Clown Loach – Chromobotia macracanthus – A Care Guide

Clown Loach
Clown Loach is a freshwater fish from Sumatra and Borneo islands, Indonesia. It is one of the most popular and lovable species in the freshwater aquarium trade. However, it is a complex species with numerous demands, which makes clown loach a relatively difficult species to handle.
Clown Loach is also known as Tiger Botia, is a peaceful species with an unconventional look; is one of the most popular freshwater aquarium fish.
Let us continue reading to know more details about Clown Loach origin, care, etc.


Clown Loach – An Overview:

Description  Category
Family Cobitidae
Scientific name Chrombotia Macracanthus since 1989
Origin Sumatra, Malay Peninsula, and Borneo 
Type Fresh Water
Color Form Black, Orange, Red
Difficulty Moderate
Breeding  Spawners and difficult 
Max. Size 10 to 20 inches (25 to 50 cms)
Life span 10 to15 years
Temperament Peaceful
Diet Omnivores
Minimum Tank Size 150 gallon ( liters)
Temperature 77 to 86°C (25 to 30 °F)
Acidity 5 to 8 pH
Hardness 5  to 12 dGH

Species Origin – Clown Loach:

Clown Loach is a common name for a freshwater fish in the genus Chromobotia Macracanthus in the family Cobitidae of the order Cypriniformes

The Chromobotia was first described as Cobitis by Pieter Bleeker in 1852; later, in 1989, it was changed to Botia. It was in 2005, Dr. Maurice Kottelat classified it into a genus of its own Chromobotia.

The common name clown loach, attribution is to its quirky behavior and appearance. 

Chromobotia macracanthus are native to the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. They are migratory by nature; for 7 to 8 months in a year, they migrate to flooded plains during the monsoon season.

Clown loaches are tropical fish that live in the water with a temperature ranging from 77 to 86 °F (25 to 30 °C), and an acidity ranging from 5 to 8 pH. 

Surprisingly, Clown Loach is a food source for the local population; they are stapled in the aquarium trade for several decades; therefore, they are extensively harvested both by the locals and the aquarists.

Thanks to their fondness for spawning, they are abundant in the wild.

The lifespan of Clown Loach:

Clown Loaches live anywhere between 10 to 15 years in captivity. However, they are known to live for 25 years in the wild.

Clown Loaches are susceptible to Ichthyophthirius or white spot disease as clown loaches have almost no scales.

Several factors determine the lifespan of a species. Clown Loaches inhabits clear streams of hilly regions. They are schooling fish; they are lively and funny in a large group of loaches.

Replicating their natural habitat can encourage this amusing species to live to their optimal age.

Appearances and the Physical Characteristics – Chrombotia Macracanthus aka Clown Loach:

Clown loaches have a typical loach body, long, lean body, and compressed laterally. Their dorsal surface is curved and stretches from the tail to its downturned mouth. The ventral surface is flat and leveled. 

Its mouth faces downward, and it is similar to that of a catfish, thick, and fleshy. They have a protruding nose, and several pairs of barbels encircle them. It has a sharp spine underneath each eye. They are defense mechanisms; they are not poisonous, but they can prick. It is a characteristic of most loaches.

These spines sometimes get caught in the net; when you see them caught in the net with their nose down, do not remove the fish; by removing fish from the net, you might damage their spines; after a while, they will get away from the net.

They have small scales that are hardly visible to the naked eyes and looks scaleless body.

The body is yellowish-orange, the vibrancy varies from whitish-orange to reddish-orange. They have three thick black, vertical bands. These bands are triangular shape; the front band covers the face like a mask, the middle band situate between the head and the dorsal fins and envelops the ventral portion of the body, the rear band envelopes the caudal peduncle and extends to the anal fins.

All the fins are reddish-orange. However, there is are some variation in colors within the species; the pelvic fins from Borneo reddish-orange with black pigmentation; whereas, the pelvic fins of the species from Sumatra are entirely reddish-orange.

The clown loach is sexually dimorphic. Just like with most fishes, the males are more vibrant and showy tail fins. The black triangular bands in the males are sharper V; whereas, the female’s bands are slightly rounder. The females have larger and rounder body with straight tail fins.

Size of Clown Loach:

clown loach size

Clown Loach is a freshwater fish Cobitidae family of the order Cypriniformes

They typically grow to the size of anywhere between 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 cms) in captivity. However, they are known to grow up to 20 inches (50 cms) in the wild.

The pet shops sell them typically when they are just 1.5 to 2 inches (4 to 6 cms). Do not under-estimate their sizes as they can grow anywhere between 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 cms) in an aquarium setting; in the wild, they grow up to 20 inches (50 cms). 

It will take a couple of years to get to that size; you must keep patients and provide them with the right ambient to grow to their optimal size.

Clown Loach Habitat:

Clown Loach is native to Sumatra, Malay Peninsula, and Borneo. They inhabit clear streams and slow-flowing rivers. The bi-annual rain forces them to migrate to flooded plains or lakes or murky waters; also, breeding loaches migrate to smaller waterways such as brooks, channels, creeks, etc. to spawn.

The water where Clown Loach inhabits the temperature range from 77 to 86 °F (25 to 30 °C), an acidity ranging from 5 to 8 pH, and hardness between 5 and 12 dGH.

They inhabit areas where the waters are covered by the plants that include Piptospatha, a genus of flowering plants in the family Araceae, Cryptocoryne species, Saraca species, small trees of the legume family, etc. 

The lighting is subdued in their natural habitat due to the plant coverage and turbidity created by the underwater currents. The barbells help them to identify prey in low visibility conditions.

The substrates in these waterways is a mixture of peat with pebbles, rocks, gravels, and sand. Most experienced aquarists have noted that they prefer gravel substrate to sand when given choices.

Behavior and the temperament:

Chromobotia-macracanthus behavior

Clown Loach is a peaceful, schooling species that dwells in the lower half of the tank. They are good tank mates for several freshwater species, including those species that dwell in the same level.

They are at their best when they are in a large group; a minimum of 5 clown loaches is ideal in a tank of 75 gallons (280 liters)and a tank of 150 gallons(570 liters) as they grow into adults.

Clown Loach has some peculiar behavior such as swimming upside down, playing dead, sleeping on the side, etc. they are quite entertaining just like a clown. 

The common name clown loach comes from this entertaining behavior combined with their body shapes, colors, and stripes.

If you see clown loach lying on their sides, looking dead, do not try to amend or correct their posture; this is one of the peculiar things they do.

Although they are nocturnal like any other loaches, you still can see them during the day out foraging the substrates and plants. 

They have a complex hierarchical system; an alpha loach, usually a female, followed by the other clown loaches have curious exchange amongst each other.

Usually, the young ones trail the alpha imitating their manners and conducts. Sometimes, one can witness the young clowns tailing other species residing in the same tank. This particular behavior occurs when the loaches are in a very small group, sharing the tank with other shoaling species.

They love to hide in the plants and the decors such as caves, tubes, etc. They love to squeeze in tubes just like cats do. The aquarium traders profit from this tube-dwelling behavior to harvest the species in the wild.

Clown loaches are always alert and ready to strike or dash for hideouts depending on the other species.

Tank Size and Conditions for Clown Loach:

Tank Size:

You need a minimum tank size of 75 gallons (280 liters) tank to keep the Clown Loaches, ideally, we recommend a 150 gallons (570 liters) tank as they grow. As they thrive better in a fairly big group, we recommend you keep at least a group of 5 clown loaches. If you are planning on keeping more fishes, consider buying a bigger tank. 

The pet shops sell them typically when they are just 1.5 to 2 inches (4 to 6 cms). Do not under-estimate their sizes as they grow anywhere between 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 cms) in an aquarium setting; in the wild, they grow up to 20 inches (50 cms). Although this may take a couple of years.

Filtration and other equipment for Clown Loaches:

Since you need to keep them in a group of a minimum of 5 or more; and that 5 or more 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 cms) size fishes build a huge bio-load in their living environment. Therefore, filtration becomes a pre-eminent factor when you consider bringing clown loaches.

The bioload quickly starts to break down into ammonia; the bio-media in the filtration digest ammonia into nitrite and then to nitrates. This process is called the Nitrogen Cycle. While nitrate is much less harmful than ammonia and nitrite, it is allowed up to certain levels in the water between the aquarium cleaning and water change.

Clown Loach is a species with a big appetite; they will produce huge wastes that need a filter with sufficient bio-media to process the wastes.

Either you can go with a large Hang-on-back filter or a large canister filter. You can also consider, Aquaclear Power Filter. It has some good feedback from users, who keep large species such as clown loaches. 

You may need a heater to maintain a temperature range of 77 to 86°C (25 to 30 °F). You will need some small supplies, such as a thermometer to keep watch of the temperature of the tank water, a gravel vacuum for a weekly water change, and a test kit to check pH and the other water parameters. 

Water parameters:

Water quality is crucial for keeping clown loaches healthy. Take care to keep the water very clean, well-aerated, and warm.

Clown Loaches are native to inland water streams in Sumatra, Borneo, and the Malay Peninsula. The water temperature in these waterways ranges from 77 to 86°C (25 to 30 °F) with an acidity of 5 to 8 pH and 5 to 12 dGH hardness.

The best way to regulate a stable temperature range is to install a high-quality heater that maintains the set temperature efficiently.


Clown Loaches predominantly dwell at the bottom of the tank, they rarely venture up to the surface of the tank. They clean off the bottom and go through the substrate to look for the food. However, they don’t dig as a habit of digging, but if there’s food or a snail under they will go for it.

Therefore, while choosing a substrate for Clown Loaches, the best is to have a soft substrate without any sharp edges. In their natural habitat, the substrate is a mixture of peat, pebbles, sands, rocks, and gravel.

Most people believe that hard substrates such as gravel substrate, damage clown loach barbels. However, experienced hobbyists recon that the poor water quality is way more damaging to the barbels than the hard substrate.

It is even noticed by some aquarists that clown loach prefers gravel over sand when given choices.

The best substrate for clown loaches is to replicate their natural habitat, a sand substrate with some pebble, rocks, and plants.

My recommendation is to choose a dark substrate as their natural habitat is with subdued lighting.

Lighting and Decors:

Though they are not as timid as other loaches, they like to have plenty of hiding places due to their size. Having plenty of hiding places in the tank makes them feel safe and secure.  

As much as they love to have a plant-covered habitat, they can be damaging some plants such as Amazon Swords, crypts, etc. The best plants for the Clown Loach tank are hardy plants, namely java moss, java fern, Anubias, etc., and plants that are tall and overhang just as in their native habitat. 

Bogwood is a great addition as it lowers the pH and hardness of the water by absorbing peat tannins, which helps to maintain the water parameters closer to their natural habitat.

Rocks, tubes, driftwoods, caves, etc. will provide them with plenty of hiding places for them to hide and play.

Unlike other nocturnal species, clown loaches are active during the day but shun away from the bright lights. They prefer subdued lighting and choose to inhabit parts of the aquarium where there are plenty of plants, caves, tubes, and other decors. 

I recommend high-quality adjustable LED lightings.

Tank Mates for Clown Loach:

clown loach tank mates

Clown Loach is a peaceful species with its own as well as with other species. Virtually all non-aggressive species are suitable tank mates for clown loach as long as the water parameters and the environmental requirements are similar.
They need to be kept in a group as they are shoaling fish. However, It is not necessary to strike a balance between the male-female ratio as they are not territorial.
They do pretty well with the other schooling fishes such as Neon Tetra, Ember Tetra, Tiger Barbs, Cherry Barbs, etc.
They also do well with rainbowfish, plecos, larger rasboras, harlequin rasbora,  gouramis, rainbow sharks, etc. You can keep them with other loaches such as kuhli loach.
Clown Loach devours snail and shrimps including Amano Shrimp. Loaches and invertebrates do not mix.
Avoid any aggressive species like Cichlids, Jack Dempsey Cichlids, Oscar, etc.  There are cases some aquarists keep Cichlids or Oscar with Clown Loaches. However, it will stress them, and eventually, it will cost their health and lifespan.
Goldfish, mollies,  angelfish are not suitable tank mates to clown loaches.

Clown Loach Diet:

Clown Loach are omnivores; they feed on insects, worms, crustaceans, and plant matter in the wild. Snails are their favorite, they relish them. 

Often, the pet stores sell clown loaches to control the snail population in your aquarium tank. Although clown loaches savor snails and they hunt them, clowns will not have an impact on the snail population.

The snail population outbreak in the tank equates to excessive bio-waste in the habitat, but water parameters for clown loach have to be spot on. 

So, clown loach is not a solution to control the snail population outbreak; it only indicates the tank needs cleaning and optimization of water circulation.

Clown loaches love to feed on algae and decaying plant matters. While feeding on decaying plant matter, they could damage the soft-leaved plants such as Amazon swords. Always choose hardy plants like java moss, fern, Anubias, Hygrophila, Ludwigia, etc. for the tank where clown loaches inhabit.

The best way to feed the clown loaches a balanced food range of live and frozen blood worms, earthworms, shrimps, etc.

You can feed them high-quality sinking pellets, granules, algae wafers, etc.

Clown Loach Care:

Clown Loaches are susceptible to diseases due to almost no scales in their body and the complete lack of it on their head. 

The common diseases affecting them are  Ich or white spot disease and Skinny disease if their habitat is not well-maintained. The outbreak of the disease can be on one or more fish, the best is to deal with it at an early stage.

Hence, keeping the water parameters stable and well-circulated is crucial for clown loaches.
The high stress level also plays an important role in the occurrence of Ich disease as well as skinny disease.
Their inherent edgy trait combined with the change of habitat creates huge stress in them.
Pay close attention to any sign of white spot disease and be ready to treat it at the early stage. However, the skinny disease is internal. They are common with fishes that are transported in a tank highly crowded.
The symptoms of skinny disease are loss of weight despite eating well.
Generally, the pet store treats the disease before selling; do not buy any specimen that looks under-nourished.

You can treat skinny disease with Levamisole-based treatment. You can also treat it with medicated food and you can add metronidazole directly in the tank. 

Breeding Clown Loaches:

Unfortunately, breeding clown loaches in captivity are close to none. 

Some aquarists tried and initiated the spawning conditions for clown loaches. The male fails to fertilize the eggs or even if they fertilize the eggs, the male and female eat the eggs before even it hatches.

The reason why the chances of breeding clown loaches in captivity are, in the wild they migrate to flooded plains during the bi-annual monsoons. They spawn after the monsoon season; it is almost impossible to replicate this condition in captivity.

The vast majority of the clown loaches in the aquarium trade are wild-caught. While purchasing your clown loaches be vigilant; if you see any dead fish in the tank or the fish looks too skinny, stay away from that tank. The chances are that the loaches are already infected with Ich or skinny diseases.

Final Thoughts:

Clown Loach is a funny species that can make an excellent addition to any peaceful community tank.

They are great pets to have and they out-live most of the dog breeds.

However, clown loach is for someone with previous experience in fish-keeping due to their susceptibility to diseases.

If you want to relax, have a peaceful tropical community tank with some prior experience in fish-keeping, then clown loach is the species for you.

We would like to hear if anyone has experience in keeping clown loaches. Please share with us your experience in the comment section.

For any questions or doubts, you can comment below or contact us here.

2 thoughts on “Clown Loach – Chromobotia macracanthus – A Care Guide

  1. Ruth says:

    Good info, but i have to say, my two clowns must be anomalies. They have not grown more than a few inches since i bought them nearly a decade ago and i’d say they are about 4-5 inches. Perhaps it’s that their tank not 75gal. They also have never shown any signs of illness or disease in all the time i have owned them, despite definitely losing other fish, such as tetras and the like, to infections. They are the two most enjoyable fish in my tank, and it’s funny you briefly compare them to dogs because they kind of act like a pair of dogs, always cuddling and following each other around. Thanks for the info on clown loaches.

    • SNBrehamet says:

      Thanks for sharing your experiences! A tank size can stunt the growth of the species to some extent; but, what matters is your loaches are healthy and happy after being in your tank for almost 10 years. Enjoy them!

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