Like many of the Schistura species, the Ornate Tiger Sand Loach with its bright color and patterning is truly an eye catching fellow!

The Ornate Tiger Sand Loach Schistura kohchangensis is native to Southern Asia, specifically Thailand and possibly Cambodia. This is a very attractive loach with a bold patterning. Unfortunately although it is a very handsome and “ornate” fish, it has not been readily available to the hobbyist. They can only occasionally be acquired.

This loach has a body that is slender and elongated. It has a pretty color, a light white to golden background topped with 10 – 12 dark vertical bars that are usually vertically split. There are also irregular rows of spots on the fins and tail. Males can be distinguished from females by a suborbital flap. Also females have a notch in the middle of the lower jaw that is lacking in the male.

These are Hillstream Loaches, meaning they come from cool fast-moving streams. Like other river loaches it is especially designed to cope with living in fast waters. The Ornate Tiger Sand Loach will do best in a cooler “river” type aquarium kept with good water movement and subdued lighting. Provide a large grain sand or small gravel substrate. Be sure to provide plenty of hiding and resting places created with rocks and driftwood. A moderate amount of plants can be a nice addition.

Hillstream Loaches often enjoy the company of their own kind as well as other community fish. Though generally peaceful with their tank mates some species have been known to nip occasionally. Usually this is just among themselves. It is recommended that they be kept in groups of at least three, with larger groups of five to seven acclimating easier than smaller groups.

For Information on keeping freshwater fish, see:
Freshwater Aquarium Guide: Aquarium Setup and Care

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Cypriniformes
  • Family: Balitoridae
  • Genus: Schistura
  • Species: kohchangensis
Ornate Tiger Sand Loach – Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Size of fish – inches: 3.9 inches (10.01 cm)
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gal (114 L)
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Temperature: 73.0 to 79.0° F (22.8 to 26.1&deg C)
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Ornate Tiger Sand Loach Schistura kohchangensis was described by Smith in 1933. They are found in southern Asia. In Thailand they are found in the provinces of Trat, Chantaburi, Chonburi, the Mekong basin, and on Koh Chang island. They may also be found in Cambodia. They are not listed on the IUCN Red List.

These loaches seem to be restricted to small, shallow coastal streams and found along mountain ranges of the Mekong basin. Their habitat is normally shallow, high gradient streams with gravel and boulders making up the substrate. Their natural diet consists of insect larvae and algae.

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


The Ornate Tiger Sand Loach will reach between 2 to 4 inches (5 – 10 cm) in the wild, though in the aquarium it is usually on the smaller side, and they have a life span of 10 years. This loach has a body that is slender and elongated. They are distinguished by their 12 dorsal soft rays and 8 anal soft rays, and having very long barbels. They lack scales between the pectoral fins but scales are present on the back. Males have a suborbital flap and do not have a median notch in the lower jaw.

The body has a light white to golden colored background with 10 – 12 dark vertical bars, usually vertically split. Its lateral line will extend to the tips of the pelvic fins. The fins and tail are translucent. The caudal fin will have 5 – 7 irregular rows of spots on the rays and the other fins may have irregular rows of spots.

  • Size of fish – inches: 3.9 inches (10.01 cm)
  • Lifespan: 10 years

Fish Keeping Difficulty

The Ornate Tiger Sand 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 hardy
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate

Foods and Feeding

This sand loach is an omnivore, and feeds on insect larvae and algae 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

The Ornate Tiger Sand Loach will swim in the bottom of the aquarium. Because this 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. They do best in soft, slightly acidic water.

The tank setup for this loach should resemble its natural habitat, slow moving streams. The substrate can to be a large grain sand or fine gravel that does not have sharp edges. 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)
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: Sometimes
  • Substrate Type: Sand/Gravel Mix – Substrate should be smooth.
  • Lighting Needs: Low – subdued lighting
  • Temperature: 73.0 to 79.0° F (22.8 to 26.1&deg C)
  • Range ph: 6.5-7.5
  • Hardness Range: 5 – 18 dGH
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Moderate
  • Water Region: Bottom – These fish are mostly bottom dwellers.

Social Behaviors

A good community fish, they will tolerate other tank mates as well as enjoy other members of their own species. They tend to be shy and it is recommended that they be kept in groups of at least three, with larger groups of five to seven acclimating easier than smaller groups.

  • Venomous: No
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Yes – Groups of 5 or more are best.
    • Peaceful fish (): Safe
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
    • Safe
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: May be aggressive
    • Plants: Safe

Sex: Sexual differences

Males have a suborbital flap and do not have a median notch in the lower jaw.

Breeding / Reproduction

They are not yet bred commercially, and there are no reported aquarium spawnings.

  • Ease of Breeding: Unknown

Fish Diseases

The Ornate Tiger Sand 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 Ornate Tiger Sand 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 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 Ornate Tiger Sand Loach is occasionally available.