Minimum Tank Size: 55 Gallons
Care Level: Moderately hard
Water Conditions: pH 5.0-7.5 and Soft to Medium
Temperature: 75-86 F (24-30 C)
Maximum Size: 18 inches (50 cm)
The clown loach (Chromobotia macracanthus) is a large freshwater fish, that was originally native to Indonesia. After it was introduced to the fish hobby, it quickly became one of the most popular fish available and even the smallest local fish stores seem to carry them. It’s widespread popularity belies the fact that it can be difficult to care for, and grows to (relatively) monstrous sizes in home aquariums.
When found in the wild, they tend to inhabit clear running streams and rivers. But during the annual monsoon floods, they can also be found in flooded forests, fields and dark swampy areas. But their preferred habitat is always a swiftly flowing stream, and their aquarium should be built with this in mind.
If you plan on purchasing a clown loach, you should be aware that they can grow extremely large, and that they live for 15 years on average – though some people claim to have kept individuals for decades.
It’s not uncommon for a clown loach to reach 10 inches (25 cm) in the home aquarium, and there have been numerous reports of them exceeding 18 inches (45 cm) in length. Needless to say, a fish this large requires an equally large aquarium.
Before handling a clown loach, you should be aware of the fact that clown loaches have a movable spine set just beneath their eyes. If you are pricked with this, it can deliver an extremely painful wound. While not venomous, any fish owner that gets an injury from this spine will remember it for a very long time. Care should always be taken when handling a clown loach.
As already mentioned, clown loaches eventually grow to tank busting sizes, and require an equally large aquarium. This problem is compounded when you realize that clown loaches must be kept in a school of at least six individuals, with each growing up to 18 inches (45cm) in length. If they are kept in shoals of less than six fish, they will become stressed and spend most of their time in hiding.
With that being said, clown loaches can be kept in smaller tanks when they are young due to two unique traits. The first being that clown loaches have a very slow adult growth rate. While they will quickly grow to a size around 5 inches (12.5 cm), their growth rate will then slow considerably. You will have many years before a clown loach even comes close to their maximum size – which gives you some wiggle room in tank selection.
The second reason is that clown loaches will shoal with individuals of almost any size. With most fish species, they will only school with fish of a relatively similar size. Clown loaches on the other hand, will happily pile into a cave that contains everything from fry all the way up to behemoth adults. Thanks to this quirk, they can be added slowly to an aquarium, without worrying that the adults won’t school with the smaller fish – or worse, hunt them.
So now for the million dollar question – how large a tank do clown loaches need? The bare minimum that should be provided for a school of loaches is a 55 gallon (200 litre) aquarium, and this will only be acceptable while most of them are still juveniles. As they begin to reach their adult sizes, their tank should be upgraded to a 75 gallon (280 litre) tank – or ideally a 120 gallon (450 litre) tank.
Once an aquarium has been chosen, the next step is choosing a filter. Clown loaches prefer to have a significant amount of current in their tank, and this can be provided with either a power head, or a large HOB (hang-on back) filter. A canister filter can be a good choice for a clown loach tank, but just be sure that they are provided with some current in another form.
I would strongly recommend choosing an Aquaclear Power Filter for a clown 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.
Since they are found in rocky streams with abundant plant life, any aquarium that they are kept in should be modeled after this. It should contain large, rounded river rocks (though sand will work too), and there should also be a significant number of plants. It’s also extremely important to provide them with at least one cave in their aquarium, and they prefer caves with low ceilings over more open alternatives.
Clown loaches are opportunistic omnivores, and will feed on insects, invertebrates and plant matter in the wild. In the home aquarium, they should be fed a diet that is mainly comprised of high quality flake food and shrimp pellets. They can also be fed live or frozen food as treats, and they will eat any snails that they can find in the aquarium.
Their diet should be altered if they are kept with any other species of fish, as they rarely eat any food off of the water’s surface, and their tankmates will eat most of the food. To ensure that they get enough food, they should be fed sinking food in the form of pellets, or frozen food that tends to sink to the bottom of the tank. Some good frozen foods are blackworms, blood worms and in some cases brine shrimp, and Hikari Sinking Wafers is one of the best sinking foods you can feed them.
They should also occasionally be fed vegetables, and their favorites are blanched and shelled peas, and zucchini medallions. These only need to be feed approximately once a week, and vegetables can be substituted with herbivore flakes or spirulina pellets.
Clown loaches, like most other species of loaches, will also eat any available snails in their aquarium. However, they tend to ignore the larger species of snails and have trouble eating Malaysian trumpet snails. They should never be purchased to clean out a snail infestation, but they will help to keep snails numbers in check.
Reports of people successfully breeding clowns loaches in home aquariums are extremely rare. But if you want to make an attempt to breed them, there are a few things you can do to increase your chances.
Obviously, the first thing that you want to do is to find a sexually mature breeding pair. They usually take quite a while to reach sexual maturity, and the best way to ensure that you have a sexually mature pair is to only use fish that are at least 6 inches long. The larger the fish, the better your chances of successfully breeding them.
You can sex clown loaches by looking at their tail fins. The males tailfin is bent slightly inwards while the females looks more like a traditional tailfin. The females will also be quite a bit plumper than the males, but this can be difficult to identify without a fair bit of experience.
Once you have a pair ready to breed, they should be kept in a tank that is heavily planted, with perfectly maintained water. Nitrates should be as low as humanly possible, and the pH should be right around neutral.
They must then be conditioned with live food, and should be fed several times a day. Females at this point will begin to rapidly gain weight and after a few weeks of conditioning, mating may take place. Like most other egg layers, they should be removed after spawning and their eggs will hatch within several days.
After several days, the fry will become free swimming and must be fed at this point. They can be fed baby brine shrimp, or any of the other commercially available fry foods. After about two weeks, they will be large enough to accept powdered flake food and will begin to grow very quickly.