Kuhli Loach: Care, Lifespan, Diet, Breeding & More

Kuhli Loach (Pangio kuhlii) is a small loach that is well known in the aquarium hobby. If you’re looking for a small fish that has a body shape that looks like an eel, then the Kuhli Loach may be just what you need. These unusual little fish make an excellent addition to your aquarium.

While these fish are readily available in pet stores, they are not beginner-friendly fish. These fish are sensitive and need stable tanks to thrive. 

So we prepared this care guide for you to make you ready to own these beautiful cleaner fish. So let’s get started!

Species Profile & Overview

Kuhli Loaches are freshwater fish that live natively in streams in South Asia. A large number of them are found in Indonesia and the Malay Peninsula. But they can be found in other countries like Malaysia, Borneo, Java, and Singapore. 

They can also be found throughout India and Thailand. They are often found in sand beds of slow-moving rivers. 

This fish belongs to the Cobitidae family which looks very similar to Kuhli. They were first discovered in the early 1800s; but since then they have been a staple pet fish option available in most pet stores.

They go by a few names in different parts of the world. These names include Kuhli Loach, coolie loach, giant coolie loach, slimy loach, and leopard loach.

With the Kuhli Loach, you get a fun and active pet fish that keeps your tank clean. They come with beautiful coloration which makes them one of the most desirable cleaning crew. They are also great at eating detritus worm eaters.

Appearance & Types

Kuhli Loach
Kuhli Loach

The Kuhli Loach is a small fish that has a cylinder body shape that can resemble a small eel or snake. They typically have a brownish-olive base color that is painted by black bands running through their body. 

They have approximately 10 – 15 black bands on their body. Depending on how you count, some individuals can have up to 20 bands when fully grown. These bands are on the back of the fish and the belly area usually lacks these bands.

They have six barbels around their mouth that give them a unique look. They use these barbels to sift through the sand and look for food. 

The fins are small and semi-transparent. Except for the pectoral fins, all other fins are pushed toward the back of their body. This helps the fish to really dig into the sand when it needs to.

The males and females of Kuhli Loach look exactly the same so identifying their gender is not an easy task. Because these fish need to live in groups, identifying the gender might not be necessary in most cases.

Adult Size

Kuhli Loach is a small fish and grows to a maximum of 5 inches. However, the majority of these fish will only stay at around 3 – 4 inches in captivity. 

Despite being small fish, they still need adequate space as they live in groups. So when thinking of getting this fish for your aquarium you need to think about a minimum of 6 Kuhli Loaches. Even though these fish are small, as a group they will need medium to large aquariums to live in. 


Unlike other much smaller fish, Kuhli Loach has a relatively long lifespan. The average lifespan of a Kuhli Loach is around 10 years. 

This is really remarkable for a fish of this size. Most small fish live a much shorter life than Kuhli Loach. That said, this fish only reaches its expected lifespan if you provide them with the perfect water conditions and diet. 

Most people can’t take good care of this fish and it, unfortunately, dies within a few months of purchasing. This is because this fish needs pristine water with no fluctuations. They also need to live in large groups. 

Behavior and Temperament

Kuhli Loach is a surprisingly calm and shy fish. This is especially true when they are kept in lower numbers. If you want this fish to come out and about, you will have to have a group of them so they feel safe to explore the tank. 

Kuhli Loach is not schooling fish; but, they do like to live with their kind in groups. Living alone will cause their stress levels to rise with slight movements in the tank. 

These fish are nocturnal and prefer to come out at night. So even if you are keeping a group of them you shouldn’t expect them to be everywhere during the day. They will only come out during the day if they are hungry or they feel safe enough. 

When tank conditions are right, expect this fish to actively explore the tank at all times. They will constantly sift through the sand to find food. When they want to rest, they will find a dark spot or a cave to hide. 

Kuhli fish are fun to watch when they feed. They will swim fast and try to get to the food as quickly as they can. This is very fun to watch as their cylinder body makes them swim and move around differently. 

Kuhli Loach Care

The Kuhli Loach is a sensitive fish and is not a good fish for beginners. Kuhlis need a stable tank with clean water conditions. Most new aquarium owners cant provide these fish with a clean environment and as a result, they often die. 

This species has soft skin that can easily get damaged by decorations. When a tank has poor water conditions, even a tiny scratch on the fish can become a life-threatening infection.

This is why you need to pay special attention to the next few sections of this article so you can provide this fish with a perfect living environment.

Tank Size

Kuhli Loach are small fish but they need to live in groups. So the minimum tank for them is 15 gallons. You can keep a few Kuhli fish in a tank of this size.

If you want to have more fish then you should have a larger tank that can handle the number of fish you want to keep in it. The minimum number of Kuhli Loaches in any tank should be 6 or more, so if you want to keep different types of fish with your group of Kuhli Loaches you should get a bigger tank.

Larger tanks are also more stable than smaller ones. This fish, as we mentioned, needs stable water parameters which comes easier with larger tanks.

What To Put In A Kuhli Loach Tank

The Kuhli Loaches are sensitive nocturnal fish; so you need to pay special attention to the tank setup for these tiny creatures. 

This fish has sensitive skin that can get damaged if it gets scratched against any sharp objects in the tank. You will need to eliminate any sharp decorations such as rocks and driftwood.

They also need a soft substrate as they spend the majority of their time moving over it. Sharp and large substrates can make your fish very uncomfortable. They can even cause damage to the fish so you need to avoid these substrates. 

Sand is the ideal type of substrate for Kuhli Loach. Some of the finer planted substrates are also great for this fish. Your Kuhli will move on the bed of your tank with no issues and will sift these substrates for food without any struggle. 

As mentioned these fish are shy and nocturnal; so they need lots of hiding places. Having hiding places will lower the stress levels in the fish and provide your Kuhli with a place to rest during the day. 

We also recommend planting your tank to the max! Plants will keep the water parameters stable which gives your fish a better living environment. They will also make your tank look much nicer. Which is another plus point!

And lastly, make sure to add a lid to your tank. Kuhli Loaches are known to jump out of the water. Having a lid will prevent any accidental losses. 

Water Parameters

Unfortunately, almost all Kuhli Loaches sold in pet stores are wild-caught. This means you will have to make sure your tank parameters match the parameters they experience in the wild. 

These fish are coming from the tropical waters of South Asia. The water in these regions stays warm throughout the year. PH is always stable and is around neutral to slightly acidic. The water is well-oxygenated and filled with small microorganisms Kuhli fish can feed on.

Unlike other types of loach, the Kuhli Loaches do not need high currents. This fish can thrive in moderately moving waters. Giving them a similar environment is crucial to the long-term health and well-being of these fish.

Considering all these key points, you should aim to keep Kuhli Loach in the following range of parameters: 

  • Temperature: 75 – 86 Degrees Fahrenheit 
  • PH: 6.5 – 7.5
  • TDS: 80 – 150 PPM


Kuhli Loaches need dim lighting conditions. These fish are most active at night and prefer to stay in the shade during the daytime. 

Having a strong light is a must If you have plants or you just want to enjoy your fish. But since Kuhli Loaches need shapes, you can add some hiding spots for them to hide when lights are on. 

Unfortunately, this means you will see your Kuhli less often; but doing this will prevent stress in your fish. Stress can cause all sorts of diseases and Kuhli fish.  

Filtration System

Choosing the right filter for your aquarium is the key to making your Kuhli fish thrive. Kuhli Loaches need stable and clean waters to live their maximum expected life expectancy. 

Having a strong filter that can keep up with the waste products in the tank is crucial to the health of your fish. Your filter should be able to remove ammonia and any free-floating particles available in the tank. 

Since this loach can live in slow and moderate-moving waters, almost any type of filter will do the job. But we recommend canister filters or sponge filters. 

Canister filters are the best option as they can circulate the water much better and keep the water cleaner. But the only downside to canister filters is the filter’s return tube.

Kuhli Loaches love to hide in dark spaces. So it’s common to see them crawling into the filter return tube. While we have never had any issues with our fish, some report that their kuhli fish made it all the way into the filter. 

An incident like this is rare but can happen if you don’t give your fish enough hiding spots. We highly recommend considering all the recommendations we made in the “What To Put In A Kuhli Loach Tank” section of this article. 

Doing so will give your fish the best chance of survival. 

Common Diseases and Prevention

Kuhli Loach is a sensitive species and is often the first fish to suffer from any kind of disease that might develop in a tank. These fish are very fragile and you should be careful to handle their tank with care. 

Kuhli Loaches are at risk of contracting all aquarium diseases. Bloating, bacterial infections, fungal infections, parasitic infestations, and swim bladder disorders are very common types of diseases for this species.

Poor water conditions and high levels of stress can cause these diseases. They can also get introduced to your tank by sick fish. 

Fortunately, most of these diseases are preventable. Simply put your main focus is on providing your fish with clean water to prevent many of these diseases. Also never add new fish without quarantining it for 2 – 6 weeks. 

By doing so, you will eliminate the main causes of disease in your aquarium. Your fish will live a better life and you will save a ton of money as you don’t have to pay for medications. 

Diet and Feeding Requirements

Kuhli fish are omnivore scavengers and will search for leftovers. However, they might eat small snails, shrimps, fish eggs, and any small creatures they can catch. While this is rare, it is definitely a possibility if they go hungry for a long time.

When we say Kuhli Loaches are a great clean-up crew, some might assume that they don’t have to feed this fish specifically. This assumption is completely wrong and you should feed this species regularly. 

This fish is a nocturnal and bottom feeder so you will need to keep that in mind when feeding them. The ideal time to feed them is at night and the best food is any sinking pellets.

You can feed them pellets, frozen or live bloodworms, brine shrimp, and any other food you have available. As mentioned, these fish are scavengers and they will eat anything you give them. Meaty foods seem to be their favorite.

For Kuhli Loach, it is best to feed them in small amounts once or twice a day. These fish have a large stomach for their small body. So let them eat as much as they can but only for a minute or two. Never let food rot in the tank as it can kill your entire aquarium inhabitants. 

Breeding Kuhli Loach

Kuhli Loaches do not usually breed in captivity. But if you have a large group you can attempt to breed them as they do lay eggs under the right conditions. 

Since males and females look exactly the same it’s almost impossible to get just a pair for breeding. So a large group is necessary to increase the odds of them breeding. 

male and female Kuhli Loaches don’t have a ton of differences in their appearance when they’re not breeding. They look virtually identical. Some say that males have larger pectoral fins, but the difference is very minor.

To encourage these fish to breed, you must add a lot of java mosses to their tank so they can scatter their eggs on. They should also receive high-protein foods multiple times per day. 

You might

Tank Mates

Kuhli Loaches are social species and must live with a group of their kind. Usually, a group of 6 or more is needed for these fish to feel relaxed and calm. They also enjoy living with other fish that are not aggressive. 

This species lacks any defense mechanisms other than hiding. So never add large and predatory fish to their tank. Kuhli Loach should be kept with small and peaceful species. 

Here are a few of the species you can keep with your Kuhli Loach:


Kuhli Loach is a different-looking fish that will add a different perspective to any tank. They are sensitive fish but when you follow our recommendations you should be fine keeping them even if you’re a beginner. They are one of the most beautiful types of loach fish you can buy. With their small size, they can look like a snake or an eel in your tank. If you have a stable aquarium we definitely recommend getting this beautiful fish.