' in Greek, though as purely freshwater fish and looking nothing like the marine species, who knows why the original descriptor dubbed loaches that. Loaches differ from the barbs and Rasboras by having at least three to six pairs of barbels around a downward-facing mouth, catfish-like. There are 18 genera and roughly 110 species of loach, though only a handful are available in the hobby.
All commonly available loach species have a switchblade-like spine under their eyes. It is used purely for defense; to avoid being eaten. The spines are almost always erected when frightened; for instance by capture at the fish store. Be very careful with netting loaches, as a spine can be caught in the net, and the flesh around it can be easily torn.
Also, all Botia species click; that is, they make sharp clicking noises when food hits the water, they are playing, finding each other in the dark, or someone is in their favorite spot. So don't be surprised if you hear odd clicking noises in the middle of the night. It's just your loaches being themselves. Only the members of the Botiine group click; to my experience other loach species do or can not.
Loaches are not scaless fish; their scales are tiny and closely knit, giving the illusion that they are scaless. That being, they are still highly vulnerable to salt and medication, as they can easily burn the loach's body. No salt should ever be used with loaches, as the 'cure' can be fatal.
Acclimation should be by the drip bucket method, at least two cycles, as shock because of poor or hurried acclimation often brings on disease.
All loach species in the hobby are benthic fishes, that is, they spend most if not all of the time on the substrate. Some do roam a bit in the bottom third of the tank, most notably the smaller species. However, primarily, as noted by the downward facing bewhiskered mouths, they spend most of the time on the substrate, sifting through it for tidbits.
Now, some species.
Ubiquitous when the word loach is mentioned is Chromobotia macracanthus; the Clown Loach of Myanmar, Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula.
Very common in shops as they are captive bred in Southeast Asia and the Czech Republic via hormone injection, it's their looks that make Clown Loaches popular. A yellow-orange body is bisected by three broad blue-black stripes, the first going through the eyes. In exceptionally well-kept specimens, the pectoral, anal and caudal fins are splashed with blood red.
Though they are popular, few are aware just how large Clown Loaches get. Given the space, which they very much should be, Clown Loaches grow to 16 inches long, and get considerably more bulky as they grow. A 16-inch Clown Loach is a great big fish, and at that size it's easy to pick out the sexes, as the females are truly huge.
How fast do they grow? Properly housed and fed, a Clown Loach can grow up to an inch every six weeks when small (say 1.5 inches). They slow down a bit after they hit six inches, but within two and a half to three years, will be pushing a foot long. Within five or six, they can and will be 16-inches long. Clown Loaches can also live at least 20 years to my knowledge. The size is immaterial; Clown Loaches must have spots in their tanks they can jam in all together. Small and large Clown Loaches get along perfectly, and all will rest together in some tight spot.
Despite the potential for a quite a large size, Clown Loaches don't bother other fishes, unless they are small enough to eat. They are great snail eaters, and a tank with a group of six or more Clown Loaches rarely if ever have snail problems.
Planted tanks with driftwood are perfect for a group of Clown Loaches. At the very least get six of them, with more being better, as Clown Loaches do best in groups no matter their size. Plants in the tanks with a school of large specimens must be deep rooted as they can accidently dig up them up in their foraging. All Clown Loaches will nibble soft-leaved plants.
Rather nocturnal in nature, floating plants should be used to dim the light so you'll see your loaches most all day - though they are most active in the mornings and evenings. They do best in the soft and acid tank, say pH 6.8 and gH between 4 and 6. Clown Loaches are adaptable to a point, but going over pH 7.5 and moderate hardness is ill advised, as they are far more vulnerable to disease in such waters. They like their temps to be between 78 and 83 degrees.
For best results, the water must be very well filtered with the water volume turned over at least six or eight times an hour. They frolic when given a good, Oxygen-rich current in their tank, like that generated by power heads. They often rest at odd positions on leaves or the substrate, rolling over on their sides for a snooze.
Worms are beloved, with frozen bloodworms a favorite, as are live California Black Worms if you can find a clean source of them. Insect larvae, either live or frozen, are happily eaten. Fresh vegetables like Cucumber and Zucchini, with the latter lightly blanched, will give your Clown Loaches the vegetation they need and keep them away from your Cabomba. etc. Feed vegetables daily, and your Clown Loaches will thank you for it. Two or three types/brands of pelleted foods, including those designed for catfishes, can be given occasionally, but frozen foods and vegetables should be the main menu.
Scattered accounts of captive breeding Clown Loaches in home tanks surface occasionally, and in every account, the loach group were kept alone in a thickly-planted tank, and the parent fish were at least six inches long. They were fed properly, and basically left alone.
The following Spring, the loaches were removed, and the plants pulled up. The baby Clown Loaches were found around the roots of the plants.
Much smaller and thus suited to smaller tanks is perhaps my favorite loach species; Botia striata - the Striped or Zebra Loach of clear water streams in India.
Topping out at an adult size of four inches, Striped Loaches are smaller-bodied than the former, and even at four inches, are still rather slender fish, though the females are a bit rotund. A creamy-orange body is covered from nose to tail with pairs of close, black stripes, with a silvery-white between them. Stripes are on the otherwise clear dorsal and tail fins as well. The eye, which is bisected by a line, is bright yellow-orange.
As above, striata are great snail eaters. Also, they MUST be kept in groups of no less than six as otherwise they are nervous, uncomfortable fishes that hide all the time and soon die. You'll see them all day if you keep more than six as you should. They do need several hiding places built in to a layout if one is thinking of adding this species to a future aquarium. The hiding places should be of a size the Striped Loach clan can all jam into it together. Like most Botia, they DEEPLY enjoy the company of their fellows in tight hidey-holes, as it gives them ease and security.
A planted tank with driftwood is all but essential for a group of Striped Loaches. They won't long tolerate water over pH 7.0; soft and slightly acid is where they do best, as do most of the plants in the hobby. They can be kept between 73 and 80 degrees. Mine are kept at 77 in a tank with pH 6.8, gh 4 water. I've found them to be quite durable, as they are well into their sixth year in my care.
Their water should be very clean, and highly Oxygenated, with no less than 8 mg/l of O2. As they are from swift waters, a decent linear current would benefit them, and filtration should be able to turn the tank volume over at least six times an hour.
In feeding they are easily satisfied. Sinking pellets designed for catfishes can be staple, but frozen foods like bloodworms and mosquito larvae should be fed nearly every day. Mine adore live Daphnia and Mysis, though the frozen equivalents may work. Veggies, especially Cucumber, are happily nibbled and quite beneficial to them. Quality pelleted foods, including one consisting of vegetative components, can substitute one meal every day. As above, small meals given often are best, as Striped Loaches are grazers. Three to four small meals a day is recommended; no more than they can eat within 30 seconds per meal. As quick as they eat, they can usually finish within 10. They click, but at their small size, it isn't nearly as loud as say, a group of six-inch Clown Loaches are.
I'm not aware of any home breeding of this species.
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