The Clown Loach is a very popular fish, land makes a fabulous freshwater showpiece!

The Clown Loach Chromobotia macracanthus is one of the most beautifully colored and patterned of all the freshwater fish. It is loved for its bright colors and is one of the more outgoing loach personalities.This very popular fish is also known as the Tiger Loach.

This handsome “tiger loach” has a bright orangish to reddish body and three broad jet black vertical bars. One bar passes through the eye, the next is located just in front of the dorsal fin, and the third starts at front of the dorsal fin and goes back to the base of the tail. It also has a bright to deep red coloring on the front fins and tail. All together this vibrant, complimentary color combination makes it an extremely striking fish. They are most colorful when they are young however, and do become a bit less brilliant as a larger fish.

This fish will need a good sized tank as an adult because in the aquarium a Clown Loach can grow up to about 6 1/2 to 8 inches (16-20 cm) long. The word “macracanthus” stands for “big spine”, and as this name suggests they have a pre orbital spine that is quite large. Being pre orbital means the spine is located in the area under and in front of the eyes. It makes an effective defensive weapon. They also have four barbels in the mouth area, and have been known to make audible clicking sounds.

The Clown Loach likes an aquarium with lots of plants and other areas for retreat. For the most part they are a shy bottom dweller, but unlike many loaches this Tiger Loach is active during the day. Once they are secure in their environment they can even become quite tame. They like the company of their own species and can also be kept with other fish. Clown Loaches are fairly easy to keep, but they are prone to ich.

Scientific Classification


Clown Loach – Quick Aquarium Care

Aquarist Experience Level:Intermediate
Aquarium Hardiness:Moderately hardy
Minimum Tank Size:75 gal (284 L)
Size of fish – inches16.0 inches (40.64 cm)
Temperature:77.0 to 86.0° F (25.0 to 30.0&deg C)


Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Clown Loach or Tiger Loach Chromobotia macracanthus (previously Botia macrocanthus) was described by Bleeker in 1852. It is found in Southeast Asia; from Borneo, Sumatra, and Indonesia. In 2004 Maurice Kottelat separated this species from the Botias into its own genus. There is only one species in this genus due to its unique morphological features. This species is listed not on the IUCN Red List

This fish normally inhabits rivers for most of the year and then migrates up smaller waterways to mate. They are found in either running or standing waters in their natural habitat where they live in large shoals. During the monsoons they tend to migrate to the flooded plains. Depending on the region that the loach lives, there are various types of water with some being very clear and others very murky. The Clown’s coloring will actually vary depending on the regional water. They feeds on worms, crustaceans and plant matter.

Though it’s generally stated in most publications that they reach up to about 12 inches (30 cm) in length, it is said that they can grow to about 16 inches (40 cm) in nature, and to live up to 20 years. In many regions the Clown Loach is used as a food source as well as put into the aquarium trade.

  • Scientific Name: Chromobotia macracanthus
  • Social Grouping: Groups – This loach lives in large shoals in the wild.
  • IUCN Red List: NE – Not Evaluated or not listed


The Clown Loach is a beautiful large fish. The Clown’s body is long and laterally compressed with an arched dorsal surface and a flat ventral surface. Its mouth is angled down with thick lips and four pairs of barbels. Clowns also have preorbital spines that are located in the area under and in front of the eyes. It is reported in nature these loaches can grow close to 16 inches (40.64 cm) in length, but in aquariums they normally only get up to about 8 – 10 inches (20 – 25 cm).

This fish looks much like a tiger in is color patterning. Its body is light orange to a darker reddish orange. There are three broad jet black vertical bars crossing the body with one passing through the eye, one just in front of the dorsal fin, and one starting at the front of the dorsal fin and extending back to the base of the tail. There is also has a bright to deep red coloring on the front fins and tail. They are most colorful when they are young, becoming a bit less brilliant as they mature.

There are regional variations on the coloring. The pelvic fins of the Borneo Clowns are reddish orange and black while the pelvic fins on the Sumatra Clowns are entirely reddish orange.

  • Size of fish – inches: 16.0 inches (40.64 cm) – These fish get up to 16 inches (40.64 cm) in the wild though they haven’t been known to reach that length in the home aquarium. Captive species are seldom longer than 6.5″ (16 cm), with about 8″ (20 cm) being the maximum.
  • Lifespan: 20 years

Fish Keeping Difficulty

This loach can be hardy under the right conditions. They are not recommended for beginners because of their need for pristine water and having small body scales. Reduced scales makes 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. Do not try to introduce these fish into biologically immature tanks.

Make sure to check compatibility with other tank mates as the Clown Loach gets stressed fairly easily. Because the Clown Loach is so susceptible to ich, take care when introducing new fish to your tank. This loach will often lay on its back or side, this is normal.

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

Foods and Feeding

In nature the Clown Loach feeds on worms, crustaceans and plant matter. Since they are omnivorous, will generally eat all kinds of live foods, flakes, and algae. They like tablets and frozen foods as well. To keep a good balance give them a high quality flake food everyday. Feed brine shrimp (either live or frozen) as a treat. They also like mosquito larvae, tubifex, daphnia, and vegetable foods such as algae wafers. These loaches may also prey on snails in your tank.

  • Diet Type: Omnivore – In the wild more of a carnivore.
  • Flake Food: Yes
  • Tablet / Pellet: Yes
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet
  • Vegetable Food: Some of Diet
  • Meaty Food: Most of Diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day

Aquarium Care

The most important thing for these loaches is that they always have clean and well-oxygenated water. Frequent water changes of about 30% a week are needed. With your weekly water change make sure to vacuum the gravel to remove all excess food and waste. Make sure not to remove the bio film on rocks, decor or no viewing panes of the tank. A magnet algae cleaner normally does a great job in keeping the viewing pane clear. Be cautious when cleaning the tank not to get poke by the Clown loach’s spines.

  • Water Changes: Weekly

Aquarium Setup

The Clown Loach will swim mostly on the bottom of the aquarium but will also swim in the middle, especially once they are comfortable with their habitat and routine. These Loaches get very large and can be kept in groups, so a tank 75 gallons or greater is needed. They do best in a soft to medium water with subdued lighting. There should be a lot of submerged boulders and branches to give this loach a very dark area to retreat.

Never introduce this Loach into a biological immature setup as these fish require pristine water. They need good water movement that provides plenty of oxygenation. The tank should turnover at least 10-15 times per hour. An undergravel filter is a great choice for these fish as it creates high oxygen through out the tank as well as reducing the waste. Adding a canister filter, or powerheads and airstones, to the setup will make the proper current for this loach.

The decor is really up to personal taste as the fish doesn’t really pay much attention to it. If the tank is to resemble its natural habitat, sand and gravel mix would be best for the substrate. The substrate should be fine enough to allow digging without damaging its barbels. A lot of smooth water-worn large rocks and stones should be scattered throughout. A couple pieces of driftwood and some twisted roots will make a great place to retreat. These loaches are very inquisitive and like to explore so make sure to have a lot of caves and crevices. These fish can and will jump out of the tank if given the chance so make sure to have a tight fitting cover.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 75 gal (284 L)
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Substrate Type: Sand/Gravel Mix – Should have a lot of large boulders and rocks for cover.
  • Lighting Needs: Low – subdued lighting
  • Temperature: 77.0 to 86.0° F (25.0 to 30.0&deg C)
  • Range ph: 6.0-6.5
  • Hardness Range: 5 – 12 dGH – They do best in soft to medium water.
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Moderate
  • Water Region: Bottom – These fish are mostly bottom dwellers, but will occasionally swim in the middle of the aquarium.

Social Behaviors

The Clown Loach is a big fish that is lively and fun to watch. They can be kept in a community aquarium but smaller fish can easily be intimidated by its size and behavior. Slow moving, long finned fish need to be avoided as this loach may nip any trailing fins.

They do like the company of their own species, yet these loaches form a social hierarchy and should be kept in groups of 5 or more if the tank is big enough. Any less and the dominant loach may act out towards any fish that is of similar shape. If kept in pairs the dominant loach may also attack the other and prevent it from eating.

  • Venomous: No
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Yes – Best kept in groups of 5 or more.
    • Peaceful fish (): Safe – More active the tank mates, the more active your clown will be. Clown Loach is a big fish and can intimidate smaller community fish.
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
    • Monitor
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: May be aggressive
    • Plants: Monitor – Clowns are large active loaches that will make a mess out of most planted plants.

Sexual differences

The body of the mature Clown Loach deepens considerably and females normally have thicker bodies. There are various theories about caudal fin lobe shapes being different, but these are inconclusive. In general it is said that the lobes of the caudal fin are thinner on males.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Clown Loach has rarely been bred in the home aquarium. There are only a couple of reports of success, with the most recent being in the fall of 2007 by Colin Dunlop from Carluke, Scotland. In an article from the publication Practical Fishkeeping, there are photographs of the spawn but he said that most of the eggs were infertile, and no fry have yet been reported. It is thought that they need a large aquarium with lots of hiding places, along with their being satisfied with their aquarium conditions.

They have been spawned commercially with the aid of hormones on fish farm in the Czech Republic, and farmed fish are available from both there and from Asia.

  • Ease of Breeding: Difficult

Fish Diseases

Loaches are more susceptible to disease than other aquarium fishes. This may have to do with the faint body scales and no head scales. Take caution when introducing these fish to an established tank. The Berdmore’s Loach is also very sensitive to different medications used 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.

The Clown Loach is prone to ick. This is the most common disease that affects this loach. Ich is short for Ichthyophthirius, also known as “white spot disease”. It is a parasite that can attack nearly all aquarium fishes, but you’ll find that loaches are often the first to be attacked. Take great care in treating ick as loaches are very sensitive to the medications used to treat it. Often the dose is half of what is normally used.

The second most common thing that affects loaches is a thing called skinny disease. This can be diagnosed fairly easily. If your loaches are eating a nitrous and healthy amounts and still seems to loose weight it is a good chance it has skinny disease. This is caused by internal parasites and can be treated with medication if used carefully.

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 Clown Loach 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 will 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 Clown Loach is very popular, and is readily available at pet stores or online.



 Chromobotia macracanthus (Bleeker, 1852) Clown loach (Image Credit: Andrej Jakubík, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0 International)