The Royal Clown Loach is behemoth in size, regal in appearance… and royal in price!

The massive Royal Clown Loach Leptobotia elongata is a very beautiful, behemoth sized loach from China. As it reaches adulthood a beautiful color pattern of yellow and black rosettes will evolve. It is usually imported at between 7 to 12 inches (18 – 30 cm) in length. Yet in its natural habitat it can reach over 30 inches (76.2 cm) long. It is not often available, but when it is, it commands a hefty price.

This loach is quite attractive with a light golden to grayish brown body with a head that is darker and a more grayish blue and golden on the sides. There are irregular dark markings on the body, fins, and and tail fin that are a mix of vertical stripes, bands, or just blotches. These develop into beautiful rosettes on mature specimens.

The contrast between the golden background and the strong dark markings along with its large size give it a very regal appearance. L. elongata is called the Imperial Flower Loach in China. Other common names it is known by, that also speak to its appearance, include the Elongate Loach, Queen Loach, Giant Loach, and King Loach.

In the Leptobotia genus there are 13 species. They all originate from China except one, the rare and endangered Leptobotia curta which is from Japan. This Elongate Loach is quite massive, while others in the Leptobotia genus can be much smaller. There is a huge contrast between this fish and it close relative the Lepto Loach or Royal Gold Banded LoachLeptobotia Guilinensis being on the small side at just 3 to 4 inches ( 8 – 10 cm).

This giant sized loach is fascinating to keep. Both the size and coloring of the Imperial Flower Loach make it an interesting addition to those with a very large aquarium. Its mode of swimming is also fascinating. It has a side to side motion similar to that of an eel. The Royal Clown Loach is actually a very shy nocturnal fish and will tend to be active only at night or when eating. They will appreciate plenty of hiding and resting places in rocks and roots.

They are piscivores with small fish being part of their natural diet, but the Royal Clown Loach is not an aggressive fish. They can be be kept with other large non-aggressive tank mates as well as others of their own species. They are actually very social with their own kind and should be kept in groups of at least three individuals. Just keep in mind that if any tank mate can fit in their mouth, it will become lunch.

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

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Cypriniformes
  • Family: Cobitidae
  • Genus: Leptobotia
  • Species: elongata
Royal Clown Loach – Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Size of fish – inches: 30.0 inches (76.20 cm)
  • Minimum Tank Size: 100 gal (379 L)
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 82.0° F (22.2 to 27.8&deg C)
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Royal Clown Loach Leptobotia elongata was described by Bleeker in 1870. They are found in Asia; China, originating from the middle and upper areas of the Yangtze River and its tributaries. Other common names it is know by are Imperial Flower Loach, Elongate Loach, Queen Loach, Giant Loach, and King Loach.

The Elongate Loach was introduced into the aquarium trade in Singapore at the tropical fish show, Aquarama, in the second half of the 1990′ s. The Leptobotia elongata is not evaluated by the IUCN Red List as of yet. But due to Hydroelectric dams built on the river systems, there has a dramatic effected on their migratory spawning habits, and reduced populations have been noted by the locals.

They inhabit flowing waters where the substrate is gravel and smooth river rocks. They feed on small native catfish species, crustaceans and algae. They are highly social and congregate with others of their own kind.

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


The Royal Clown Loach is a very large loach with a life span of about 20 years. In its natural habitat it can grow up to 30″ (76.2 cm) in length. Newly imported specimens are usually between 7 – 12″ (18 – 30 cm) long, but it will grow, so anticipate it needing a very large tank to house it.

The overall coloring of this Imperial Flower Loach is a light golden to grayish brown with irregular dark markings. The markings can be a mix of vertical stripes, bands, or just blotches. The markings begin to resemble beautiful flower rosettes in mature adults. The head is a more grayish blue with yellowish brown sides, it is darker than the body. The dorsal and pectoral fins are short and of the same coloration as the body. The caudal fin is red with dark spots or blotches. this loach has three pairs of barbels in the mouth region. Juveniles are a uniform charcoal gray with bars beginning to develop when they reach about 2″ in size.

  • Size of fish – inches: 30.0 inches (76.20 cm) – These fish are generally seen at about 7 – 12″ (18 – 30 cm) when first imported, but in the wild these fish can get up to a whopping 30″ (76.2 cm).
  • 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.

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

Foods and Feeding

The Royal Clown Loaches are omnivorous. In their natural habitat they feed mostly on small native catfish species, but also eat crustaceans and algae. In captivity they will do best with live foods, especially earthworms. They can also be offered various live and frozen proteins such as bloodworm and brine shrimp, as well as pelleted foods. They have also known to eat large flakes.

  • Diet Type: Omnivore
  • 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 – Less as the fish grows.

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 – 50% a week are needed. Larger changes will be needed if you are feeding live food. 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.

  • Water Changes: Weekly – 30-50% maybe more if feeding live food often.

Aquarium Setup

The Royal Clown Loach is mostly a bottom dweller and does best in groups with three or more of its own kind. This fish needs a very large aquarium, a tank of 100 gallons or more with a strong filtration system and good aeration. Never introduce this loach into a biological immature setup as these fish require pristine water. 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. Using an over sized external power filter will also help meet that requirement. Powerheads and River manifolds can be used to create the proper current for these loaches.

The natural river system the Elongate Loach comes from fluctuates widely in temperature, from a low of 40° F up to the mid 80’s. Although these fish don’t need a heater, they do seem to do best in a warm aquarium. They also do best with soft to medium, slightly acidic water.

Provide places for retreat such as rocks, and roots. Plants are not suggested as they are hard on them, often uprooting them. The substrate can be gravel or a large grain sand that does not have sharp edges. Also the addition of some smooth river stones will make them feel comfortable. They are quite shy and will appreciate subdued lighting along with a couple pieces of driftwood and some twisted roots to make places for retreat. 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: 100 gal (379 L) – The aquarium can be smaller for juveniles but keep in mind they will grow large.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Substrate Type: Sand/Gravel Mix
  • Lighting Needs: Low – subdued lighting
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 82.0° F (22.2 to 27.8&deg C)
  • Range ph: 6.8-7.2
  • Hardness Range: 5 – 15 dGH
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Moderate
  • Water Region: Bottom – These fish are mostly bottom dwellers.

Social Behaviors

Royal Clown Loaches are very shy nocturnal loaches, and will get active when feeding and at night. Although they are a peaceful community fish, they are also a large predatory loach. They will eat tank mates that fit in their mouth, They are not territorial and can be kept with other large non-aggressive fish as well as others of their own species. They are very social with their own kind, and should be kept in groups, with a minimum of three individuals.

  • Venomous: No
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive – They are not aggressive, but are piscivores with small fish being part of their natural diet.
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Yes – Do best kept in groups of 3 or more.
    • Peaceful fish (): Monitor – Will see any fish small enough to fit in its mouth as food.
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
    • Monitor
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Threat – is aggressive
    • Plants: Threat – Will uproot plants.

Sex: Sexual differences

Unknown but presumably females will be heavier-bodied once sexually mature.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Royal Clown Loach has not been bred in the aquarium. They have been bred in captivity in China by a Mr. Yang in Sichuan Province via hormone injections, but they are not yet bred on a large commercial scale.

In their natural habitat, Royal Clown Loach adults go through spawning migrations upriver from March to May. There they scattered adhesive eggs into flowing waters. The eggs are taken with the water flow, and finally settle on gravel substrates where the constant current provides oxygen for their development.

  • 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. Take caution when introducing these fish to an established tank. Water condition changes can also cause stress to this fish which makes them even more prone to disease. This loach is very sensitive to different medications used to treat many diseases; a separate hospital tank is needed.

Most common disease that affects this loach is Ich. 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 Royal 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 Royal Clown Loach is only rarely available, but quite a find if you come across one, though they are usually expensive.