Minimum Tank Size: 10 Gallons
Care Level: Moderately Easy
Water Conditions: 5.5-6.5
Maximum Size: 4 inches
The Kuhli Loach (pangio kuhlii) is small eel shaped fish that is found throughout Indonesia and Malaysia. While it superficially resembles an eel, it is actually part of the large and varied loach family. There are nearly a dozen species of fish that are sold under the name Kuhli Loach, but the species pangio kuhli is the most commonly available for sale.
In the wild, kuhli loaches tend to inhabit slow flowing streams and rivers with soft, muddy bottoms. While they are not a traditional schooling fish, they naturally form into large groups with regular and playful interactions.
They tend to stay relatively small in the home aquarium, growing to an average size of around three inches. Some are known to grow larger, and can reach lengths that exceed four inches, but fish that large tend to be rare. A more common size is just under three inches and there shouldn’t be any concern if your fish is smaller.
If they are well cared for and properly fed, they may live for up to 10 years in the home aquarium, and anyone purchasing them should be prepared for a long term commitment. But they reward this long commitment by providing comical and interesting behavior for their owner.
Kuhli loaches are not a demanding fish, and will thrive in a well maintained 20 gallon tank. While many people attempt to keep them in smaller aquariums, a group of well fed kuhli loaches will quickly outgrow anything smaller than 20 gallons.
And it’s important to keep them in groups, since they are a social fish and will quickly become stressed if they aren’t kept in large enough numbers. They may even go into permanent hiding if there are kept in smaller groups and should always be kept in groups of at least five. If possible, they should be kept in even larger groups, and will exhibit more natural and playful behavior when there are more of them.
Something else to keep in mind when setting up an aquarium for kuhli loaches, is that you can further reduce any stress by providing them with a soft substrate that they can burrow into. One of the more popular choices for substrate is play sand, which is attractive, clean and best of all – cheap. It’s far cheaper than any of the gravel offered in a fish stores (most of which look like clown puke anyways).
If you do provide a soft substrate, don’t be surprised if your kuhli loaches disappear for long periods of time after you first introduce them into the aquarium. They can be skittish when first introduced, and will often burrow into the substrate or hide in plants until they feel more comfortable. This behavior can be lessened slightly, by ensuring that there are numerous caves for them to hide in, and plentiful live plants (fake plants will also work). The caves are especially important, and provide them with a safe place to retreat to if they feel threatened.
After you have chosen a substrate, it’s time to pick a filter. The best choice is usually a high quality HOB (hang-on-back) filter. A canister filter also makes an excellent choice, but its high price tag usually puts it out of reach for most starting aquarists.
I would strongly recommend choosing an Aquaclear Power Filter for a kuhli loach tank. This filter combines excellent filtration with a durable design, and it will keep your tank sparkling clear for years to come. You can also read the Aquarium Tidings Aquaclear Filter Review here.
It’s extremely important that any filter used in a tank with kuhli loaches have a covered intake. They are notorious for swimming up uncovered filter intakes and becoming trapped in the filter. If they aren’t discovered quickly, they may be killed by the filter, or slowly starve to death. Either way, it won’t be pretty and should be avoided at all costs.
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Kuhli loaches are scavengers in the wild, and because of this, they will eat nearly anything that is offered to them in the home aquarium. The one difficulty that may arise is that they are naturally nocturnal, and they take some time to clue in to the fact that their food arrives during the day. It usually takes them a few weeks to adjust, and once they come to the realization that are fed during the day, they will come out regularly for feedings.
To ensure that they maintain a healthy diet, they should be feed a high quality flake or pellet food, in combination with frozen foods and occasional herbivore pellets. If they are kept with other fish, it’s important to use pellets that will reach the bottom, or they may end up hungry and malnourished.
This can be especially problematic when they are first introduced, and they are still on a nocturnal feeding schedule. While you should try to never overfeed your fish, a bit extra during the first few weeks will help keep the kuhli loaches fed. I have used New Life Spectrum Small Fish Formula Sinking for kuhli loaches in the past with great success.
When it comes to frozen food, their favorites are bloodworms, daphina, brine shrimp and blackworms. They will also appreciate any live food that you can provide, though they tend to ignore anything near the surface, so mosquito larvae should be avoided.
It should really come as no surprise, that not much is known about breeding a nocturnal fish with a penchant for hiding. In fact, successful breeding are by most accounts exceedingly rare. But with that being said, there are some basics things you can do that triggers breeding in wide variety of fish species.
As with most fish, the first thing that you need to concentrate on is conditioning the fish. The water should be as pristine as possible, and the fish should be provided with a high quality diet for a full week. This should include live food if possible, but frozen food is nearly as good.
Once that has been completed, the only thing to do is take a wait and see approach. No one seems to know the exact trigger that initiates kuhli loaches spawning. Some people speculate that they need a gravel substrate, while others believe that temperature is the key. You can play around with these variables and hopefully something will trigger a successful spawning.