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Kuhli Loach Care, Size, Food, Tank Setup, Mates & More

Kuhli loaches are interesting little oddballs that will make a great addition to your community tank. They look like tiny eels and swim around the tank with their snake-like movements.

It may be a deal-breaker for many aquarists since people aren’t too fond of snakes. The average diet revolves around eating leftover food and scavenging the tank’s bottom for a bite to eat.

They are passive and don’t like fighting. Since they prefer to hang out in the lower portion of the tank, there’s very little chance of them entering into territorial disputes with other fish, like the Betta fish, for instance.

This guide will go over care instructions and other details for beginners who want to adopt these little oddballs.

Species Overview

Level of CareMedium
TemperamentGenerally peaceful
AppearanceBurnished brown and yellow stripes with pink hues
Life ExpectancyCan live for over 10 years
SizeReach a size of 4 inches maximum
DietOmnivorous species
Tank Size20 gallons per Kuhli Loach
Tank EnvironmentModest requirements
Tank MatesVery peaceful with other community fish

They (Pangio Kuhlii) are often referred to as Leopard Loach or Coolie Loach because of their appearance. They originate from freshwater streams in South Asia like Thailand and Malaysia.

They belong to the Cobitidae family. They were first classified way back in the 19th century and had a pretty interesting history. These are considered part of the original Old Word fish that were a staple food in Southeast Asia.

Today, the Kuhli Loaches are a staple in most aquariums around the world. They retain their characteristics adopted in the wild. It makes them perfect additions to most community tanks.


The most distinguishing feature of them is their slender body. For those not familiar with the fish, it’s easy to mistake them for eels. They do have fins, but you can’t see them without squinting your eyes.

These fish do not have a lateral line but have a visible dorsal fin located way back in their bodies. You’ll find the dorsal fin in the lower third of their body, much closer to the tales.

Most of them have a base color that can be anything from brown to light pink. The lower body of Khuli is more delicate in appearance. They have around 10 to 15 black stripes, often resembling the appearance of tigers. Depending on the particular Kuhli loach, the dark lines may stop at the belly or go around the entire abdomen.

They have another distinguishing trait – barbels. They have barbels around their mouth to help them detect their surroundings for food and other fish. Their eyes are covered with transparent, thin skin. While they can use their eyes to see their surroundings, their best tool to gain spatial awareness is the barbels.

Below their eyes is a sharp pair of spines, which is an unusual biological feature. They will flare those spines when they feel threatened or angry. Most of the time, however, you won’t see those spines. This defense mechanism helps them keep predators at bay.

They don’t grow very big and reach a maximum length of around 4 inches, which is not massive. It is not uncommon for some of these fish to get a maximum of 5 inches, but that is a bit rare.

Males and females look incredibly similar when they’re not breeding. However, if you look closely, males have larger pectoral fins and a more muscular dorsal cross-section. Females will become more extensive in appearance when actively breeding, and you can see their ovaries through the skin.

Some varieties do not have any stripes and have solid colors instead. They are either wholly brown or black.

They are incredibly rare and will cost a fortune at poet stores. They are sometimes referred to as ‘Chocolate Kuhli Loach‘ after their unique appearance and only reach 3.2 inches in length.


The average Kuhli loach size is around 3 inches, but some species have been known to reach 5 inches in length. It is big enough for them not to be confused as prey by other fish species.

Kuhli loach in aquarium

Behavior & Temperament

These fish are very peaceful fish and comfortable with companions. They can be very timid and withdrawn, and you’ll barely see them if left alone in the tank. They are quiet during the day and become more active at night. They are characterized as demersal fish. It means they spend most of their time at the river bed searching for food that sinks to the bottom.

In the aquarium, they have similar behavior and will spend their time near the bottom of the tank searching for food.

They like to explore their habitat and will appreciate crevices and caves to hide.

Word of Caution: Kuhli loaches are known for digging into the sand and will often die if the filter inlets are unprotected.

As mentioned earlier, they have sharp spikes their spikes below their eyes to defend themselves. Although they’re not aggressive, they will not hesitate to use them for good reasons.

Tank Mates

It is a good idea to keep your Kuhli loach with more Kuhli’s. Although they’re not schooling species, they feel comfortable when there are other fish around.

It helps to have about five or more of them to keep them comfortable. If you want different species, choose tank mates that occupy the tank’s upper and middle portions. They will spend their time on the substrate.

You can pair them with peaceful species like Rasboras, Gourmias, Danios, and Tetras. They also coexist with other bottom dwellers like the Red Cherry Shrimp and Corydoras.

It is essential to avoid aggressive and territorial species such as the Tiger Barbs, Arowanas, and Cichlids. Avoid larger fish that may see them as dinner.

Tank Setup

The most important thing that They need to thrive is a well-oxygenated, clean tank. You have to partially change 30% of the water frequently to keep your Kuhli Loach in optimal health. It is recommended to weekly vacuum the gravel to get rid of any excess waste and excess food.

Although They are fond of the surface, it is quite common for them to reach for the surface and jump out – so make sure the tank has a tight lid on it.


We cannot stress the importance of choosing the right substrate because they tend to burrow deep; make sure you choose something soft and smooth.

The cleanest substrate setup involves the use of sand combined with gravel. Never choose jagged substrates because they could harm these fish.

Water Parameters

The water should be kept soft, never exceeding five dGH. It should be slightly acidic at a pH range of 5.5 to 6.5.

These are tropical freshwater fish, so they should keep the temperature between 72 to 85 ° Fahrenheit.


It is highly recommended to install an under-gravel filter to reduce waste and improve oxygenation. Fish thrive in waters with lots of movement, so the filter should be able to turn over the water in the tank around 6 to 10 times per hour. Their filtration requirements are precise.


They like peat moss spread across the substrate since this mimics their natural habitats. These fish also do well with stones, large rocks, and driftwood. Make sure to quarantine these thoroughly before introducing them into the tanks.

Kuhli Loaches are exploratory and curious fish and will appreciate as many hiding to explore as you can provide in the tank.

Food & Diet

These fish like to eat meats and are purely carnivorous species. They thrive on small crustaceans, larvae, and some plant material found in the wild on river beds. Their eel-like bodies allow them to pursue tiny shrimp, daphnia, and other worms that float to the bottom.

If you intend to breed Kuhli Loaches together, you’ll need to condition males and females with live foods.

For the most part, They are not very picky eaters and will eagerly eat whatever floats to the bottom, including pellets and flakes.

However, make sure that they can access the food because they won’t swim to the surface for their share. It can become a problem in crowded communities, and the food meant for them may never reach them.

If this happens too often, they will slowly starve to death. The right solution is to feed them at night if you’ve got a very busy aquarium.

The good idea is to buy sinking carnivore pellets from shrimps and insects to provide your Kuhli Loach with a well-fed diet.

Don’t overfeed them because they will only eat as much as they need to. Leftover food will rot and increase ammonia levels. It is terrible news for all fish in the community, including your Kuhli Loach.

We highly recommend getting Tubifex worms frequently if you have a salt or clay substrate. It is the best way to bring out their instincts. In some cases, the Tubifex worms may even create their colonies if the substrate is adequately conditioned, thereby providing a constant nutrition source.

Will Kuhli Loaches eat shrimp?

They eat shrimp. It is difficult for shrimps to stay out of their reach for too long, and they will activate their hunting instincts.

Do Kuhli Loaches eat snails?

Snails are a more comfortable, slower target for them, and they will gobble them up right away.

Khuli loach eating algae wafer

Common Diseases & Infections

They are particularly susceptible to parasitic infections and diseases because they are bottom dwellers. They do not have hard scales to protect them from fungi and bacteria, unlike most other fish. Their scales are soft and faint in comparison, and their heads also lack scales.

It makes their bodies perfect for diseases. Worse still is the fact that they are sensitive to small changes in the water.

You have to be careful about the water’s temperature and overall quality when introducing a new Kuhli Loach into your tank. If you are already administering the medication to your existing fish, you could end up harming them as well.

The biggest issue with Kuhli is Ich. Most seasoned fishkeepers are probably aware of this disease. Ich is spread by a parasite that quickly contaminates the entire tank if not detected early. One of the first signs of the disease is tiny white spots across the affected fish’s body.

Because their immune systems aren’t nearly as strong, Kuhli Loaches are often the first fish to affect this disease. If you don’t treat Ich early on, it could prove fatal and completely disrupt your tank’s ecosystem.

They are also susceptible to a condition called “Skinny Disease.” It is easy to diagnose because they will lose weight despite having proper nutrition. This disease is caused because of internal parasites and can be treated with the use of antibiotics.

The best approach with them is to provide them with everything they need to stay healthy. It includes excellent water quality, a great diet, and an environment where they can feel at home.

Without these, your fish will become prone to illness and stress. It is why it is necessary to install adequate filtration systems to ensure its survivability and health.

  • Antibiotics: Metronidazole, Melafix, Levamisole, and Nitrofurazone. Avoid anything harsh or too heavy. Only administer medication in light doses and carefully monitor your Kuhli Loach’s reaction.
  • Foods when Sick: Increase their protein and vegetable intake when they are sick.
  • Hospitalization: It is necessary to quarantine infected fish in a separate hospital tank to prevent the disease from spreading to other fish.

Breeding Guidelines

Breeding Kuhli Loaches is easier said than done. These species are very selective and require a particular environment. However, you can get them to breed with some patience and knowledge.

The first step is to identify males and females. Unfortunately, they’re both very identical when not breeding. Their distinguishing features will only stand out when they’re ready to produce. Females will balloon in size, and you will see their ovaries through a transparent layer of skin.

They breed in social groups, and you typically won’t create pairs on your own. The best way to increase breeding chances is to have several of them together in a special breeding tank. It is just as important to keep these species as comfortable as possible.

Your goal should be to create natural, spawning environments. In the wild, females will lay their eggs in shallower waters with dense plantations.

In your breeding tank, you can do this with lower water levels and floating plants. The more plants you have, the better your chances of promoting breeding. Reduce the brightness of any lighting and regulate the water to facilitate spawning.

Reduce the water’s hardness and increase the pH to about 6.4. Once the tank is correctly set up, give the Kuhli Loach some time to adjust to its new environment.

Now, feed them with lots of live food. If your efforts become fruitful, you will notice the female bloat up in size. You will also notice fish eggs through her belly.

Right around this time, you should act fast. These lack parental instincts and will eat their eggs and juveniles that hatch out. Look closely at the floating plants. They are known for laying their eggs on their plants’ undersides.

The eggs are easy to spot because they are vibrant green in color. Kuhli Loaches lay dozens of eggs at a time, so all you have to do is look for green patches. Once you spot green eggs, return the parents to the main tank.

The good news is that eggs will take only one full day to hatch. Their fry prefers to eat Infusoria that are living on live plants. You can also provide them with crushed flake food or brine shrimp. It is essential to feed the juvenile regularly to maximize their chances of survival.

You have to be patient with the fry because they will reach sexual maturity at the age of 2.

As mentioned earlier, these species are challenging to breed, so don’t get disheartened if they don’t get around to breeding! Keep trying until you get results.

Where to Buy?

These can be purchased from most pet stores, online shops, online forums, and hobbyists. They are reasonably affordable at only $3 to $4 per Kuhli Loach. Expect to pay much more for rare species like the Black Kuhli Loach.

Final Thoughts

Kuhli Loaches are magnificent creatures who don’t get in the way of other species and make your aquarium look incredibly diverse.

They do have above-average care requirements and will put your aquarium husbandry skills to the test. Are they worth getting? Absolutely. Just make sure you’re ready to commit to their relatively high standards regarding the substrate and filter.