Clown loach (Chromobotia macracanthus)

Clown loach (lat. Chromobotia macracanthus) is one of the most beautiful tank fishes from the loaches family. It’s valued for its nice coloring and bright individuality. Clown loaches tank should be spacious since the fish grows to be rather large – up to 16-20 cm long. The fish likes thickly planted tanks with lots of different covers.

As a rule freshwater fish is a night one, so it is almost unnoticeable during the day time, however it doesn’t concern clown loach.

The fish is very active during the day, but it’s a bit timid. It enjoys company of fishes of the same kind, however it can be kept in a tank together with other types of fishes.


Habitat in the wild

Chromobotia macracanthus was first described in 1852. Peter Bleeker (Dutch doctor, ichthyologist) was the first who mentioned this fish kind and classified the fish as a loaches fish class.

Since 2004 fish was officially classified as a separate kind of loaches family with Greek name Chromobotia. Swiss ichthyologist Maurice Kottelat initiated this change.

The fish comes from Malaysia, Borneo, Sumatra and Kalimantan. Inhabits mainly in river tributaries, but for spawning period during rain season when some areas are temporary flooded the fish migrates upstream to smaller tributaries and streams.

Water temperature, Ph and muddiness may change depending on season. But in general the majority of native rivers have soft water of tea color and they flow through the rain forests area. Forested boggy streams have thick flora, a lot of shadow and slow water flow.

The bottom is covered with fallen leaves, pieces of tree branches, roots etc. River main tributaries have rather high flow speed, that increases during the rain season and any platns can hardly be found there.

Although, in the majority of references it’s said that max size is about 30 cm, in the wild there can be seen species about 40 cm long and lifespan is up to 20 years.



The fish has rounded, elongated and brightly colored body. Coloring varies from yellow to orange red. The fish has 3 vertical stripes.

Its eyes don’t have any protective cover and in skin folds under its eyes the fish has doubled protecting spines. In the wild they help the fish to protect itself in case of danger, therefore they can be rather seldom seen when the fish is an a tank. The dorsal is black and only at the bottom it’s yellow.

Pelvic fin and flukes are red and black. In the wild such a colorful body helps to hide in the plants. The mouth is made so that it’s very easy to dig the bottom and look for food.

Clown loach has 4 pairs of barbels – these are vibrissas that help the fish to find food in muddy water of its native rivers.

One can feel how the fish attacks by shooting with protective spine with chattering noise when taking the fish out of the tank.

When somebody tries to take loach out of its tank, the fish thinks that it is in danger and starts making chattering noise. Some species of this kind have a habit to chatter in the evening without any danger around. It’s rather difficult to take a picture of this, since the spines show up only for about half a second.

Difficulties in keeping

Fish has very thin scales almost ingrowing into its body. This is kind of problem since the skin doesn’t protect it from toxic substances dissolved in a tank water.

Therefore it’s better to add only clean and defecated water and not to put any drugs that are intended to act on the scales.

Care and keeping in a tank

Scientific NameChromobotia macracanthus
Common NameClown loach, tiger botia, tiger loach
Tank sizemore then 100 gallons (450L) for school
DietOmnivorous bottom feeder
Temperature75–81 °F (24–27 °C)
Size15–20 cm (5.9–7.9 in)

The majority of loaches is taken from their habitats in the wild, where the fish lives in forest streams and rivers in South-West Asia. In tanks the fish grows slowly and very seldom it reaches its max size.

But provided with optimal tank conditions the fish will grow up to 10-15 cm during a year. When buying juveniles one has to remember that this lifespan is more than 20 years if it has good care, a tank spacious enough and diverse diet.

Chromobotia macracanthus is rather large fish in the wild, but in a tank it won’t grow large. In the nature max size is up to 30 cm, in a tank – the fish is maximum 20 cm long (depending on tank conditions and care).

This is a very active fish of schooling type. Minimum size of tank for a school of 3-5 species should be 100 gallons. Please, consider the fact that, the larger is the fish school and the tank, the more comfortable fishes feel: they grow more intensively and intragroup aggression is almost absent.

Sand and small grained pebbles can be used as a bottom substrate. Chromobotia macracanthus likes having rest in covers on the tank bottom, so the latter are necessary there.

Tank lighting should be subdued and the following plants that grow well in such conditions can be planted in a tank: Microsorum Pteropus, Taxiphyllum and different kinds of Anubias.

These plants will provide the fish with additional shade and covers.

The fish prefers well aerated, filtered water and high water flow should be also created in a tank. Tank water should be renewed once a week in amount of 30% from total amount.

The fish feels better in soft water (5 – 12 dGH) with ph: 6.0-6.5, dH: 4-12, and water temperature 75–81 °F (24–27 °C).

It is completely peaceful ground fish and it spends most of the time in the bottom part of the tank. Juveniles as a rule are very funny and active.

When growing up they become more lazy and like lying in covers. The most spread fear of beginners aquarists is that they start panic when the fish disappears for several days.

Quite often it happens with new bought fishes. Those who have had these fishes already know that sometimes they can lay on a side (playing dead) and doing so they scare the beginners. But after the fish had its rest it continues swimming. Often clown loach lays on a side when pH is low because the water in a tank wasn’t renewed timely.

However, it never was a problem. After lying for some time, the fish gets back to its normal state itself.

One more interesting feature is the ability to make some chattering noise. This way the fish reacts on a danger and in the wild it deafens the juveniles by this sound and hunts them.

This fact should be considered when choosing tank mates, so it won’t scare small fishes.



Fish is a carnivore in the wild, but it can also feed on plant food including water plants with soft leaves. Care and feeding in a tank is easy. The fish is omnivorous and it eats any types of feed.

It eagerly feeds on qualitative flakes, granules, tablets of leading manufacturers of dry feed. Live of frozen blood worm, tubifex, brine shrimp are also good feed.

Plant food should be added to diet: special tablets, cucumber, lettuce leaves, spinach and peeled squash.

Clown loach eats snails, including MTS. If you’d like to decrease the population of snails in a tank, just put loach in a tank.

The fish has some bad habits – they gladly eat plants, they even bite holes in Echinodorus plants. If there is enough of plant food in the diet is decreases the damage the fish does to the tank plants.

Both pills and vegetables – squash, cucumber, lettuce can be fed to clown loaches. In general, for this fish the amount of plant feed in its diet should be up to 40% from total amount.


Compatibility and tank mates

Fishes of this kind aren’t aggressive, however yet it’s not recommended to keep them together with small fishes. Is rather active fish and such tank mates will be stressed all the time. Fishes with veiled fins are definitely not proper tank mates, since they swim slowly.

Perfect tank mates are kuhli loach, swordtails, bichirs, ropefish, african cichlids, big tetras.

The fish loves company, it’s important to have several fishes of this kind in a tank. Minimal number is 3, but it’s better when there 5 or more species in a tank. In such school there is an hierarchy, when alpha male scares more weak species off the food.

Sex differences

Sex differences in all types of Botias are rather insignificant and you can see if you have a male or female only when they become reproductive.

However, even then it’s not always done successfully. It’s very difficult to see between male and female by their appearance, except for the time when the female has eggs inside her and her abdomen is rounded. Male have more developed pelvic fins.

Fishes become reproductive at about the age of 5 and their body length should be not less than 12 cm.


In the wild spawns during the rain season, when level of water in the rivers raises. In their main habitats the rain season starts in December and lasts till February.

Before that reproductive loaches start migrating upstream from rivers mainstream to smaller tributaries and river-meadows.

Migration starts usually is September and lasts till October, but these terms can change due to climate and weather changes. Spawning takes place in these river branches, in boggy upper reaches, among reed grass.

Then the fishes come back to their habitats, sometimes they swim up to 200-300 km.

The eggs that they left drift with the flow and stop somewhere in streamside vegetation. Ich fry appears there and for some period of time it feeds on different microorganisms.

The juveniles stay in flooded areas even when the water starts going down. By that time (they are 2 month old) their size is about 30 mm not counting tail length.

It is rather difficult to breed in a tank. In some references there is some information about successful breeding in a tank.

However, mainly freshwater breeding is performed in the farms using some hormones injections.