The Chinese Zebra Loach is one very cool looking hillstream loach with a ‘butterfly’ look!

The Chinese Zebra Loach Pseudogastromyzon fasciatus has some very large, awesome fins. The lower fins when they are all spread out lend it a butterfly affinity, and the dorsal fin resembles a sail when it is up.

If you hear someone speak of a ‘Butterfly’ loach, they could very well be talking about the Chinese Zebra Loach. This can be confusing however, because the common name Butterfly Loach is actually most often associated with a completely different fish, the Chinese Hillstream Loach. Other common names this fish is known by are Zebra Hillstream Loach and Chinese Zebra Sucker.

This Zebra Hillstream Loach is a gorgeous fish. Besides its beautiful fins, it has a most unique and attractive patterning on its body. The overall body color is light gold to brownish tone. The head is decorated with small dark spots back to the pectoral fins. The pattern then turns into dark, fairly evenly spaced bands across the body back to the caudal fin. Then it becomes an almost checkerboard pattern on the tail.

These are Hillstream Loaches, meaning they come from cool fast-moving streams. It is a good example of a “Sucker Belly Loach”, a term used to describe river loaches. Its body form, mouth and fins are designed to help it cling to the rocky bottoms of fast moving waters. They will do best in a cooler “river” type aquarium kept with good water movement, subdued lighting, and regular water changes. Provide a fine gravel or sand substrate that does not have sharp edges. Be sure to provide plenty of hiding and resting places created with round river type rocks and driftwood. A moderate amount of plants can be a nice addition but leave a large open area for swimming.

The Chinese Zebra Loaches are good community fish. They are peaceful and do best with other non-aggressive tankmates.They also enjoy the company of their own species and are best kept in a group of five to seven, with the suggested minimum being three.

Scientific Classification


Chinese Zebra Loach – Quick Aquarium Care

Aquarist Experience Level:Intermediate
Aquarium Hardiness:Moderately Difficult
Minimum Tank Size:30 gal (114 L)
Size of fish – inches3.5 inches (8.99 cm)
Temperature:68.0 to 75.0° F (20.0 to 23.9&deg C)

Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Chinese Zebra Loach Pseudogastromyzon fasciatus was described by Sauvage in 1878. They are found in China in the Fujian and Zhejiang Provinces. One source on also suggests the Han River (Guangdong), which is a tributary of the Yangtze River.

These loaches are found in main river channels and tributaries. They tend to stay in swift flowing clear stretches of rocky substrate. Their habitat is normal absent of aquatic plants. Their natural diet is presumably composed of benthic algae, insect larvae, and other micro organisms.

  • Scientific Name: Pseudogastromyzon fasciatus
  • Social Grouping: Groups
  • IUCN Red List: NE – Not Evaluated or not listed


The Chinese Zebra Loach can reach up to 3 1/2 inches (9 cm) in length and has a lifespan of 8 years. This loach has a long snout. The head is marked with dark spots back to the pectoral fins, with up to 3 dark vertical stripes just behind and below the eye, running across the “cheek” area. They also have a suborbital spine that extends to the posterior of the eye. The body is yellowish to light brown in color with multiple dark vertical bars along the entire length. The dorsal fin has a broad dark band while the anal, pectoral, and pelvic fins have a poorly defined dark band. The caudal fin (tail fin) has 2-3 broad, oblique dark bands, giving it a checkerboard appearance.

  • Size of fish – inches: 3.5 inches (8.99 cm) – These fish can reach between 2 1/2 – 3 1/2 inches (6.25 – 9 cm).
  • Lifespan: 8 years

Fish Keeping Difficulty

The Zebra Hillstream Loach can be hardy under the right conditions. They are not recommended for beginners because of their need for pristine water and they do not have scales. Not having scales make them more prone to disease and very sensitive to medications used to treat disease. Experience in treating scaleless fish is very important to be able to give your loach a healthy and long life.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately Difficult
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate

Foods and Feeding

The Chinese Zebra Loach is an omnivore, presumably feeds benthic algae, insect larvae, and other micro organisms in the wild. In the aquarium this loach will generally eat all kinds of live foods, sinking pelleted and tablet foods, flakes, and algae. They like frozen foods as well. To keep a good balance give them a high quality flake or tablet food everyday. Feed mosquito larvae, brine shrimp (either live or frozen), tubifex, daphnia, and some vegetable foods such as algae wafers.

  • Diet Type: Omnivore
  • Flake Food: Yes
  • Tablet / Pellet: Yes
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet
  • Vegetable Food: Some of Diet
  • Meaty Food: Some of Diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day

Aquarium Care

For this loach to thrive, it is most important that the water be clean and well-oxygenated. The use of an over-sized filter is a minimum requirement. Weekly water changes of at least 30% are also needed to keep the loach healthy.

  • Water Changes: Weekly – Water changes of at least 30% weekly.

Aquarium Setup

Because the Chinese Zebra Loach does best in groups, a larger tank (ideally 30 gallons or so) will work best. The tank needs to have ample hiding places for this shy fish to retreat such as rocks, caves, and roots. The substrate should be sandy or small smooth gravel that does not have sharp edges. They do best in soft, slightly acidic water.

These fish are mostly bottom dwellers, but will be seen grazing on algae on the sides of the aquarium. It is recommended to have a tank set-up that resembles its natural habitat, slow moving rivers. Larger smooth rocks, driftwood and branches should be added to provide shade and places for quick retreat. Java Ferns can be introduced and will attach to the decor. Powerheads or a rivertank manifold can be added to provide a unidirectional flow to simulate its natural habitat.

Most importantly the water must be clean and well-oxygenated so we suggest the use of an over-sized filter as a minimum requirement. A high quality canister filter is best and will clean as well as help create water movement. Installation of a rivertank manifold is recommended, though not essential, as it would not only provide an excellent alternative/additional form of filtration but bring with it the benefit of unidirectional water movement and more closely simulate what the fish experience in nature. Water turnover should ideally be in excess of 20 times per hour so additional powerheads/airstones can be used to achieve the desired flow and oxygenation in the absence of such a device.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gal (114 L) – The Chinese Zebra Loach appreciates a spacious aquarium.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: Yes
  • Substrate Type: Sand/Gravel Mix – Smooth boulders should be added.
  • Lighting Needs: High – Strong lighting – Strong lighting will encourage algae growth which is an important food source for the Chinese Zebra Loach.
  • Temperature: 68.0 to 75.0° F (20.0 to 23.9&deg C)
  • Range ph: 6.5-7.0
  • Hardness Range: 2 – 12 dGH
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Strong
  • Water Region: Bottom – These fish are mostly bottom dwellers.

Social Behaviors

A good community fish, they are gentle and peaceful. The Chinese Zebra Loach will do well with non-aggressive tank mates as well as enjoy other members of their own species. It is recommended that they be kept in groups of at least 3, with larger groups of five to seven being recommended.

  • Venomous: No
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Yes – This gregarious fish likes the company of its own kind. It is happiest in a group of 7 or more, but 3 companions should suffice.
    • Peaceful fish (): Safe – Prefers groups of 3 to 7.
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
    • Safe
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Safe – not aggressive
    • Plants: Safe

Sexual differences

Males have more prominent nasal tubercules, and a more slender build than females.

Breeding / Reproduction

They are not yet bred commercially. Presumably these fish are a seasonal and possibly migratory spawner in nature. There are occasional reports of spawning in the aquarium, but not recorded.

  • Ease of Breeding: Unknown – There are occasional reports of aquarium spawnings but a precise method for successful breeding has yet to be established.

Fish Diseases

The Chinese Zebra Loach are scaleless and prone to disease, so take caution when introducing these fish to an established tank. This loach is also very sensitive to medication to treat many diseases, a separate hospital tank is needed. Cold water and condition changes can also cause stress to this fish which makes them even more prone to disease.

An outbreak of disease can often be limited to just one or a few fishes if you deal with it at an early stage. When keeping these sensitive types of fish, it is common to catch deteriorating water conditions and disease before other fish are affected. The best way to proactively prevent disease is to give your Chinese Zebra Sucker the proper environment and give them a well balanced diet. The closer to their natural habitat the less stress the fish will have, making them healthier and happy. A stressed fish is more likely to acquire disease.

Anything you add to your tank can bring disease to your tank. Not only other fish but plants, substrate, and decorations can harbor bacteria. Take great care and make sure to properly clean or quarantine anything that you add to an established tank so not to upset the balance. It is recommended to read up on the common tank diseases. Knowing the signs and catching and treating them early makes a huge difference. For information about freshwater fish diseases and illnesses, see Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments.


The Chinese Zebra Loach is occasionally available.



 Pseudogastromyzon fasciatus (Image Credit: Gregoire Germeau, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported)