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Last updated on April 23, 2014 at 21:24 EDT

Clown loach

A Clown loach Chromobotia macracanthus, (formerly Botia macracanthus) is a freshwater fish belonging to the loach family (Cobitidae) and is the sole member of the genus Chromobotia. Originating in Asia on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, it is commonly kept as a pet in tropical aquaria. They have orange fins with 3 black bands on an orange body and some barbels about their mouth which are used to feel around for food. Often sold in the pet trade at around 1.5 in, they do grow fast until about 5 in at which time their growth slows to a maximum length of 11.8 in (30.0 cm). There are no known cases of clowns breeding in captivity, partly due to the fact that they do not reach sexual maturity until after nine or ten years of age. Clown loaches may live for up to 50 years.

A harmless, very active, social fish, they are best kept in groups of 5 or more and due to their potential size an aquarium of 6 feet x 2 feet x 2 feet should be the minumum size used. These fish have bifurcated suboccular spines located under their eyes which are used as a defense mechanism. If a loach deploys its spines while caught in a net, untangling it is difficult and can cause severe injury. It is also a good idea when moving larger specimens to double or triple bag them or use a solid container. Some owners have been stabbed while trying to catch or touch these fish. When kept in groups smaller than 5, they may spend more time hiding under obstacles in the water.

They are also found to make clicking noises when excited or eating. Sometimes they lie on their sides on the bottom of the tank and appear to be dead. This is a common event and the aquarist should be aware of this fact or unnecessary removal may occur. They natively live in a tropical climate and prefer water with a 5.0 – 8.0 pH, a water hardness of 5.0 – 12.0 dGH, and an ideal temperature range of 77 – 86 °F (25 – 30 °C). They eat small worms, crustaceans, brine shrimp, and plant matter. Most Clown loaches accept commercial flake food as their dietary staple, but thrive with the addition of live food or freeze-dried (tubifex worms, especially if fortified) and frozen brine shrimp (thawed).

Clown loaches are regarded as a natural way of controlling an infestation of small snails in the aquarium. This being said, a person considering them for this purpose must also consider their future needs with regards to a large aquarium. A person getting clowns to removed snails in a smaller tank might be better served with one of the many other botia species that are as effective at the task but remain much smaller. Despite that utilitarian purpose, clown loaches are usually kept for reasons of appearance and personality.

Photo by Vlad Butsky

Clown loach