Kuhli Loach Care Guide: Size, Diet, Tank Mates & More | Aquascape Addiction

Kuhli Loach Care Guide: Size, Diet, Tank Mates & More

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In this care guide we cover absolutely everything you need to in order to look after Kuhli Loaches the correct way, avoid common beginner mistakes and provide the right set up for these cool hardy animals.

Kuhli Loach Care Guide: Size, Diet, Tank Mates & More

This fish is also known as the Pangio kuhlii and it is found natively in various countries in Southeast Asia, particularly in Malaysia, Sumatra, and Borneo.

Kuhli Loaches are not the hardest animals to care for, but also not the easiest. This is our comprehensive Kuhli Loach care guide.

Today you will learn about;

  • Behaviour.
  • Appearance.
  • Lifespan.
  • Ideal tank setup.
  • Feeding.
  • Best tank mates.
  • Feeding.
  • Breeding.

The Ultimate Kuhli Care Guide

a Kulhi Loach


First off, the Kuhli Loach is a fairly peaceful fish with a great temperament. They are quite friendly and make for decent community tank mates.

Let’s keep in mind that Kuhli Loaches are bottom dwellers and scavengers, so they generally stay at the bottom of the tank, and they do like to have lots of hiding spots, kind of like an eel.

Not only do they like to hide, but they do also seem to be very curious and they love to explore all sorts of caves and crevices.

They do spend most of their time scavenging for food at the bottom of the tank. Moreover, although they do not like to be kept in schools, they also do not really enjoy being along.

So, having 2 to 4 tankmates is ideal for them. Although the Kuhli Loach is not nocturnal per say, it is known as a demersal fish, which means that it is far more active during the night than the day.

Due to this nighttime activity and its penchant to hide, seeing a Kuhli Loach out in the open in your aquarium during the day is not likely.

One of the favorite things the Kuhli Loach loves to do is burry itself in the sand. Unfortunately, they are not the smartest and have a penchant for swimming straight into exposed filter inlets, so be careful when it comes to your filter.


The Kuhli Loach closely resembles an eel. It looks kind of like a cross breed between a small fish and an eel. In the wild, these fish will usually grow to about 5 or 6 inches in length at most, but tend to remain smaller in captivity.

When raised in an aquarium, expect a Kuhli Loach to grow to around 3 to 3.5 inches in length. Male and female Kuhli Loaches look virtually the same, with the only real difference being that females tend to grow in size during breeding.

Generally speaking, the Kuhli Loach has a dark brownish-black color with anywhere from 10 to 15 stripes running vertically from top to bottom. The stripes are usually a pinkish-yellow color, and they have this same pink-yellowish bellow too. The Kuhli Loach also has 4 pairs of barbells around the mouth.

These are very odd fish, because for one, they do not have any scales on their heads, something which actually makes them very susceptible to disease. Moreover, the Kuhli Loach has a transparent layer of skin which covers the eyes.

What is also interesting to note is that unlike with other fish, the dorsal fin on the Kuhli Loach is well beyond the midway point of their bodies, almost three quarters of the way to the tail.

Kuhli Loach Lifespan

When kept in ideal water conditions, a nice tank with clean water, and when fed the right food, your average Kuhli Loach will live for between 8 and 10 years, with some making it to 12 years of age.

However, on average, when living in an aquarium, about 9 years should be expected.

Kuhli Loach Tank Size

As mentioned before, the Kuhli Loach can grow to roughly 5 inches in the wild and about 3 to 3.5 inches in captivity. Kuhli Loaches are peaceful, but they do also like to have lots of room. Now, the general rule of thumb with any aquarium fish is to have at least 1 gallon of water for each inch of fish.

However, we step this up a notch because that is somewhat inhumane. We would say that each inch of fish in the tank should have 2 gallons of space. Therefore, for a 3.5 inch long Kuhli Loach, a tank of 7 gallons would be ideal. However, you never know, your Kuhli Loach may grow to 5 inches, which means that a 10 gallon tank would be ideal.

Most people are going to tell you that a minimum tank size of 20 gallons for a Kuhli Loach is required. However, this can be a bit confusing because here, people are talking about having multiple Kuhli Loaches in the same tank. Most would say that you can fit 3 to 4 Kuhli Loaches in a 20 gallon tank, even up to 6. Yet, this will end up creating a tight fit with not much room to spare.

Therefore, the official recommendation is to have at least 10 gallons of space for each and every Kuhli Loach (considering that they MAY grow to 5 inches in length). Remember that you should keep at least 3 of these things together (at the very least), and having some other fish in the tank helps build a nice community too.

Therefore, you will want to aim for a 30 gallon tank for 3 loaches, so you can nicely fit a few Kuhli Loaches, some plants, rocks, decorations, and maybe a couple of other fish too.

Minimum vs Ideal vs Best Tank Size

The official recommendation is to keep at least 6 Kuhli Loaches together to keep them happy. At the very least, for 6 of these animals, based on the 1 gallon per inch of fish rule, you will want a tank of 18 to 20 gallons (assuming they are around 3 inches long).

However, if you want to make them more comfortable, the 2 gallons of water per inch of fish rule is better, in which case, you will want a tank of 36 to 40 gallons for 6 of them. Finally, for the best conditions humanly possible, following the 10 gallons per Kuhli Loach rule, 6 of them would need a tank of 60 gallons.

To sum it up, for 6 Kuhli Loaches, 20 gallons is the bare minimum, 40 gallons is ideal, and 60 gallons is living in luxury.

Ideal Water Conditions

Kulhi Loach water conditions

To create the best environment possible for your Kuhli Loaches, there are some tips and pieces of advice you need to follow.

The following Kuhli Loach care tips have to do with creating the right tank setup for these fish, as well as what the required water parameters are.


The Kuhli Loach is a tropical fish and it likes its water to be quite warm. For this fish, anywhere from 73 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal, with around 80 degrees being best.

For the most part, this means that unless you already live in a very warm climate, you will need to get an aquarium heater.

For a 60 gallon loach tank with 6 loaches, a 100 or 150 watt heater should do fine. Try to get an adjustable heater, not one with a pre-set temperature.

On this same note, you will also need an aquarium thermometer to keep track of the temperature.

pH & Hardness

The Kuhli Loach requires the water to be very soft with a general hardness level of no more than 5 dGH.

In terms of the pH level, these fish prefer the water to be fairly acidic. A pH level between 5.5 and 6.5 is best, with a solid 6.0 being the ideal pH.

Need a Filter?

Yes, absolutely will you need a filter for your Kuhli Loach tank, and not just any filter, but a really good one. First off, the Kuhli Loach can be quite messy and it does produce a good deal of waste.

Next, these fish are quite sensitive to stress and disease, and they can’t handle dirty water very well. Moreover, keep in mind that these fish also like a bit of water movement.

Therefore, you need a top notch aquarium filter that engages in all 3 major types of filtration. This includes mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration, with biological filtration being the most important.

Now, the filter you get for your Kuhli Loach tank also needs to be super powerful with a high flow rate. Ideally, the filter you get should be able to turn over the water in the tank around 10 times per hour, with a turnover rate of 6 or 7 times per hour being the minimum.

Simply put, Kuhli Loaches need excellent tank filtration, better than most other fish which you might keep at home. To reduce waste and increase water flow, many would recommend using an under gravel filter for these fish.


Need a Heater?

As mentioned above in relation to the temperature and water parameters for the Kuhli Loach, yes, you will need a heater.

Unless you live somewhere the ambient temperature is around 75 degrees year round, you will need to provide them with a decent aquarium heater. Make sure to get a durable heater with an adjustable temperature setting.

Need a Light?

The Kuhli Loach, in the wild, lives in small rivers, streams, and swampy forest floors, as well as rice paddies sometimes. Therefore, they do not require very strong lighting.

Yes, you should get a basic aquarium light, one that can provide them with a bit of sunlight, or well, something that can mimic sunlight, for 8 to 12 hours per day.

However, these fish do not have a need for strong lighting, so something basic and simple will do just fine.

Need an Air Pump

Although all aquariums can benefit from having an air pump, for the Kuhli Loach, it is not necessary.

Yes, if you have lots of fish and very few plants, and if your tank is quite deep (little water surface area), you may want to consider getting an air pump, but for a general Kuhli Loach tank that is not overstocked with fish and has a few good oxygen producing plants, an air pump is not required.

Need a Lid/Hood

Yes, something you do absolutely need for any and all Kuhli Loach tanks is a good hood, lid, or aquarium grate to cover the top. These fish are known for being pretty strong swimmers and even better jumpers.

Sooner or later, probably sooner rather than later, your Kuhli Loaches will try to make a break for it and jump out of the tank. A good hood or a lid for the tank is a total necessity when it comes to the Kuhli Loach.


Kuhlu Loaches can be very shy, they love to hide and chill under plants, and they naturally live in very heavily and densely vegetated environments. Therefore, yes, you do want to provide your Kuhli Loaches with a fairly heavily planted tank to make them feel at home.

The best plants for these fish are ones that grow fairly slow, have a dense bushy appearance or broad leaves, do not require much light, and that can survive in the same water parameters as these guys.

Some of the best plants for Kuhli Loach tanks include;

  • Anubias.
  • Cryptocoryne.
  • Hygrophilia.
  • Java Fern.
  • Dwarf Hairgrass.

Do Kuhli Loaches Eat Plants?

No, the Kuhli Loach is one of the few loaches that is known for not eating aquarium plants.


An important thing for the Kuhli Loach is the substrate. Keep in mind that these guys really love to burry themselves and dig in the substrate.

Therefore, Kuhli Loach substrate needs to be very soft and fine, or else they will injure themselves and get scraped when wallowing in the substrate.

Their fins are particularly susceptible to injury. The best way to go is with some sand, some good old aquarium sand.

These fish are fairly dark in color, so some lightly colored substrate works well. Sure, you can use gravel, but the gravel needs to be very smooth, fine, and have absolutely no jagged edges.

We have compared sand and gravel substrates here.

Rocks, Driftwood, & Decorations

Seeing as loaches love to hide and explore things, a good idea is to add some hollow driftwood pieces, some hollow and smooth rocks, and maybe some things like hollow aquarium castles they can swim into.

They love to hide and they love exploring, so anything they can swim into and swim through is ideal for the Kuhli Loach tank.

What Do Kuhli Loaches Eat: Diet Summary

Kuhli Loach Diet

Just like all fish, the Kuhli Loach needs to eat. So, what are you going to feed your Kuhli Loach and how much do you feed it? Now, technically speaking, the Kuhli Loach is an omnivore.

In the wild, they will eat plant matter from the river beds, they will eat insects and insect larvae if given the chance, and they will eat small crustaceans too.

It is important to keep in mind that Kuhli Loaches are scavengers and bottom feeders, not hunters. So, generally speaking, they will eat anything at the bottom of the water, anything they can catch and fit in their mouths, but they won’t actively hunt for food.

In a home aquarium, a wide variety of foods is ideal, with a focus on protein sources. The Kuhli Loach diet should be around 60% protein and 40% plant matter, or even more protein and less plant matter. A good variety of sinking fish flakes and sinking pellets for bottom feeders and tropical fish is ideal.

Moreover, you can feed them live foods too. In fact, the Kuhli Loach prefers to eat live foods, and they will love you if you feed them live foods.

The best foods for Kuhli Loaches include;

  • Daphnia.
  • Artemia.
  • Bloodworms.
  • Microworms.
  • Tubifex.
  • Grindal Worms.
  • Some boiled and shelled peas.
  • boiled spinach.
  • boiled cucumber.
  • boiled lettuce.

Varied Diet Is The Best Option

To repeat, a varied diet is best. You should feed your Kuhli Loach twice per day and about as much as it can eat in 2 to 3 minutes.

Once per day, maybe for breakfast, give the loaches some pellets or flakes, and then at night, for dinner, feed the loaches some live foods such as the ones discussed above.

When it comes to this, try feeding them the live foods for dinner, the proteins, for 2 days, and then every third day, give them some veggies or plant matter. Algae wafers will do fine as well.

Best Kuhli Loach Tank Mates

Kuhli Loaches are very peaceful fish and although they do not like crowds, they generally do fine in community tanks. Moreover, since they are bottom feeders and bottom dwellers, fish that don’t prefer the tank bottom are ideal for Kuhli Loaches.

Also, seeing as Kuhli Loaches are small and peaceful, any large and aggressive fish are not ideal. The below are what we consider to be some of the best tank mate options;

  1. Corydoras.
  2. Danios.
  3. Rasboras.
  4. Tetras.
  5. Cloud Mountain Minnows.
  6. Oto Catfish.
  7. Gouramis.
  8. Red Cherry Shrimp.
  9. Various snails.

Fish that you should avoid keeping with Kuhli Loaches include any large and aggressive fish that might bully or terrorize the loaches. Betta fish, red tailed sharks, Cichlids, Arowanas, Barbs, and Angelfish should all be avoided.

How Many Kuhli Loaches Should Be Kept Together?

The Kuhli Loach is a very shy creature and they do not like to be alone. If they are alone, or even just kept in pairs, they will most likely hide the whole time. The absolute minimum number of loaches that should be kept together are 3.

That said, most professionals are going to recommend that at least 6 Kuhli Loaches should be kept together for the best results and the happiest environment. Remember what we talked about in terms of tank size!

How To Breed Kuhli Loaches

Something to be said about breeding Kuhli Loaches is that it is quite hard and does not happen often, at least not by chance. It is possible to get these Kuhli Loaches to breed, but they do require some special conditions.

Here is a small step by step tutorial on how to get your Kuhli Loaches to breed.

A Breeding Tank

Kuhli Loaches may breed in their own tank, but this is quite unlikely, as in the wild, their breeding is usually spurred on by changing water conditions, water levels, and temperatures. Therefore, if you want your loaches to breed, you need to have a separate breeding tank for them.

So, set up a nice breeding tank, one that is fairly large and roomy. Moreover, Kuhli Loaches are somewhat communal in nature, and breeding usually occurs in groups.

Therefore, having 2 to 3 males and 2 to 3 females in a breeding tank will provide the best chance of success for breeding.

Lower The Water Level + Parameters

Something else you need to do is to provide the Kuhli Loaches with low water levels. Say if you have the normal tank filled to within a couple inches from the rim, the breeding tank should have about half as much water in it.

For the breeding tank, to spur on breeding, the pH level should be at around 6.5 and the water should be very soft, no harder than around 3 dGH.

Decrease Lighting

Next, for breeding, Kuhli Loaches prefer very dim lighting. Therefore, depending on where you have the breeding tank in your home, you won’t need any kind of light. Put the breeding tank in a fairly dim room.

Lots of Plants

Another thing you want to provide your Kuhli Loaches with, to get them to breed, is a whole lot of vegetation. Yes, some rooted plants are fine, but what you really want are floating plants.

Kuhli Loaches, the females, after they have spawned, will release their eggs into the water. These eggs are a very light and bright green in color, so they are very easy to spot.

These eggs are adhesive and will stick to whatever they touch. Kuhli Loaches prefer to release their eggs to the underside of floating plants.

In the wild, the eggs being on the underside of floating plants prevents them from being spotted by predators.

Removing The Adults

Whatever you do, if you want the Kuhli Loach fry to survive, or even the eggs for that matter, you have to remove the parents from the tank immediately. The parents will eat the eggs and they will eat the fry.

Hatching & Care For Fry

The eggs will hatch within about 24 hours of being laid. Keep the tank conditions the same and feed them food that is ideal for fish fry.

Insuforia for the first week will do, and once they grow a bit, you can start feeding them normal Kuhli Loach food.


As you can see, Kuhli Loaches are not the most difficult to care for. Yes, they do require a decent amount of care, and just general aquarium maintenance too.

That said, due to their cool shape and awesome personalities, they do make for great aquarium fish to have at home.

Image Credits: Daniel McDermott, AJC1, Catherine Bulinski (FlickrCC)