Loaches: Entertainers of the River Orient-Learn the Basics

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Lupin

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LOACHES: ENTERTAINERS OF THE RIVER ORIENT

Loaches are one of the most popular fish in the aquarium trade. In fact, they have long been favored by several hobbyists due to their unique appearance, coloration and behavior. Loaches are members of the Cypriniformes, and are found virtually in almost all of the countries in Asia including India, Vietnam, Malaysia, Bangladesh and China. Although a few species are found to be solitary, a lot are found to be rather sociable and have the tendency to pine away if deprived of their company so you must research before you try to attempt a group.


Anatomy

Body Shape
Various loach species have different body shape to aid them in their ability to swim around. Some have rather slender, torpedo-shaped bodies which helps them break through currents with relative ease or make dashes. This is prominent among the members of the cobitis and botia particularly the Acanthocobitis zolternans, Yasuhikotakia morleti and the Syncrossus sp. Several of these fish have been found in fast flowing rivers around Asia.

Some have rather flat bodies such as the Beaufortia kweichowensis, Sewellia lineolata and Homaloptera confuzona. This enables them to swim across the fast flowing rivers with relative ease. Some species were found to even go upstreams due to their pelvic fins fused together forming a suction disc thus enabling them to ‘stick’ on the surfaces preventing them from being carried away by the fast flowing waters.

Fins
Fish usually have seven fins which comprises of a dorsal fin, a caudal fin, an anal fin, a pair of pelvic fins and a pair of pectoral fins although most species have eight fins, sometimes just four, five or six. Not all specimens have the adipose fin which is found between the dorsal and caudal fins.

The dorsal and anal fins help stabilize the fish’s swimming position. The caudal fin helps with the propulsion although most species tend to use the dorsal fin instead. The pelvic and pectoral fins help the fish move around well enough as it changes its course of direction. The anal fin has further functions in some species acting as “gonopodium” in livebearing specimens and some using it to scoop the eggs and hold them whereas some use it to hold their partner in courtships.



Defense Mechanism
It has been common knowledge among those who have been deeply immersed in the loach subject that the members of the popular botiine group sport bifid spines found under each eye. These are used by the loaches as a means of defending themselves from possible provocations and attacks. Many a predator have been choked to death as they attempt to swallow the loaches whole while their bifid spines remain stuck outside their ‘sheaths’. Though those are often used as a means to defend against predators and attackers, they are also used by loaches in their skirmishes as they fight for dominance or settle territorial disputes.

The spines also tend to tangle the loaches to the nets so to avoid damage, the net must be placed in the water and let the fish go off by itself but if drastic measures must be taken however, the net will have to be cut away to avoid further damage.

Body Markings
The color patterns of the fish has several purposes from being a deterrent to predators and camouflaging to recognizing members of their own family. These are a result of the pigmentation of chromatophores thus enabling the fish to blend well on surfaces, adjust their colors depending on their moods and communicate with other fish.


Nooks and Crannies
A lot of loaches have been known to slip in nooks and crannies thus terrifying their owners thinking they are missing or dead due to other circumstances. Never forget loaches like plenty of hiding places and will attempt to find one at all costs if it cannot find a place where it will live comfortably. It is always best to provide as many hiding places as possible with the use of rocks, woods and plants. The truth in short is that loaches tend not to show up if there is an insufficient number of hidey holes. Why? They feel rather uncomfortable due to possible insecurity or that they are unable to establish their own territory which they will use for refuge in case they sense danger or are provoked by their bullying tankmates.


Plants
There is a question of using the plants. Do we encourage the use of plants in aquaria especially where some fish have the tendency to eat, uproot or simply shred them to pieces? Of course, I do and several loach enthusiasts in one forum were in agreement that plants must be used.

What exactly are the purposes of the plants that we encourage their use in aquaria? First of all, it must be noted once again that loaches contribute heavily to the bioload which means water changes must be done quite frequently to avoid nitrate build up. If you are familiar with the nitrogen cycle, bear in mind nitrates is the last product of the process so it cannot be converted anymore which means nitrates is likely to build up quickly in an enclosed ecosystem. High nitrates become very dangerous to the fish stunting their growth completely and even acidifying the water thus the pH is likely to drop dangerously stressing and killing the fish. Plants can however consume the nitrates but this does not mean plants will compensate for the lack of water changes as other minerals are likely to build up as well which is why water changes are essential for the fish’s welfare.

Secondly, it has been mentioned before loaches like to hide. Plants provide refuge even from brightly-lit areas thus the fish becomes comfortable enough. Even nocturnal fish are eventually encouraged to even show up during the day as they adapt quickly to their new environment, thanks to the refuge provided by the plants, not just the driftwoods and rocks.

There is a problem of loaches destroying the plants. Either real or plastic plants work. Remember though some loaches like to have vegetable matter in their diet so it is not surprising to hear reports of them uprooting plant roots, boring holes on leaves and even demolishing the whole planted aquarium. I myself realized this when my very own clown loaches and yoyo loaches managed to demolish all of my Cryptocoryne crispatula two years ago thinking the plants are sturdy enough to avoid being uprooted or else. A few other species though will not attempt to damage the plants depending on their dietary requirements. I once again tried a few Cryptocoryne crispatula this time in my “Grrr” ( a term coined by some loach enthusiasts in reference to the aggressive loach species) tank. No damage is however accounted for unless you count the damage done by fish in local fish stores where the plants were initially kept. The aquarium is home to the Yasuhikotakia modesta and Syncrossus helodes.

It is quite interesting to note that most native habitats barely have any plants at all, usually replaced with marginal plants such as the Cryptocoryne sp. Whether there are plants in their habitats or not, the above reasons justify their use in the aquarium henceforth we again greatly encourage other loach enthusiasts to use aquarium plants despite the fact fish can still do well without them.


Water Flows: Powerful or Weak?
You will notice a lot of loaches have rather streamlined bodies. Why? Most of them actually hail from fast flowing streams and rivers where oxygen is most abundant. Their body shape is designed in such a way that they are able to swim around with ease in fast flowing currents. Most of them have body shape that is almost flat thus enabling them to even withstand the most powerful currents. It has been reported that some loaches have been discovered to actually swim upstream, thanks to their body shape. Most prominent for this would be the Balitorinae genus.

In the aquarium, most of the things cannot be accomplished whereas in nature, it is possible. However, with the aid of modern technology, we are able to come up with the use of powerheads and other means thus enabling us to replicate the conditions in the wild to our aquaria and even better, maximize the filtration systems to cope with the wastes and regular maintenance. Steps must be taken however that the loaches cannot penetrate the part where impellors are located as they run the risk of being slashed to death by these parts or their snouts cut away resulting in severe injury and even death.

There are some loaches however particularly the Pangios that will not appreciate the currents so it is in the best interests of the hobbyist to conduct thorough research before buying a fish and deciding an appropriate tank setup for a particular fish. Despite their lack of tolerance for vigorous movements, they should still never be deprived of adequate supply of oxygen as they tend to become agitated when they breathe rapidly unable to get enough oxygen to regulate in their body systems.


Tank Maintenance and Old Tank Syndrome
Loaches like clean well oxygenated waters. There are plenty of books, websites and other reference materials that will state how best to maintain the aquaria. Similarly most people will decide upon themselves how best to maintain their aquaria. It depends on how much time and efforts you want for your tank, how overcrowded your tank is, how much you are feeding your fish, etc.

It is my belief however that the more water changes are performed, the better as the loaches are assured of clean water where they will thrive best. There is a belief that most large specimens tend to release growth hormones that will stunt other fish. Whether this is true or not, I do not know however if this is true, then this is just another reason why water changes are essential.

There is another question of what old tank syndrome (OTS) is. While the fish may appear fine as the water quality only deteriorates gradually, not rapidly, the fish becomes very vulnerable to health problems and its lifespan cut by a large difference depending on how bad the situation is. Many people, instead of replacing the old water with a fresh new supply, tend to top it off with new water instead. In short, once the water has evaporated, they try to refill the aquarium with new water thus minerals build up dangerously.

If a large percentage of water is then performed either for the reason of complete tank makeover or that the person feels he was wrong in the first place to top the water off, the fish eventually dies from shock due to the sudden changes in its environment. To rectify the situation, gradually replace only a small portion of tank water, preferably 5%. The volume replaced must be increased every few days until the nitrates are down to 40 ppm and below.

Janitorial Services: Do they really deserve to be part of the “cleaning crew”?
It has been a popular stance that loaches are ideal for eliminating algae and snails, is that correct? Yes and no. Firstly, please bear in mind that while the loaches will appreciate the added food into their diet, they are not created by Mother Nature to do the “janitorial duties” for you. Similarly, they have always been treated as people have done so with the loricariids to whom they infamously labeled for the past decade, as “janitor fish”. This gives the wrong impression in the purpose they exist. This also creates confusion among the hobbyists whether they are indeed effective for that particular purpose or not. The following below are questions I have often encountered and these are the same questions asked over and over by people who seem to think resorting to fish is the best deal there is.

Is there such thing as a 100% perfectly clean tank? No. The fish, no matter what species it is, will still contribute part of the bioload an enclosed system can cope. Plenty of the fish suggested are known to excrete heavy amounts of wastes thus resulting in whacked water conditions and even disastrous consequences that follow it. People tend to pinpoint the consequences from a malfunctioned filtration system to a “cannibalistic” fish when the truth is they never realize their water parameters have gone downhill due to the strain caused by the largely disproportionate bioload that the filtration system and even tank maintenance itself can no longer cope.
Is there such thing as a snail being too bad for the aquarium? Probably yes and probably no. The author has observed plenty of people complaining how they dislike snails because they seem either unsightly or proliferating rather quickly beyond their control. It must come to realization that where food is abundant, so will the people and animals and so will the snails. As long as people continue to overfeed their fish thinking that their fish will be more satisfied, more snails will appear in their tank due to the abundance in food supply.

Is it a good idea to resort to using puffers and loaches to kill the snails? No, it is not a good idea as far as I am concerned. In the first place, you should have realized your mistakes which can be avoided by rectifying the main cause of the problem, not the problem itself. Never use loaches to eliminate all the snails. Unless you have plans for the loaches as well as compatibility not being an issue, do not resort to loaches to do the job for you. Most preferred methods in eliminating snails would be manual picking and crushing them. Feed the crushed snails to your fish and they will surely enjoy it. The other preferred method is baiting them with a lettuce leaf weighed down by a stone or lead weight. Once the lettuce leaf becomes covered with snails, remove it and throw it to the bin along with the snails clinging on them.

Is the algae unsightly? Yes and no. Do they pose harm in your tank and your fish? It depends on the species of algae you have. Even if the algal growth becomes rampant, why even resort to fish then to do the job of eliminating the algae for you? Check your water parameters and ensure that your lighting does not exceed the time it is scheduled. Ten hours is sufficient. Keeping it on for the whole 24 hours is not a good idea and who would attempt this anyway? Has anyone come to realize fish also need rest as much as we do? Perhaps not many do but why not let them know that fish do as well?


Feeding
Loaches in nature, feed on plenty of foods and depending on the species, some feed on algae and the organisms harboring in it called aufwuches. The loaches of Balitorinae genus are well known for consuming algae. In captivity, similarly they will feed on commercial foods and frozen foods provided. A lot of loaches have been known to gorge themselves plenty of foods until they appear bloated so it is recommended to feed them sparingly. Similarly, a lot of loaches will try to feed on all levels so most cannot be classified as bottom dwellers anymore. I have observed almost all of my clown loaches and yoyos attempting to eat everything on the surface and the middle levels thus enabling them to compete with the rather greedy silver dollars and severums. Be sure to siphon off the leftovers once you are done feeding them. Never allow the leftovers to remain or they'll accumulate causing the water quality to deteriorate rather rapidly.


Compatibility
So now we're through with most of the basics, correct? Keep reading...

There is a question of what fish to mix with loaches. Generally speaking, people, again tend to forget that there are over 150 species that exist. Most of the time, people label their fish as "loaches". What exactly are these loaches they are talking about? Do not forget that there are over a hundred species, and temperament and other requirements vary. Some are rather peaceful while others are excessively aggressive. Some will prefer hard alkaline waters whereas others are unable to tolerate it and will prefer pH as low as 4. A few others prefer temperatures not exceeding 80 degrees Fahrenheit compared to those otherwise.

Loaches, again, come from Asia so it is easy to assume that the best tankmates possible would be barbs, rasboras, danios and plenty other Cypriniformes. A lot of cypriniformes share the same origin as the loaches and it is often best recommended that you stick with fish that share the same origin. This is much less troublesome when you compare it to a tank filled with fish from other continents where the issues may involve compatibility, temperature, diet, etc.

It seems a common problem to mix loaches with other fish that the requirements of either species or even both are compromised just to permit such mix. Will they be happy in the long run from the compromise? Probably but why wouldn’t it simply be best to mix them only with fish of their origin or those that have requirements almost similar to the loaches?

Care must be taken when attempting to buy a fish. Do your research and resist the temptation to buy on impulse. Consider the following questions when trying to research which fish would eventually be compatible with most loach species.

1. Does the fish require powerful currents? Will it still do well in a tank with powerful currents contrary to where it used to live?

2. What is the maximum and minimum temperature required? Will the fish do well in conditions provided in the long run?

3. Will the fish be able to live in water conditions far from what they are supposed to live? For instance, will the loaches do well at all in hard alkaline waters along with the mbunas? Will the mbunas similarly do well in soft acidic waters? This is where you need to study more about osmotic shock and osmoregulatory systems.

4. What are their dietary requirements? Will feeding the herbivores with meaty foods be fine in the long run despite done sparingly? Will the strict carnivores accept heavy vegetable matter in their diet?

5. Is this fish territorial? Will it do well in a community setup at all? What level does it mostly dwell? Will it become a bane to those who also live in the same level? Can it cope well with the aggression posed by a territorial fish? How will it be able to settle territory disputes?


Below are a few suggestions along with explanation why they are compatible and what makes them truly suitable for certain setups.

Barbs
Many people tend to overlook the barbs saying they are habitual fin nippers. Are they? Probably but not all do. The ever popular tiger barbs (Puntius tetrazona) have long given them quite the nasty reputation that all barbs are fin nippers and therefore cannot be mixed in all community setups. I think we can agree that there are some cases where other barbs aside from the tiger barbs have wreak havoc to their tankmates but there are plenty of factors that could trigger this nasty habit.

The tank may have been very small, overcrowded and rather uncomfortable for them to live in. These factors should not be overlooked since many barbs are sociable and prefer to be in groups. They also require plenty of space to be able to swim around. Depriving of this, they may become erratic and may peck each other heavily. If there is only a few number of them, they will also peck other species.

As to why I suggested them in the first place, barbs are very feisty fish. Many of them are robust and easy to keep. This makes them very compatible with the loaches especially as most barbs share the same origin as the loaches. Should the loaches attempt to harass them, the barbs are quick enough to get away provided the tank is large enough to allow them to escape. Those with streamlined body shape tend to do well in aquaria where powerful currents are prominent as they are able to fight off the currents with relative ease.

Arulius barbs (Puntius arulius), filament barbs (Puntius filamentosus), tiger barbs (Puntius tetrazona), golden-lined minnow (Leptobarbus hoevenii) and tinfoil barbs (Puntius schwanfeldi) are a few that are most often available in the trade. These, however, are overlooked and actually look truly stunning in a proper setup. Bear in mind however the last two species grow rather large and therefore must be avoided in small tank setups as there may not be enough space to accommodate a group in the long run.

Like the loaches, barbs may have a tendency to eat plants. This can be avoided by supplementing them vegetable matter or try to use plants with hard foliage such as Java ferns and Anubias sp.


Danios
This is another group of cyprinids that also do well with the loaches especially those that are very aggressive such as the Yasuhikotakia modesta. Danios are very popular fish and for several years, have proven themselves rather robust and very easy to keep. They were often placed in small tanks thinking that due to their size, they will be fine. Contrary to this popular stance, danios prefer a spacious area to swim around in groups.

Danios also have the tendency to nip fins so care must be taken in selecting their tankmates. These are very boisterous fish and can easily outcompete everyone of their food. These are not to be kept with rather slow-moving and placid tankmates. Danios are also excellent jumpers so a tight lid cover may be needed as well as floating plants otherwise you will find them either swimming in another tank or on your carpet.

These are not fussy with water conditions making them truly suitable for various ranges of tank setups however the best results are always in setups where their native environment is closely replicated. Feeding is no problem as they will eat just about everything including insects that fall to the surface.

Females tend to have a plumper body in contrast to the males. Breeding is not very difficult especially in the case of the ever popular zebra danios (Brachydanio rerio) and as these are egg scatterers, the eggs are bound to be devoured before they can even reach the bottom safely.


Rasboras
This is another group of cyprinids also found in Asia. Many species of rasboras are suitable with several loach species. They are subdivided in several genera, most prominent of which is Trigonostigma. They are also found in Asia and are rather peaceful fish which makes them truly suitable in peaceful community setups. Some rasboras have rather triangular body shape while others have streamlined body shape, an example being Rasbora boraptensis.

I have found the Rasbora boraptensis to be rather feisty which makes them a nice candidate with most aggressive loaches although of course, I would not recommend placing them with large loaches that will easily devour them particularly the Syncrossus sp.

Those of the Trigonostigma, Boraras, and Microrasbora genera are well-suited in small aquaria together with the Pangio sp., Botia kubotai, Botia dario, Botia histrionica, Botia rostrata and Yasuhikotakia sidthimunki.

These fish prefer soft acidic waters like all other cyprinids and are best kept in tanks filtered with peat, Indian almond leaves and oak leaves. Some specimens are not fussy and are usually fine in other ranges of water conditions but the best results are always where their environment is replicated.


Apollo Shark
Apollo sharks are another candidate worth mentioning. These fish are very large reaching 25 cm in length. They are excellent jumpers which means tight cover is strictly recommended. I remember freaking out when mine ended up in another aquarium the next morning after I realized one was missing in the main community setup. It was fortunate that none of the fish in the other aquarium was eaten. These fish are indeed predatory mainly devouring live foods that live on the surface particularly insects.

These are best kept in a group with large loach species particularly the clown loaches, Y. modesta, tiger loaches and Leptobotia sp.


Labeos
These are another very popular group that has existed in the trade for decades. Many species under this group are found to be rather territorial in nature. It is advisable that only one must be kept per aquarium unless there is enough hiding places for two to establish their boundaries with otherwise they will constantly chase and attack each other out.

Most prominent in this group are the Labeo bicolor, Labeo frenatus and Labeo erythrurus. Confusion is still surrounding the differences regarding the last two species. Labeo frenatus may be distinguished from the Labeo erythrurus by their slimmer body shape with dark-edged scales. All of the above mentioned dwell the same origin in Thailand along with the popular skunk loaches (Yasuhikotakia morleti).

They can be kept even with the aggressive loach species provided there is enough hiding places for them to establish thus minimizing the chances of serious injuries from constant harassments.


Garra
Another group that is beginning to pick popularity nowadays would be the Garra sp. Many species exist around Asia however only a few are available in the aquarium trade. They graze on algae and share the same origin with several loach species such as the Acanthocobitis zolternans and Yasuhikotakia morleti along with the Labeo sp.

Garra flavatra is by far one of the most commonly available fish in the trade. Unfortunately, these also happen to be very expensive due to high demand among hobbyists wishing to collect them. Currently, I have three of these and bought them at a high expense but I thought anyway they are totally worth it considering they look truly stunning in the flesh. Most pictures won’t do them justice so you have to really see them to admire them.

Another popular species found would be the Garra cambodgiensis. These tend to be rather solitary becoming territorial against each other and similarly to other fish with similar markings although fortunately, no serious damage occurs. These are still up to now confused with the Garra taeniata which is really quite a trouble for most fish enthusiasts.

A few seen in the trade from time to time are the Garra rufa, Garra bicornuta, Garra pingi pingi and many more. If anyone sees them, they’re totally worth it and should be grabbed at the first chance lest you want to wait for a long time before you get another glimpse of these stocks.


Siamese Algae Eater and Flying Fox
These are known in short as SAE. Siamese algae eaters (Crossocheilus siamensis) have often been confused with the flying foxes (Epalzeorhynchus kallopterus). While both have the same body shape and almost similar body markings, the SAE lacks the yellow band found above the black stripe running its snout up to the caudal peduncle. The black band is more vague in the SAE.

Both species are found in Malaysia and Thailand although the flying foxes extend their origins to the Sumatra and Java. They have many similarities which really is one of the many reasons why they are often confused with each other to begin with. While they tend to be rather peaceful towards other species, they have the tendency to become quite quarrelsome with each other.

Both species love to graze over algae especially black brush algae (BBA) although this taste fades away as both mature. Nevertheless, they still prove useful even as juveniles. Despite their downward mouth position, they are still capable of browsing foods found in the surface and mid levels which does not make them strictly bottom feeders.


Bala Shark
Bala sharks (Balantiocheilus melanopterus) is a peaceful and very active fish originating from the running waters of Thailand and Indonesia. This can grow rather large at 35 cm in maximum length which means the aquarium should have adequate space to permit a group to swim around comfortably.

These fish are excellent jumpers so the aquarium must have a tight lid cover to prevent them from jumping out of the tank. These fish despite being very large in size are also very skittish so care must be taken to avoid frightening them as they become to injuries from constantly jumping around.

Be very selective in choosing their tankmates as their constant movements tend to intimidate the rather placid specimens. No sexual differences can be found.


Chinese Algae Eater
The Chinese algae eater (Gyrinocheilus aymonieri) is another species that may fit well with aggressive loach species. Juveniles tend to do their job cleaning algae which eventually fades as they mature. Adults may have the potential to reach 10 inches which means a large tank must be in order while they are on growing stage.

Juveniles are fine in community setups as they are rather peaceful but this behavior eventually changes as they mature. Adults tend to have rather nasty temperament sucking the slime coat of other fish as their main source of protein and harassing their smaller tankmates.


Gobies
There are some gobies that can do equally well with loaches. The Rhinogobius sp. for instance has been found to share the same origin as most loach species. As most gobies do tend to become territorial as they dispute over boundaries, it is a good idea to provide as many hiding places as possible.


Raphael Catfish
The Platydoras armatulus seems to fit well with loaches as they appear, like most loaches, during the night to forage for food and do not seem to show up as frequently as most aquarists would have hoped during daytime. This fish seems to be a disappointment as it rarely shows up at all except during feeding time. Feeding is not usually a problem as the Platydoras armatulus has the tendency to gorge itself on foods until it appears to have swallowed a golf ball.

It grows to 8-10 inches so be very careful not to place very small tankmates in it as anything that will fit its mouth well enough will only disappear into their stomachs.

The author currently has one in a tank which is inhabited predominantly by loaches. It seems to be rather happy as it kept showing up especially when it senses the coming of the feast. It was initially a big disappointment because for a few months, it rarely shows up and even refuses to budge into eating the foods being provided. This was an absolute nightmare as the author began to worry that it may only starve itself to death as he had been warned before he obtained it. To his astonishment, it seems to have live well for a few months even without seeing it eat at all until it seems to have decided to join the group shoveling all the foods it can possibly get.


Angelfish and Discus
This has long been debated whether both cichlids are compatible with loaches. Is that possible at all? Yes and no. First of all, temperature must be taken into consideration. Most loaches do not like very high temperature. This will require maximizing the surface movements to ensure oxygen is not greatly depleted. Second, both cichlids are rather peaceful by nature and will not tolerate any boisterous movements at all. They tend to become severely stressed from it. Third, a lot of loaches like powerful movements so this is really another justified reason for the recommendation against keeping both cichlids together with most loaches.

All those mentioned above however can be compromised provided the tank must have spacious area thus preventing the loaches from acting like a pack of hyenas and ripping their fins to shreds and harassing them. So far, Pangio sp. is by far the best choice as they do not require currents at all, are tolerant to warm temperatures and are not as boisterous as the other species preferring to hide most of the time or even forage the bottom just like the corydoras.

The other good options would be Yasuhikotakia sidthimunki, Botia kubotai, Botia histrionica, Botia rostrata and juvenile Chromobotia macracanthus. All three unfortunately fall under the category where all reasons mentioned earlier must be done to satisfy these species otherwise you will not be able to see them at their best. In a large tank, surface movements must be maximized. Assign an area where there will be powerful surface movements. When feeding, make sure to bait the loaches with sinking foods. Most discus tend to take their time to eat but this may eventually change and you will be lucky if they decide to wolf down on all the foods you give them. Angelfish usually do not have a problem with this although you will need to avoid the delicate strains particularly the black and double black strains. They tend not to cope well with the added stress from the constant movements of their tankmates and are best suited on their own with some placid tankmates.


Central American and South American Cichlids
The author had always expressed disappointment when it comes to mixing loaches in water conditions that are not similar or closely similar to the one in their native habitats. All requirements must be thoroughly researched before the combination is considered. Make sure both cichlids and loaches you want to mix share the same conditions otherwise you will not be able to keep both in the long run without running into issues along the way.

The first thing you must remember is that most Central American cichlids prefer hard alkaline waters so this is really an issue especially where adaptation and osmoregulation is concerned. High end conductivity tends to affect those from soft acidic waters compared to those that have dwelled in hard alkaline waters and vice versa. Captive breeding may have allowed this compromise but in the long run, the fish may be unable to live comfortably much to the obliviousness of the aquarist.

Secondly, most cichlids are very aggressive and territorial. Just because your own loaches seem to be avoided by these fish doesn’t mean in the long run, it is acceptable or the fact you think that you will never run into a single issue at all in the long run. Are these fish juveniles or adults? Most enthusiasts forget their fish are only juveniles which explains why they “consider themselves lucky” to have avoided the issues surrounding the mix. Adults in comparison may or may not be aggressive at all and this should be your cue whether the mix is compatible or not. Most cichlids establish their boundaries. Loaches do not like being pushed “out of the door” at all. They will become severely stressed and eventually succumb to it unable to settle their territorial disputes with nowhere to hide at all. This is especially true when the cichlids begin to spawn forcing them to drive away every fish in their territory.

Third, a lot of loaches prefer to eat meaty foods so feeding the herbivorous cichlids such as the Viejas heavily with meaty foods will put them to risk suffering digestive problems in the long run such as the infamous bloat which is why the author recommends researching thoroughly their requirements especially where food is concerned.

Many loaches like to swim around powerful currents and may be unable to appreciate their surroundings from the lack of it. Make sure the cichlids will also tolerate the movements in the long run because failing this, the cichlids will become severely stressed and more prone to health issues.


Loricariids
There are over 400 species of loricariids that exist in the wild however only a few dozens are available in the aquarium trade due to the export ban by Brazil after some populations were found to be declining very fast from overcollection and industrial activities alike resulting in the destruction of their native habitats.

Most loricariids are found in the running waters of Brazil. The Sturisoma, Rineloricaria and Chaetostoma are a few of the popular groups that will often do well in tanks with powerful currents however they lack tolerance for high temperatures so they may not make fine tankmates for loaches that prefer high temperatures. I have the first two groups mentioned and found them to do rather well in a river setup containing the hillsteam loaches.

A lot of loricariids will however do well with the loaches whether there are currents or not. They plainly will not bother other fish despite their territorial behavior which is most often observed in the Panaque genus. Provide them plenty of hiding places most especially driftwoods where most loricariids breed, dwell and feed on to aid their digestive systems.

It is best recommend to research their dietary requirements first before you plan to get them as most loricariids and loaches have varying dietary requirements which might create an inconvenience as most foods may not be suitable for them at all. Bloat is the biggest problem as most fish that feed on vegetable matter are fed heavily with meaty foods resulting in the blockage of foods inside their stomach. The intestines of the herbivores tend to be longer than that of the carnivores so it may take quite awhile for them to digest their foods completely. Proteins are not easily digested which is why this poses quite a threat to the lives of the herbivores if fed in massive amounts.


Tetras, Pencilfish, Hatchetfish and Other Small Characins
There are hundreds of these fish to choose from. Some are rather peaceful whereas others are rather vicious fin nippers. Both can do equally well with loaches although it may depend on the circumstances. Most lack tolerance for powerful currents so it is best to try those that will dwell mostly on the surface yet, will appreciate the powerful movements.

Buenos Aires tetras, glass bloodfins, bloodfins and penguin tetras have always been the best candidates I ever found. All are not fussy with water conditions at all and seem to do well in river setups spending time mostly chasing away fish that invade their surface territories. They are worthy substitutes if the danios, rasboras and barbs you found are not to your taste.

There are plenty others however that seem to prefer still waters so they may not be something you want in your river setup at all as they tend to become stressed from fighting all over the place to find a quiet place. Pangio sp. and Misgurnus anguillicaudatus do well with most tetras although bear in mind, the latter prefers cooler water. Most tetras prefer cooler waters anyway so this is not usually a problem. Keeping temperature steady at 76 degrees Fahrenheit prevents much risk for both species.

Hatchets dwell the surface and can ‘fly’ out of the tank if the tank is not tightly covered. They like to eat insects that fall the surface. Pencilfish also have this kind of similarity although with smaller mouths, they are best fed with foods in almost powdery form.


Distichodus
These are another group of characins that I find to do well with loaches. Most are however very powerful species requiring a very large tank and powerful filtration to cope with their wastes. Distichodus lussoso, Distichodus sexfasciatus and Distichodus affinis are a few most prominent species. They graze mostly on vegetable matter so be careful in selecting the plants for your tank. They are also excellent jumpers so the tank must again be tightly covered to discourage this behavior.


Anostomids
A lot of anostomids tend to be rather aggressive and may sometimes nip other tankmates. Leporinus fasciatus have been found to exhibit aggressive behavior and at 10 inches in size, they require a very large tank. They are best kept alone rather than in a group. These may be one of the few that can also do well in a tank containing aggressive loach species as they can fend themselves rather well from possible harassments coming from the aggressive loaches.

There are other species that are even smaller than the famous Leporinus fasciatus. They will still however eat plants. They have a very unique behavior in which they swim with their heads tilting down. They are still quarrelsome towards each other however so it is best only one must be kept per tank. They can easily turn a planted tank into a salad bowl so it is best not to put them in planted setups. This behavior can be discouraged by feeding them plenty of vegetable matter but it would be safer not to introduce plants with soft foliage at all.



Rift Valley Cichlids
Rift Valley Cichlids and Loaches: Can they go along together?
There also comes the long been controversial debate about loaches and Rift Valley cichlids. Cichlids, as a whole, take their aggression to another level when you compare it to the loaches. They have various personalities thus making it impossible to predict how they will behave once they establish themselves in the aquarium. It is in the best interest if you are to keep cichlids and loaches together, that both species will not try to harass each other. Consider other variables, not just the individual personality. It has been a mistake of some people to think loaches are able to withstand the aggression and harassments inflicted by most cichlids, the same way that most cichlids can withstand the feisty nature of the loaches. While the cichlids with rather mellow personality do not usually pose a problem towards the loaches, these cichlids will eventually spawn as they mature giving more problems for the loaches thus subjecting the loaches to permanent damage from stress and physical injuries as they fail to cope up with the aggression issues of the cichlids. Loaches are sociable fish forming a hierarchy and even defending their boundaries. They do not appreciate being pushed around by other fish hence it is inadvisable to mix them with those kind of cichlids regardless.

Another issue that will be covered is the temperature. Take into consideration that Lake Malawi cichlids prefer temperature no higher than 78 degrees Celsius whereas several loaches that are often mixed with these cichlids prefer temperature higher than that. If the Lake Malawi cichlids are to be forced in such conditions, they will eventually suffocate. Never forget the Lake Malawi cichlids demand plenty of oxygen and as such their bodies cannot tolerate depleting oxygen levels.

There also comes the issue regarding the loaches being able to tolerate hard alkaline waters or not. It may or may not work. Plenty of loaches that are often suggested to be mixed with these cichlids hail from soft acidic waters which means that while the water parameters can be compromised as long as they “are acclimated properly”, they will still never thrive their best as their bodies are not designed to live in waters where conductivity is very high compared to the waters they are used to which has very low conductivity. Their osmoregulatory system is not designed for this situation and will only compromised their health as well as their lifespan.

Lastly, different dietary requirements are a problem. Which genus of cichlids are you planning to keep? Never forget again that plenty of Lake Malawi cichlids relish meaty foods so much despite being unsuitable in comparison to foods containing high fiber content that they eventually succumb to bloat and other digestion problems. In this case, you are advised not to attempt mixing loaches with these cichlids. Many botiine loaches generally prefer meaty foods as they had always done in the wild. Any attempt to feed the Lake Malawi cichlids occasionally is not without causing so much digestive upsets on their part that they eventually suffer and damage themselves permanently. Either way, you should not opt to keep both together. Anyone telling you that you can is not going to admit readily that he is wrong.
 
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