Kuhli Loach 101: Care, Tank Set up, Tank Mates, Breeding and More!

We may receive commissions when you buy through links on our site.

If you like smaller fishes and especially interested in something that looks like an eel, then Kuhli Loach is for you. It is an unusual little fish that would make a perfect addition to your aquarium. They have the appearance of a small eel and float around the tank in a snake-like motion.

The Kuhli Loach is a fantastic cleaner fish that gets along with everyone. Furthermore, they have an intriguing and distinct appearance that makes them a common freshwater fish in many home aquariums.

However, do keep in mind that keeping Kuhli loach isn’t an easy task. It is not recommended for amateur aquarists. It requires some sort of experience to keep them in your tank. It belongs to the Cobitide family and goes by the names Leopard loach, coolie loach, and cinnamon loach.

Hence, today I’m writing this guide so that you can know everything that you need to know about these fishes. As a result, if you are interested in getting them for your tank, stay tact and read this guide.

Do not move as I have designed this guide in such a way that it will be your one-way ticket to know everything regarding Kuhli Loaches. After reading this, you will not need to read any more guides about these small freshwater fishes.


Kuhli Loaches are freshwater fishes that belong to streams in South Asian countries like Malaysia, Borneo, Java, Singapore, Sumatra, India, and even Thailand. You can find them in the wild in the sand beds of slow-moving rivers. Moreover, they can also be found in clear rivers in the mountains as well forests.

Their habitat is similar to blackwater’s old peat swamps. Direct sunlight does not reach the water they live in because it is heavily vegetated and camouflaged by tree canopies.

Looks and appearance

The curvy body of this fish is one of its most distinguishing characteristics. As I mentioned earlier, Kuhli Loaches looks like eels and is easily mistaken for eels at first glance. Their bodies are tiny, and their fins are small and difficult to see. You can find their dorsal fins on the back third of their body, closer to their tail, rather than in the center of their body.

The fish’s barbels are another distinctive physical characteristic. The fish’s mouth has four pairs of barbels that help it feel around for food. They have thin translucent skin covering their eyes. Although they can still see, the barbels aid them in navigating their surroundings.

The majority of them come into several colors. You can paint the foundation in a variety of colors ranging from light pink to brassy yellow. The fish’s underside is a little lighter. The fish have between 10 and 15 dark stripes on top of their base color. They are known for their versatile colors and different combinations.

They have a tiger-like look about them. The dark brown lines can go around the fish’s entire body or stop at the belly, depending on the species. Each eye of the Kuhli loach has a secret defense mechanism. You can scarcely see a pair of sharp spines below each eye when it’s comfortable.

When the fish is attacked, however, the spines can protrude to help fend off predators.  Kuhli is a type of fish known as a “scaleless fish.” They aren’t entirely scaleless, but their scales are very small and spread out, exposing their skin.

Since they lack a protective layer of tough scales to shield their much softer skin, they are more fragile to temperature changes and water conditions.

Black Kuhli Loach

 Another type of Kuhli loach is the black kuhli loach. When it comes to size and temperament, a black Kuhli loach is nearly the same as a regular loach. But it has a unique and beautiful color which is fully black or dark brown, around its full body. This variety can add a combination of gravity to your tank.

How to differentiate Male and Female

When it comes to differentiating gender, it is not that easy in the case of Kuhli Loach. Males and Females will look nearly the same. You need to see them carefully to detect the differences.

During the breeding season, females may grow slightly larger. Their skin will be translucent enough to see their ovaries just before they begin spawning. At the same time, Males would have a larger pectoral fin and a more robust dorsal cross-section.

Average size of Kuhli Loach

 Kuhli loach is really small in size, and hence you can easily keep them in small and medium-sized tanks. The average size of these fishes is actually very small! When they reach full maturity in the wild, these river dwellers are just around 5 inches long. In captivity, they prefer to remain between 3 and 4 inches long.


Unlike many other smaller fishes, Kuhli loach has a relatively long lifespan. The average lifetime of them is around ten years. This is very remarkable and indicates that they will survive a long time if you take good care of them.

Kuhli Loaches in the wild

Even though they are quite popular fish in the aquarium, you can find them in the wild. They are natural scavengers that scour their rivers’ bottoms for something big enough to fit in their mouths, such as insect larvae, tiny crustaceans, and fish eggs.

Behavior and temperament

When it comes to behavior and temperament, Kuhli Loach is a quiet and calm fish. They are not schooling fish. However, they do like some companions, and they are quite active at night. It is even hard to see them during days. If they are left alone in the tank, they are shy and calm, and you might not see them very much.

And even if others join them, don’t expect to see them a lot during the day. They prefer to remain silent and search out safe havens and search for hiding places. They’ll become more aggressive as the sun sets and begin scavenging for food near the bottom of the aquarium.

In the wild, you will often see them spending the majority of their time scavenging and digging in riverbeds, wading through sand and gravel for food. They enjoy exploring and hiding in crevasses and caves. It is very hard to see them at the surface of the water too much since they prefer living at the bottom of the tank.

They have a laid-back personality. They’re peaceful fish that get along with other animals if they’re left alone. They do have sharp spikes to protect themselves, as I mentioned earlier in the appearance section described earlier. However, they rarely use them unless there is a compelling reason to do so.

Food Habits

 Kuhli Loach is really nice in terms of food. They are not picky and have an easy dietary requirement. They’re omnivores by nature and can eat almost anything. They scour riverbeds in the wild, eating everything from tiny shrimp to plant matter. These fish are unique in that they serve as a natural filter.

They don’t like to hunt and will just wait at the bottom of the tank for the foods to sink in so that they can have it. It will consume most of the frozen or live food you feed it. Despite their lack of fussiness, they prefer a protein-based diet.

Their favorite food includes live foods like brine shrimp, tubifex, water fleas, and also bloodworms. You may also feed them vegetables and fish flakes or pellets to give them a well-balanced diet.

You should follow few simple guidelines for the feeding time to make sure that your Kuhli Loach stays healthy and happy. One can feed them multiple times a day as long as they can finish the food in two to three minutes. But, do not overfeed them. And for a properly balanced diet, give them a combination of frozen, live foods along with dry pellets.

How to Care for your Kuhli Loach

Since Kuhli loach is nearly scaleless, they are really vulnerable to minor water conditions, changes, and diseases, unlike most fish with hard scales that shield them from bacteria and fungi. For inexperienced aquarists, caring for Kuhli Loaches may be daunting.

They are highly vulnerable to the various drugs used to treat diseases, and certain diseases necessitate water temperature changes in addition to medication, which can contribute to the stress of the fish and make it more susceptible to disease.

One common problem they suffer from is parasites. Parasites causes ‘skinny disease’. This can be quite a deadly disease if not taken proper care of. If your loach starts to lose weight after eating well, it is possibly infected with a parasite. But do not worry, you can treat this by using various different medicines.

But there are other really serious problems that Kuhli Loach suffers with is probably ich. Ich is not an uncommon disease for other fishes also and can be easily detected by expert aquarists. They are always the first fish to succumb to the disease due to their delicate nature. Ich can be lethal if not treated correctly, and it can also cause other problems in the aquarium ecosystem.

Ich caused by a fungus, and it can easily spread to all of your tank’s inhabitants. The disease usually manifests itself first as tiny white spots all over your fish’s body. You can find medicines to cure this disease,

But there are ways that you can follow to avoid ich. You need to ensure good water quality, which you can easily maintain by changing the water on a regular basis. Also, quarantine any new fish you bring home before putting them in your aquarium.

They need stable water conditions and temperatures to preserve their health; drastic shifts, cooler water, and so on would increase their chances of contracting a disease. It’s essential to take great care when introducing your new Khulis to a tank. Chemicals, antibiotics, and other components in the water are extremely toxic to them. This is why filtration systems are so vital for their survival and well-being.

If you find one of your Khulis is getting sick, you should shift them to a separate hospital aquarium right away. Since they’re so susceptible to infections, it’s best to have a hospital aquarium on hand at all times to ensure you’re prepared if any symptoms arise.

Environment setup inside your aquarium for Kuhli Loach

As I have mentioned earlier, Kuhli Loaches are quite sensitive fish, and they require optimal tank conditions to survive perfectly. Let us see all the things that you should follow to set up your aquarium for Kuhli Loach.

Water parameter

Unlike many aquarium fish, these fish are mainly wild-caught rather than tank raised. As a result, it’s best to provide them with water that’s as close to their natural environment as possible.

Kuhli loaches are found in Indonesian and Malaysian waterways. The pH of their native streams is mildly acidic, and there is very little Hardness.

Optimal Summary of Parameters

Temperature: 75-86 degrees Fahrenheit.

pH: 5.5-6.5

Hardness: 0-5 dGH

Tank size: 20-35 gallons

Water Flow Rate: Moderate to high

Nitrate: More than 30 ppm.

Ammonia: 0

Tank Size

Kuhli Loach is a small fish, but they do not require a space to move freely. You can easily have a tank of a minimum of 15 gallons size. However, my suggestion is to get a minimum of a 20-gallon tank with 35 gallons being the optimum size. Add 3 to 5 gallons for each additional Kuhli Loach if you intend on making more than one.


The substrate is important for Kuhli Loach as they are bottom settlers, so it is important what substrate you choose. They prefer a smooth substrate in which they can burrow. Big, jagged rocks should be avoided because they can cut through their fragile scales and damage them.

Soft sand is the perfect substrate for these fish; they enjoy digging in the substrate and may even burrow under the soil. These little filter feeders are also filter feeders. In the wild, they consume insect larvae, tiny crustaceans, and even fish eggs by scooping up mouthfuls of sand and sifting through it.


This species is native to tropical waters and needs temperatures between 75- and 86-degrees Fahrenheit to survive. They prefer hot weather. As a result, you must mount a heater in your tank in order to keep their temperature within a safe range.

pH and Hardness of the water

The water in their natural environment can be very acidic at times, with pH levels around 3.0 or 4.0. However, in their tanks, you should try to hold between 5.5 and 6.5. The water should have a hardness rating of no more than 5.0 dGH.


Kuhli Loaches are quite shy; hence they like to stay hidden. They’re unable to protect themselves and can easily become a meal for larger fishes. Therefore their primary defense is to hide. Since they are active at night, they would not step out into bright light. Unfortunately, since they hide all the time, it’s incredibly difficult to spot them.

If you add a blue or red night light to your tank, you’ll be able to see them when the bright lights are switched off. Moreover, If your lights can be dimmed, simulating sunrise and sunset can entice them out to feed.


Choosing the perfect filter and filter intake is really important for Kuhli Loach. They are quite small and like to hide in any dark area they can find. It is often the filter inlet tube. They can wiggle into the tube and become stuck in the filter.

It is very common. To find your missing Loaches munching on filter detritus. Since this can damage or even destroy them, you should do everything possible to avoid it. To avoid kuhlis and other small critters from being sucked in, cover your intake with a sponge pre-filter.

Now you might wonder what exactly is a pre-filter. Well, it is not that complicated as the name suggests it to be. What it really entails is an extra strainer with a coarse sponge sleeve that fits over it. In this way, you can stay assured that your Kuhli loach will never go wandering inside the filter inlet tube and harm themselves.

Plants and additional Décor

As I said earlier, it is important to give them good hiding spots. Hence, If you want to keep kuhli loaches, you’ll need the right plants and decorations. They’re timid little fish that prefers to stay hidden throughout the day and emerge at night. They also enjoy hiding and forming a large pile with one another.

Small caves, the underside of driftwood, or plant roots (especially Java for) are all good places for these fish to hide. While planning for their hiding space, keep in mind that they like tight hiding spaces. And in this way, they can stay and feel safer and more secure.


Even though Kuhli Loaches are bottom dwellers, it is important that you add a lid to your aquarium. It is quite common to see them jumping over the tank and get out of it. So, it is advised that you add a lid to prevent them from jumping outside of the tank.

Perfect Tank Mates

Kuhli loaches get along swimmingly with other kuhli loaches. They enjoy being in the company of other fish, even though they do not engage in schools. Try adding 4-5 kuhli loaches together; you can even add more but make sure that your tank has ample space to keep them all.

They are a peaceful species of fish. It’s best to keep them around other tiny, non-aggressive fishes. So, when you decide to roughhouse them with other fishes, keep in head that Kuhli Loaches are tiny, quiet, and really delicate. Hence, As a result, they must be protected and kept only with other peaceful group fish.

If you want to have a multi-species aquarium, one of the best things you can do is choose fish that aren’t bottom-dwellers and live in other parts of the aquarium. You can also try keeping some bottom dwellers like Corydoras and red cherry shrimp. They are non-aggressive fish and stays happily with Kuhli Loaches.

Down below, we have created a list of fishes that go really well with Kuhli loaches; you can give them a try.

  • Guppy
  • Platy Fish
  • Neon Tetra
  • Otocinclus catfish
  • Cardinal Tetra
  • Clown Pleco
  • Black skirt Tetra
  • Cherry Barb
  • Different types of rasboras
  • Danio
  • Cory Catfish.

You can try to keep them with other peaceful fishes also.

Tank Mates that you should avoid

When we are working with Kuhli Loaches, we should avoid few different fishes to assure their safety. As they are quite small, their only defense is to hide; any huge, aggressive fish should be avoided.

Cichlids should be avoided at all costs. They simply grow to a size where they can easily intimidate or kill Kuhli loaches. Avoid snails also as they can become a food source for kuhli Loaches. Avoid angelfish, which are usually kept with other group fish.

To keep your kuhli loach protected, stay away from aggressive fish like Arowanas, Betas, Blue Gouramis, Red-Tailed Sharks. They are all territorial. The Tiger Bard, Angelfish, and Chinese Algae Eater are all nipping fish that can damage the kuhli loach. Larger fish that might be tempted to eat the Kuhli loach should also be avoided.


Everything you need to know about the breeding of Kuhli Loach

As I have mentioned earlier that Kuhli Loaches are not really for beginner aquarists, and breeding is one of the major reasons for that. Breeding them in the aquarium is not easy and requires huge patience and knowledge. These fish can be abrasive and need a unique environment to breed.

Even though breeding them is hard, you can do it by maintaining the perfect water parameters and setting up a breeder aquarium. The breeding process becomes more problematic as it is very hard to differentiate between and male and female kuhli loaches, and there aren’t many variations in their appearance when not mating, there aren’t many variations in their appearance Down below, we will discuss everything that you need to follow in order for them to breed.

The first step is to keep only around 8 Kuhli Loaches in a 20-gallon tank and make sure that there are no other fishes in the breeding tank. Then, a sand substrate and a sponge filter should be used to filter the tank. Make sure there are plenty of plants and hiding places for the adults to feel as relaxed as possible.

You can take females out from males when they are ready to breed, and they need to reach ages of at least 2.5 years to mature up. Females can grow to be very large when they are ready to spawn. You may also be able to see their ovaries through their skin in some situations.

Then you have to make sure that the water parameters are in perfect condition as if they remain stressed, there are no chances for them to breed. In the wild, they lay their eggs in very shallow waters surrounded by thick vegetation. Lower water levels and live floating plants should be present in your breeding tank.

Change the water quality and keep the light levels down. Reduce the Hardness of the water and increase the pH to 6.5. Also, you can add more additional plants, which also assist further for breeding.

Now it is time for you to wait and hope that everything goes according to the plan.  But make sure to feed them well, as the chances of breeding increase when they are fed fully. Leave them inside the breeder tank and give them time to acclimate and become relaxed in their new environment.

As I said earlier, that you could sometimes see their ovaries from the top of the skin. The female will start to grow in size. You will be easily able to see green eggs inside be their bellies.

As soon as they lay the eggs, you must remove the adult into another tank as, just like other fishes, they are known to eat their own eggs and fry. It will only take around 24 hours for the eggs to hatch. You can feed them infusoria and brine shrimp to allow healthy growth.

Even though breeding them is hard, but I believe if you follow these guidelines, you should have no worries about breeding them. Patience is the key when you are breeding Kuhli Loaches.



Kuhli Loaches can be a nice and interesting fish to keep inside your aquarium if you like bottom dwellers. They like to stay in a group and also like to hide a lot. However, they are not the best choice for a beginner since their care guide isn’t that easy. But if you can take proper care of them, they will increase the vibrancy of your tank.

Hence, today I wrote everything that you need to know about Kuhli Loaches starting from their food habit to care guide to breeding.

Leave a Comment