If you’re considering setting up a Kuhli Loach aquarium, you’re in the right place.
Kuhli Loaches are relatively easy fish to care for, but it’s worth knowing the correct environment and care routine to keep them happy and healthy for as long as possible.
I have a group of Kuhli Loaches in a small community tank with my male Betta, and I love to watch them make their way around the aquarium, looking for food.
I’ve learned a few things about these unique, lovable, bottom-dwelling fish over the years, so here’s my guide to caring for Kuhli Loaches:
Kuhli Loach pro and cons
Kuhli Loaches are one of my favorite freshwater fish, but to be fair they’re not for everyone.
Like any bottom feeder, the main upside to keeping Kuhli Loaches is how well they’ll keep your tank clean. More on this a little later.
Kuhli Loaches are also super peaceful. They keep themselves to themselves and while you shouldn’t keep predatory fish with them, they’re a great addition to a Betta tank, for example. My Kuhlis live with my Betta, Flame, who is one of the most aggressive Bettas I’ve seen but seems to love life with these gentle bottom-dwellers.
You’ll love Kuhli Loaches if you like watching their unique behavior – as long as you’re patient enough to wait for them to come out of hiding.
Unlike other freshwater fish that swim around the water column, Kuhlis are bottom-dwellers who explore the substrate looking for food. I like to drop a little food in and watch as they emerge from my plants to find it.
However, I have to keep very still and not sit too close to the tank, or they’re gone. Literally, these fish are so fast that they seem to teleport, and only the dirt they kick up from the substrate is left as evidence they were ever there.
This means that when they’re startled, or disturbed during water changes or tank maintenance, your tank is a blur of rapidly swimming animals moving faster than your eye can track!
This also means that the main downside to keeping Kuhli Loaches is that they’re rarely seen. They’ll come out at feeding time, and at night when the tank lights are off. But as soon as they’re startled they’ll shoot back to their hiding places and wait until the coast is clear.
One of the other main ‘cons’ to keeping Kuhlis is that while they’re hardy in terms of their tolerance to a fairly wide range of water parameters, they are sensitive fish in other ways.
While they can survive in a relatively wide range of pH levels and temperatures, they are sensitive to sudden changes in those parameters. A faulty heater or careless water change can cause stress, leaving your Kuhlis more susceptible to disease.
Due to their soft underbellies and lack of scales, Kuhli Loaches can injure themselves more easily than some fish. I do have gravel in my Kuhli tank but ideally, I’d prefer them to be shuffling around on sand for my peace of mind.
These injuries, if they happen, leave them exposed to infection which can lead to death in some cases. Sharp rocks and decorations should be kept to a minimum.
Diet – what should I feed my Kuhli Loaches?
Kuhli Loaches are bottom-feeders who will eat anything they find around the tank floor. However, don’t rely on their scavenging for their whole diet. They still need a balanced and varied diet to get all the nutrients they need to live a happy, healthy life.
Always make sure your Kuhli Loaches are getting enough to eat if, like me, you have other fish who might get there first.
Feed your surface feeders in the morning and let the Kuhlis take the leftovers. Then feed sinking foods at night when the lights are out and the room is in complete darkness.
This will give the more nocturnal Kuhlis, who don’t rely much on eyesight to find food, the chance to get a proper meal.
Are Kuhli Loaches omnivores?
Kuhli Loaches are omnivores, so feed them a variety of plant and animal-based foods. I feed a pre-mixed feed made up of animal-based micro-pellets, powdered foods, and fish flakes. I also occasionally feed bloodworms and cucumber as treats for my Kuhlis.
For more information, check out this guide to the ideal Kuhli Loach diet.
How long do Kuhli Loaches live?
Depending on how well they’re looked after, Kuhli Loaches live anywhere between 7-10 years. Naturally if their water conditions aren’t suitable they won’t live nearly as long, but a well-cared-for Kuhli should thrive in a tank with the right setup for roughly 10 years.
The main factors that contribute to the lifespan of a Kuhli Loach are a suitable and varied diet, the right water parameters and temperature, and an environment that keeps your Kuhlis happy and minimizes stress. More on this last point below:
Kuhli Loach aquarium setup
Your Kuhli Loach tank should tick certain boxes to make sure your Kuhlis have everything they need to live a happy, stress-free life.
Kuhli Loaches require plenty of shade from bright light, so make sure they have hiding places like caves, pipes, and smooth rocks and decorations.
The perfect Kuhli Loach tank size is a 20-gallon long for a group of six, with some rocks and caves for shelter. Add tall plants to provide shade from the lights, and Anubias or similar at the bottom, where the Kuhlis can chill out amongst the roots.
Group size and tank size are closely linked. The minimum tank size for Kuhli Loaches depends on the size of the group, and the maximum number of Kuhlis depends on the size of your tank:
|Tank Size (US Gallons)
|Tank Size (Liters)
|Kuhli Loach Group Size (Max)
Sand is the best substrate for Kuhli Loaches for two reasons – feeding and burrowing. Read on for more details:
Do Kuhli Loaches need sand
Kuhli Loaches don’t absolutely need sand but it’s by far the best choice for them. Kuhlis are natural scavengers and like to sift sand through their mouths for tiny particles of leftover food. This makes sand the ideal substrate for them.
Can Kuhli Loaches live in gravel
Kuhli Loaches can live in gravel but it’s not ideal for them. They naturally like to burrow in sand so sharp gravel can be dangerous for their soft bellies. It also makes it more difficult for them to find food, as they can’t sift gravel through their mouths.
My Kuhli Loaches have always lived in a gravel tank and have all survived and seem content. The gravel is quite fine so I’m less concerned about their underbellies.
However, I am going to look to move them into a tank with a sand substrate as I want them to be as happy as possible.
Kuhli Loaches don’t have scales to protect them, so sharp gravel can cause small cuts and scrapes which leaves them prone to infection. The whisker-like barbels on their faces are especially vulnerable, so my plan is to move them out of the gravel tank before this happens.
I just have to catch them first!
Plants for Kuhli Loaches
In terms of tank setup, a heavily planted tank is ideal as your Kuhlis will make their home amongst the roots and leaves close to the substrate. Floating plants will also help to break the light from above.
As mentioned, a Kuhli Loach in a planted tank will always have food, as they’ll eat any decaying roots, leaves and other plant matter. They won’t eat live plants.
Do Kuhli Loaches uproot plants?
Kuhli Loaches won’t uproot plants if they’re properly planted. They’re small fish who find their way into the tiniest of hiding places, but they tend not to disturb the roots when they make their home around the base of your plants.
My Kuhlis spend most of their time hiding among the Anubias plants I have attached to a piece of driftwood. A lot of the time I see them at the base of my Amazon Sword, too. I’ve never had an issue with them uprooting plants the way bigger fish like Goldfish or Cichlids do.
Best plants for Kuhli Loaches
When setting up your Kuhli Loach tank, consider tall background plants like Amazon Sword and Vallisneria, as they love to spend time around the base of the stems in my tank.
Plants that attach to driftwood and rocks are also ideal, as they provide additional shelter. As mentioned above, I have lots of Anubias plants which my Kuhli Loaches love to hide in.
Floating plants like Hornwort and Frogbit will break up the light from above and encourage your Kuhlis to come out of hiding during the day.
Be warned though, they are inevitably far more active in the tank at night, no matter how hospitable you make the environment. They’re easily startled, especially by the giant wandering around the room who keeps approaching their tank!
Do Kuhli Loaches need an air pump?
As long as you have enough agitation to allow gas exchange at the surface of your tank, you shouldn’t need to add an air pump to a Kuhli Loach tank. However, if in doubt, an air pump is a great way to oxygenate your tank water by disturbing the surface.
This lets CO2 out, and oxygen in. You’ll know if you don’t have enough surface agitation because a thin layer of biofilm will develop on top of your tank water.
I have an air pump running in my Kuhli Loach tank, but as they live with a Betta who doesn’t enjoy too much water movement, I have it on a timer. It comes on at night, just before I turn out the lights, which means the water is oxygenated overnight.
Tetra Whisper Air Pump
- Powerful: Provides dependable airflow to your aquarium
- Quiet: Suspended motor and sound-dampening chambers for quiet operation
- Available in various sizes to suit any tank size
- Non-UL listed: Reliable performance at an economical cost.
Kuhli Loach water parameters
It’s relatively easy to provide the ideal water conditions for a Kuhli Loach. Parameters are outlined below, but bear in mind these are based on their natural habitat – the most important thing is to keep your tank stable.
This is because your Kuhlis are likely to be store-bought, which means they’ve never lived in the conditions of that natural habitat.
This is true of all pH, water hardness, and temperature recommendations, other than some fish that require very specific conditions.
That said, here are the ideal water parameters for Kuhli Loaches:
|73°F to 86°F (23°C to 30°C)
|5.5 to 6.5
|0 to 5 dGH
|Less than 20 ppm
In terms of those ideal levels, Kuhli Loaches thrive in water that’s roughly between 75-86°F (24-30°C), with slightly neutral pH. My community tank is usually right on 7 pH and my Kuhlis are doing well in there.
Find out more about why you shouldn’t chase pH, as well as how to acclimate Kuhlis you buy from the store in this guide to Kuhli Loach water parameters.
Kuhli Loach types & colors
There are several different Kuhli Loach types available to keep in your tank, and a wide range of Kuhli Loach colors to choose from.
There is also quite a lot of overlap and contradiction online about which subspecies are which. Some of the common names for subspecies are used interchangeably and incorrectly, which can be confusing.
Some species are given alternative names in pet stores. So you won’t find the likes of the Zipper Kuhli Loach or the Tiger Kuhli Loach listed below, as they aren’t subspecies in their own right.
Types of Kuhli Loach:
Half-Banded Kuhli Loach A.K.A. Striped Kuhli Loach, Sumatran Kuhli Loach (Pangio Semicincta)
Leopard Kuhli Loach A.K.A. Calico Kuhli Loach, Shelford’s Kuhli Loach (Pangio Shelfordi)
Black Kuhli Loach A.K.A. Black Kuhli Loach, Chocolate Kuhli Loach (Pangio Oblonga)
Red Kuhli Loach
Giant Kuhli Loach A.K.A. Super Kuhli Loach (Pangio Myersi)
Silver Kuhli Loach (Pangio Anguillaris)
Albino Kuhli Loach
Panda Kuhli Loach (Pangio Unknown01)
Borneo Kuhli Loach (Pangio Alternans)
Neon Kuhli Loach, A.K.A. Golden Eel Kuhli Loach (Pangio Doriae)
I bought two rare Pangio Doriae today. They only get 3.5 inches long and stay thin and stringy unlike other loaches. I think I’ll go back and get some more soon. pic.twitter.com/WRGhcUifqH— Nayamage64 (@Simpin4Fulgrim) July 8, 2022
Malaysian Kuhli Loach (Pangio Malayana)
Cinnamon Kuhli Loach (Pangio Pangia)
For more information on each subspecies, check out this guide to Kuhli Loach types, varieties, and colors.
Is a Kuhli Loach a freshwater fish?
Kuhli Loaches are freshwater fish, native to freshwater environments in Southeast Asia. They require specific water parameters, such as pH and temperature, that are typically only found in freshwater habitats. They are not adapted to survive in saltwater environments and won’t survive in a saltwater tank.
Keeping them in salt water will likely lead to high levels of stress which will ultimately kill your Kuhli Loaches. Always be sure to research and maintain the appropriate water conditions for any species of fish you keep, to ensure their health and well-being.
Kuhli Loach habitat
To understand why Kuhli Loaches prefer certain tank conditions, we can look at where they originate from. Here’s a look at their natural habitat:
Where do Kuhli Loaches come from?
A Kuhli Loach’s natural habitat is the rivers and streams of Southeast Asia, in particular Indonesia, Malaysia, Borneo, Thailand, and the surrounding countries.
They thrive in slow-moving rivers and streams with soft, sandy river beds, where they sift sand through their gills to filter out small particles of whatever food they can find.
Are Kuhli Loaches nocturnal?
Kuhli Loaches are mainly nocturnal fish that are mostly active at night or when the light is dim. They can sometimes be seen during the day in tanks where floating or tall plants provide shade, but bright light hurts their sensitive eyes.
For this reason, it’s important to have lots of hiding places where your Kuhlis can find shade if they need to. Rocks, plants, and caves are great additions to a Kuhli Loach tank.
Having lots of places to hide will make your Loaches happier, and this will encourage them to come out more often when conditions are right for them.
You can also make their lives easier by choosing a lighting setup that allows you to create lower levels of light in the tank before switching on the full lights. Suddenly flooding the tank with bright light will be painful for Kuhli Loaches, who will then be less likely to venture out into the open tank.
Kuhli Loach Behavior
Kuhlis aren’t schooling or shoaling fish. They like to be in groups, ideally of 6 or more, but won’t display any kind of synchronized swimming behavior.
They are very social animals though, and can often be found draped over one another, rather than swimming in sync like Neon Tetras, for example.
As mentioned above, your Kuhli Loaches will spend most of their time hiding. It doesn’t mean they’re unhappy, they’re just very easily startled. They’ll dart back to their favorite hiding place as soon as they see you approach, so if you want to observe them, you’ll have to be sneaky (and patient!).
As they’re mostly nocturnal, they’ll come out of hiding at night when the tank lights off and the room is mostly in darkness. If you want to encourage them to come out, the best way is to drop some food in the tank and sit still a few feet from the tank.
Very occasionally I’ve managed to be slow and steady enough to get a half-decent photo of my Kuhlis, but most of the time they disappear as soon as the camera gets near the glass!
The “happy dance”
Kuhli Loach owners sometimes worry that a sudden spark of activity means Kuhli Loaches are unhappy, especially with water quality.
This comes from general fishkeeping logic that fish who are glass-surfing or skating up and down the side of the tank are reacting to changes in water parameters which are making them uncomfortable.
While it’s correct to be concerned about this kind of behavior in other species, Kuhlis tend to suddenly become more active when they’re excited. If you haven’t just finished a water change, which can spook them for a short time, there can be a few other reasons why they might start their ‘happy dance’.
It can be mating behavior, especially if a pair of Kuhlis are swimming rapidly together. If they’re intertwining with each other you’re definitely witnessing them making baby Kuhlis.
They even get more active before a storm, especially if they’re in a country where the weather changes often and suddenly. Yes – your Kuhlis may be more reliable than the weather forecast!
It’s always worth guarding against an escape when keeping a fish as active, agile, and unpredictable as a Kuhli Loach.
If your Loaches are jumping out of your tank, it could be because they’re stressed due to poor water conditions, including temperature or oxygen levels. It could also be a simple accident – it can be hard to navigate when you’re swimming so fast!
Either keep the water level a couple of inches lower than the rim of your tank, or choose a tank with a lid.
SeaClear 20 Gallon Acrylic Aquarium
- Ideal for group of 6 Kuhli Loaches
- Lid to prevent jumping
- LED lighting for plant growth
- Unobstructed views: Acrylic aquariums are clearer than glass aquariums
- Impact resistant: 17 times stronger than glass
- 24″L x 13″W x 16″H
Kuhli Loaches love to burrow into sand to find food and will even partially bury themselves if the mood takes them.
This mimics their behavior in the wild, where they burrow into riverbeds looking for food that other animals won’t find.
If you don’t see your Kuhli Loaches right away, it may be that they’re hiding in the sand. However, it’s worth taking a look around the tank if you don’t see them for a day or longer, as this Reddit user found out.
Kuhli Loaches are a fairly lazy species and can lie still for long periods of time.
However, if they don’t move when approached, or you find them lying on their side, this may be a sign that your Kuhli is unwell.
If your Kuhli Loach repeatedly tries to swim but then sinks to the bottom, this is a sure sign of a sick fish. In this instance, it’s important to quarantine your Kuhli in a hospital tank and try to determine the cause so you can treat them.
Breeding Kuhli Loaches
It’s possible to breed Kuhli Loaches in an aquarium but it’s very rarely done successfully. As true scavengers, they’ll happily eat their own eggs, which makes hatching unlikely.
Kuhlis have been known to spawn in tanks with lots of plant roots, where they love to spend their time.
Plants like Anubias, with roots that should be out of the substrate, provide an ideal environment for Kuhli Loaches to lay eggs in a place where they’re less likely to be found and eaten later.
If you’re looking to breed Kuhli Loaches you can try using a separate breeding tank. Moving your adult group to this separate tank gives you a better chance of success.
By increasing the temperature to around 82-85°F (27.5-29°C), feeding a high-protein diet of live foods, and ensuring some surface agitation, you’ll trigger their natural instinct to spawn.
Kuhli Loach tank mates
Small, peaceful fish that spend most of their time at the surface or around the middle of the tank would make the perfect tank mates for Kuhli Loaches.
These include Tetras (Neon, Cardinal etc.) or Danios like Zebra or Leopard. Dwarf Gouramis, Harlequin Rasboras and Guppies are also great choices.
Other bottom-feeders like Corydoras are peaceful enough to share the substrate buffet with your Kuhli Loaches, while freshwater snails get on with just about everyone.
Will Kuhli Loaches eat shrimp?
Kuhli Loaches are super peaceful and won’t generally eat shrimp. However, as scavengers who eat anything they can, they may make a meal of an injured shrimp and will definitely eat any dead shrimp they come across. However, Kuhlis won’t actively prey on shrimp.
As long as your shrimp are healthy, Kuhli Loaches are shrimp safe. But don’t take my word for it, watch this Red Cherry Shrimp welcoming its Kuhli friends out of their hidey-hole.
Kuhli Loaches and snails
Again, Kuhli Loaches and snails are a great pairing for an aquarium. They make a great cleanup crew and both are very peaceful.
The snails will devour any film algae that builds up on the surfaces around your tank, while the Kuhlis will feed on any edible debris that falls to the floor.
The only time you’ll see a Kuhli Loach eating a snail is if the snail has already died, in which case you should remove it to prevent an ammonia spike before the Kuhlis make too much of a mess.
Unlike Clown Loaches, Kuhli Loaches don’t eat so-called ‘pest’ snails like Ramshorn or Bladder snails.
Health and disease
As mentioned above, Kuhli Loaches can be susceptible to injury, sickness, and disease.
This is sometimes due to their lack of scales and soft underbellies, but they will also eat anything they come across and can accidentally ingest harmful foods.
If you notice a change in the behavior of one or several of your Kuhli Loaches, or you’ve lost one or more already, there are steps you can take.
Firstly, check your water parameters. If you find that something has changed, first check your tap water to make sure the water source isn’t the problem.
Then perform regular water changes to reduce the harmful chemicals. For example, if you find ammonia, perform daily water changes of 10-20% until the reading is zero.
Note: It’s important to find the source of an ammonia spike, rather than just treating the problem. Here’s a guide to what to do if water changes aren’t lowering ammonia.
Are Kuhli Loaches good cleaners?
Kuhli Loaches make amazing cleaners. They don’t eat algae, but they are omnivores who will eat anything from uneaten fish food to decaying plant matter. Don’t worry though, they won’t eat your live plants, as they use those for shelter.
They’ll even help to aerate sand substrate by burrowing and sifting particles through their gills to find tiny pieces of food.
It’s also worth noting that despite what you might have read, Kuhli Loaches DO NOT eat fish poop. It has no nutritional value and no fish will eat it. Even shrimps will occasionally pick up fish poop and test it with their mouths like they do any other bits of debris they find. However, when they taste it, they’ll spit it straight out.
While Kuhli Loaches are scavengers, you should also feed them their own food and not rely on them to find their own. Your tank is not an infinite source of leftovers!
Kuhli Loach bioload
Kuhlis have very low bioload as they’re not big eaters. They’ll scavenge on the tank floor for any leftovers but because of their small appetite, they don’t produce a lot of waste.
However, this is not an excuse to skip tank maintenance. As mentioned above, Kuhli Loaches are sensitive to poor water quality and changes in parameters, so monitor your tank’s levels.
I don’t encourage water changes for the sake of it, but keep on top of your maintenance and perform small, daily water changes if you see an issue, such as an ammonia reading above zero.
Salt and Kuhli Loaches
Kuhli Loaches are freshwater fish and don’t require salt in their water.
While some freshwater aquarium fish benefit from aquarium salt in some scenarios, Kuhlis are scaleless and therefore more sensitive to salt and other medications.
Only use salt in a hospital tank to treat specific illnesses under controlled conditions, where you have no other choice.
A full-sized Kuhli Loach is around 3-4 inches in length in an aquarium, but grows around 5-6 inches in the wild. They grow quickly – around an inch per month – and are fully sexually mature at two years old.
The minimum Kuhli Loach group size is six, and the minimum tank size is 20 gallons for a group this size. Ideally you’ll have a slightly bigger tank that can accommodate a bigger group, as Kuhlis are very social fish who will be happier in larger groups.
Lots of fishkeepers ask how to sex Kuhli Loaches, because unlike other species whose fins are a dead giveaway, males and females look very similar. Generally, females have a more plump body, especially in the middle where their eggs form when they’re ready to reproduce.
Kuhli Loaches are extremely peaceful fish and won’t hunt, nip, kill or eat other fish. However, they are scavengers who will happily dine on the bodies of any dead fish they come across. Don’t allow this though, as they can contract any diseases that may have killed the fish.
Kuhli Loaches aren’t expensive fish to buy or maintain. At the time of writing you can buy a single Black Kuhli Loach at Petco for $2.99. However, they need to be kept in groups of six, which increases your price to around $18.
Kuhli Loaches don’t have scales. This means that sharp rocks and gravel can cause injury just from swimming close to them, so it’s best to bear this in mind when setting up your tank. These cuts can become infected, leading to death if untreated.
Despite their appearance, Kuhli Loaches are fish, not eels. There are a number of differences between eels and Kuhli Loaches, such as the fact they have pelvic fins while eels don’t. They can live with eels, but they’re distinct species with separate needs.
In theory, a Kuhli Loach can live alone. However, a single Kuhli Loach will be stressed and won’t live anywhere near as long as those kept in groups. Kuhlis are social animals who thrive in groups of six or more and love to spend time draped over one another.
Kuhli Loaches are fast and agile and the odds of catching them in a net are slim. Instead, place a pipe sealed at one end in your tank and weigh it down. When they swim inside you can place your hand over the open end of the pipe.
Kuhli Loaches are a fantastic addition to a community tank or in their own dedicated aquarium.
Providing that the tank conditions are right, I’d recommend keeping Kuhli Loaches to any fishkeeper patient enough to wait for them to emerge. When they do, they’re as entertaining to observe as any freshwater fish.
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