Kuhli Loach – Great Cleaner Fish

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Being one of the few eel-like fish that can be kept in freshwater, the Kuhli Loach is an exciting fish to keep.

They tend to be shy and will frequently choose to hide in a little cave or nook in your tank, but when they step outside of their comfort zone, they are stunning to see.

They are suggested for intermediate fish keepers because they can be a little difficult to care for.

Everything you need to know to effectively maintain Kuhli Loaches in your tank is covered below.

Kuhli Loach Overview

The Kuhli Loach (Pangio kuhlii) is a distinctive tropical fish that is native to freshwater streams in Southeast Asia in places like Malaysia, Thailand, and Borneo.

It is also known as a Coolie Loach or Leopard Loach and they belong to the family Cobitidae.

The Kuhli Loach has a very lengthy history, despite the fact that they were only initially identified in 1846.

These fish are regarded as one of several Old World fish that were used by early Indonesians as food.

Today this fish can be seen in a lot of aquariums as it has become very popular due to it’s small size, unique appearance and peaceful nature.


The long, slender fish known as kuhli loaches closely resemble eels.

They do have pectoral fins but they are tiny and hard to see, which adds to their image of an eel.

They also have a small, occasionally invisible dorsal fin that is situated close to their tails.

The maximum length of kuhli loaches is normally between three and four inches, however some can reach up to five inches.

They typically have a body diameter of less than a quarter-inch.

Typically, their coloring ranges from dark brown to light yellow.

Some are almost totally brown in color, while others have shades of bright yellow on the underside.

The location and shading of color can vary quite a bit.

The stripe pattern that runs from their belly around their topsides is one of their more attractive characteristics.

The striped pattern is frequently lighter and can either completely encircle the animal’s body or blend with its underside.

Barbels, or whisker-like protrusions around the mouth of Kuhli Loaches, are a distinctive feature.

Foraging in murky water, these whiskers have taste senses that help them locate food.

Suborbital spines are used for protection, however they are generally overlooked unless your loach is being attacked by a predator.

Black Kuhli Loach

This is a popular kind of this fish that a lot of people want for their aquariums.

In terms of size and behavior, this variety is almost identical to the standard kind; nonetheless, there is one significant distinction between the two.

A distinct color distinguishes the Black Kuhli Loach from its counterpart.

Black Kuhli Loaches are nearly all black (or dark brown) in coloration from their heads to their tails.

Because this is rather different from the typical variety, fish keepers who wish to shake things up a bit could find it to be an intriguing alternative.


Adult kuhli loaches can grow up to five inches long in the wild and three to four inches long in a fish tank.

Males have bigger pectoral fins and a thicker dorsal cross-section than females, although both sexes are the same length.

During pregnancy and lactation, females have fuller bellies than males.

Kuhli Loach Care

Kuhli Loach Lifespan

Keep Kuhli Loaches in good quality water and feed them an appropriate diet and you can expect them to survive for ten years or more.


Kuhli Loaches are a peaceful and shy fish that prefer to be in groups.

They do not do well alone.

Burrowing is a favorite activity of Kuhli loaches.

It is not at all unusual for kuhli loaches to dig so deeply into the substrate that fishkeepers believe the fish are gone, only for the loaches to return in the tank many days later.

Kuhli Loaches are nocturnal, meaning that they are active during the night and sleep during the day.

Kuhli Loach Care

These fish require special attention, which we’ll go over in detail below.

Using this advice will help you ensure that your fish are well cared for and that they will live a long and healthy life.

Tank Conditions

As with other fish, it’s critical to maintain clean water and adequate oxygen levels for these loaches.

They prefer soft substrate or even sand since they enjoy burying themselves and searching for food there.

It’s not a good idea to use only stones or have no substrate at all.

It is recommended that the water be soft (0-5 dGh), somewhat acidic (5.5-6.5 pH), and between 72-86°F (22-30°C) in temperature.

Moderate lighting is recommended.

To maintain a 10-times-per-hour water flow, you’ll need a high-quality filter.

In addition, keep inline pipes covered to prevent loaches from swimming in and getting stuck.

There is plenty of greenery and hiding spots for them in their native environment, which may be described as “tropical” (wood, stones, and caves).

It’s hard to go wrong with Java Fern or Cryptocoryne.

Loaches enjoy spending time in leaf litters and it will be a good idea to spread some moss around.

They will like twisted roots of wood, caves and rocks for hiding places.

A minimum of 20 gallons (75 liters) is required for one Kuhli Loach. Add an additional 5 gallons for each one after that.

Diseases of the Kuhli Loach

Kuhli Loaches are moderately easy fish to care for, with the exception of the fact that they are very susceptible to a number of different ailments.

These fish have heads that are completely devoid of scales and body scales that are extremely delicate, which makes them susceptible to a greater variety of diseases than more hardy fish.

These exposed areas of their bodies provide easier access for pathogens like bacteria, fungi and parasites to invade.

They have a high susceptibility to an infection caused by Icthyophthirius multifiliis, more popularly known as “ich.”

Ich is a common parasite that can infect nearly all types of fish that live in freshwater environments.

However, because Kuhli Loaches do not have scales to shield them against ich, they are more susceptible to the disease.

A common sign of ich is the appearance of white spots on the body of your fish.

It has the potential to quickly spread from one aquatic life form to another.

Like other fish, Kuhli Loaches can be treated for ich with appropriate medicine.

However, raising the temperature of the water is a common treatment method.

Because Kuhli Loaches are extremely sensitive to even the slightest fluctuations in temperature, administering treatments intended for your other fish could end up shocking your loaches, rendering them weaker and more prone to disease.

The uncovered exterior of the Kuhli Loach makes it more likely that they may become infected with parasites, which can be difficult to treat as well.

These fish should only be kept in aquariums by experienced fish keepers who are able to keep the water quality at an adequate level and the environment in good shape.

The best method to protect your Kuhli Loach from sickness is to prevent them from being sick in the first place and avoid exposing them to any pathogens.

Kuhli Loach tank mates

Kuhli Loach Diet

Since Kuhli loaches are omnivorous fish, they will consume nearly anything as long as it is tiny enough to eat and is located on the tank’s bottom.

They take pleasure in sifting through the sand and pebbles in their quest for food.

They look for food and scraps rather than hunting for their food, therefore they are more like scavengers than true hunters.

They may consume eggs, tiny snails, or even sickly fish.

They are generally not picky and they like frozen, dried, or live food, but they do prefer a diet high in meat.

Flakes and pellets are wonderful choices if you want to feed your fish with dry food since they will quickly sink to the substrate and be consumed by your loaches.

They adore grindal worms, daphnia, bloodworms, and microworms.

Feed them a couple of times each day but make sure there isn’t any food leftover that might contaminate the water.

The best times to feed your Kuhli Loaches are right before you go to bed and right after you get up, because that is when they enjoy eating the most.

Do Kuhli Loaches Eat Snails?

Baby snails and eggs may be vulnerable to Kuhli loaches.

If they can reach the snail’s body and pull it out then they will consume them.

Kuhli loaches do not consistently exhibit this behavior, hence it should not be termed a snail killer.

Kuhli Loach Tank Mates

When they are the only fish in the aquarium, kuhli loaches are often fairly reserved.

A kuhli loach should ideally be kept in a group of at least five individuals.

You will see them in the tank much more frequently when they are able to interact socially with members of their own species.

With other fish nearby, they will be happier and more active with less stress.

Here is a list of suitable tank mates:

  • Corydoras
  • Neon Tetras
  • Guppies
  • Celestial Danios
  • Chili Rasboras
  • Harlequin Rasboras
  • Cardinal Tetras
  • Dwarf Gourami 
  • Rummy Nose Tetras
  • Mollies
  • Angelfish
  • Discus
  • White Cloud Mountain Minnows
  • Apistogramma
  • Platies
diet kuhli loach


It is not easy to breed Kuhli Loaches but it can be done.

The first step is to create a totally separate breeding tank as you will need to change the water conditions in order to encourage them to breed.

The breeding tank needs to be heavily planted with some additional floating plants.

Keep the lights dim and the water level very low.

The water temperature should be raised to around 82–86°F with the water hardness being in the region of 6.5 Ph.

Place a few Kuhli Loaches in the tank to allow them to pair off naturally.

A good ration is 2 males to 1 female.

If you are not sure if they are male or female then add a group of around nine Kuhli’s.

Feed the fish plenty of live food like brine shrimp and micro worms to condition them for breeding.

You need the fish to think it is raining and the best way to do this is to sprinkle water into the tank a few times a day.

Kuhli’s breed during the rainy season.

Hopefully a male and female will separate themselves from the rest of the group.

She will let the male know she is ready by signalling him which will prompt her to start laying eggs.

They will swim near the surface of the water and the eggs will drop down to the bottom of the tank.

She is able to lay over 400 eggs which are bright green in color.

As soon as the pair has finished spawning, they have to be removed along with any other fish back to the main tank.

Kuhli Loaches will eat their eggs and fry if left inside the breeding tank.

The eggs should hatch within two days with the fry becoming free swimming within 3 days.

For the first week, feed them liquid fry food and then progress onto freshly hatched baby brine shrimp for the next 6 weeks.

After this start feeding them the same food that you normally feed the adult loaches with.

They can then join them in the main tank.

Should You Get Some Kuhli’s

Before introducing this species to your aquarium, keep the following points in mind:

Keep them in water similar to their natural habitat. Soft, slightly acidic water is ideal.

This fish may not be a suitable fit for your aquarium if your water doesn’t meet the minimum requirements.

They’re also a vulnerable target because of their small size and gentle nature.

They’re perfect for a peaceful communal tank, but won’t do well with aggressive fish like cichlids.

A tank with a lot of plants and decorations is excellent for these fish since they require lots of places to hide.

It’s impossible for these small loaches to thrive in an aquarium that is completely open and bare bottomed.

Kuhli loaches are an excellent fish provided you can cater for their basic needs.

Despite their small size, they do a lot of good for the tank’s cleanliness and produce relatively little bioload.

Photo of author


Irma Bense is the founder of BetterFishkeeping.com. She has over 42 years of experience in keeping fish.She has kept both freshwater and saltwater fish through the years.She has extensive knowledge in breeding numerous species of fish from Show Guppies, Cory Catfish, German Blue Rams to Apistogrammas.You can learn more about Irma on the 'About' page.

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