The zebra loach (Botia striata) is a fascinating freshwater fish for beginners and experienced aquarists alike. While many fish keepers look to the clown loach to control snail infestations, the zebra loach is smaller and easy to care for.
The distinctive appearance of this fish has earned it multiple nicknames, including the Candy Loach, Striped Loach, Thin Line Loach, and Candy-stripe Loach.
Zebra Loach Appearance
The maximum length of the zebra loach is 3-4 inches, but it is typically smaller in aquariums. It has a yellowish-green body with multiple vertical stripes.
The bands come in varying shades of yellow, gray, brown, blue, and greenish. This variety gives the fish the name candy-stripe loach. The stripes also differ in width, and they often break away to resemble a maze.
The body is entirely striped, except the belly, which is cream-colored. The bands slant downward a bit close to the head and begin to angle in reverse behind the eyes.
The zebra loach has translucent fins with black stripes. The pectoral and caudal fins have thick bands while the dorsal fin has thin ones. It has four pairs of barbels for detecting food.
The fish has the “classic” loach look, with a head and mouth that are angled downward. Their body is thick near the dorsal fin, and it tapers down at the end of the fin.
It is impossible to differentiate the female and male zebra loach unless it is breeding time when the female becomes rounder. The fish can live for 8-15 years in the aquarium.
Zebra Loach Tank Requirements
The zebra loach is native to India’s Tunga River system in Karnataka. It is adapted to slow-moving waters with a sandy or fine-gravel bottom littered with leaves.
The fish likes shaded areas underneath the canopy, and populations have been recorded in clear and muddy water. You can replicate this habitat in your aquarium through:
– Tank Size
The ideal aquarium size for zebra loaches is 30 gallons. While this may seem like a large set up for such a small fish, keep in mind that it is a schooling fish that is happy in groups of at least five.
A large habitat will also help you maintain stable parameters. Cover the aquarium tightly as the loach is an enthusiastic jumper.
Zebras are active burrowers, and they forage around the substrate for food. If you have a rough bottom, the fish may end up with injuries. Use sand or fine-gravel or any other smooth-edged substrate.
– Plants and Decoration
Zebra loaches will thrive in a planted aquarium since they feed on fallen organic matter. The fish are a bit timid, and they appreciate hiding spaces in the form of caves, driftwood, rocks, and decorations. Leave plenty of open regions for them to swim.
– Lighting and Filtration
In the wild, zebra loaches flock to shaded areas, and they like somewhat subdued lighting. Your tank should be equipped with a robust filtration system to maintain pristine conditions.
Zebra Loach Water Conditions
Zebra loaches should not be introduced to a newly set up tank or a setup with too much organic waste. The ideal aquarium should be mature and well-established, with stable water parameters.
The tank should be fitted with an efficient filter. The ideal model for a zebra loach aquarium is a canister filter since it boosts oxygenation. The fish thrive in well-aerated waters, with a turn over of 10-15 times an hour. You can add a powerhead filter, but be careful not to introduce too much current.
Complement the filtration system with weekly 30% water changes. Vacuum the substrate with every water change, but leave any biofilm in the tank for the fish to graze on. You can perform weekly tests as well to be sure of the water quality.
Zebra loaches thrive in soft and slightly acidic freshwater. The ideal PH is 6.5-7.5, with the hardness between 5 to 12 dGH. Keep the temperature in the range of 73-79 °F.
Zebra loaches kept in less than ideal conditions are prone to itch infections. You can detect this disease if there are tiny dots on the fish’s tail, gills, and fins. These loaches do not handle fluctuations in water chemistry or elevated organic waste well.
Zebra Loach Diet and Feeding
The recommended zebra loach diet includes a variety of foods. The fish is omnivorous and not a fussy eater.
You can provide high-quality sinking catfish pellets and fish flakes. They will accept live and frozen meals like bloodworms, daphnia, mosquito larvae, brine shrimp, and tubifex. Zebra loaches also eat snails, and they can control a snail infestation in an aquarium.
Drop-in veggies from time to time and some great options include cucumber, lettuce, spinach, and zucchini. The fish will snack on biofilm, algae, and any plant matter in your tank. The meals should sink because the loach is a bottom-dweller.
Zebra Loach Tank Mates
It is best to keep five zebra loaches in one tank. When kept in a smaller group, one will become dominant and harass the rest, especially during feeding times.
The fish will shoal together during the night, although they can still be seen during the day. They will even school with other Botia species like the clown loach and tinfoil barb.
You can keep zebra loaches in a community tank with other peaceful species. They are active explorers, and they are always on the move looking for algae and food. These loaches also like to hide in crevices.
Some ideal tankmates include the yoyo loach, cherry barb, neon tetras, sparkling gourami, celestial pearl danio, ember tetra, cory catfish, and Odessa barb.
Do not keep zebra loaches with long-finned species like bettas and angelfish since they can be fin-nippers. The loaches will also try to feed on smaller snails.
Zebra Loach Breeding
Home aquarists are yet to report success with breeding zebra loaches. Most of the specimens in pet stores are bred in commercial aquariums via hormones.
Aquarists are discouraged from trying to breed the zebra loaches because it will only end up stressing your fish.
Zebra loaches are as effective in dealing with snail infestations as the common clown loach, and they are also smaller. Keep five of them in a 30-gallon tank and decorate it with plants and caves.
The zebra loach has an attractive appearance, and they become curious explorers when kept in an aquarium.