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Hillstream Loach Care Guide: Feeding, Tank Set Up, and More

A hillstream loach is a bottom-feeding fish that can clean algae from your tank as they glide across the bottom of the aquarium. Many fish keepers are mesmerized by their swimming patterns.

These beautiful fish need lots of space and a certain current in their water. If you’re able to provide that to them, then consider looking for a hillstream loach for sale.

Hillstream Loach Overview

Hillstream Loach Overview

Before we dive into the details of this species, here’s an overview of what to expect.

OriginSoutheast Asia
Lifespan8 to 10 years
Size2 to 3 inches long
Minimum Tank Size50 gallons
pH6.5 to 7.5
Hardness10 to 12 dGH
Temperature65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit
Good for Beginners?No

What is a Hillstream Loach?

There are several species of hillstream loaches, but the most common is the reticulated hillstream loach. All hillstream loaches live in fast-moving freshwater across southeastern areas of Asia, including China and India.

These fish spend most of their time at the bottom of bodies of water, such as rivers and creeks. They feed off the bottom of the river. While most fish struggle in strong currents, hillstream loaches can navigate well in fast water. Like other bottom-feeding fish, they can clean surfaces as they feed.

Many people choose to keep these fish because the way they glide around strong currents and brush past rocks is fun to watch. They can also help improve the quality of the tank when they eat algae off surfaces.

In the wild, the population is considered “vulnerable” due to habitat loss, but there are plenty of these fish available in captivity. Do your research before buying one to make sure you’re getting them from a reputable breeder, otherwise, you might have to deal with sick fish.



These loaches are sometimes confused with catfish or small sting rays, but they are a unique species that’s not related to either of those fish.

Hillstream loaches have smooth bodies, flat undersides, and large, flat fins that look like wings. They have a mouth like a suction so they can feed off algae as they glide around the aquarium. They also have suction cup-like mechanisms on the undersides of their fins to allow them to stick to surfaces.

Like catfish, these loaches have several pairs of barbels, but they’re smaller. The shape of their body is like a torpedo so they don’t have to use too much energy to stay in one place.

Color Varieties

These fish can be yellow, gray, brown, or white. Then, they have black or dark brown markings across their bodies, such as stripes or spots. The pattern is across the fish’s whole body, including the fins.

Hillstream Loach Size

Hillstream loaches are between 2 and 3 inches long. Their small size allows them to squeeze into crevices to hide or find food, but they’ll still need a large tank because they love to explore.


Hillstream loaches are described as calm and peaceful. They prefer to search the tank for food by themselves rather than pick a fight with other fish.

These fish spend most of their time venturing along the bottom of the tank and clinging to a variety of objects. Most of the time, they’re entertaining to watch.

Yet, it’s possible for these loaches to be territorial in small spaces, which is why they need such a large tank. It’s best to only have small groups of them in the same tank, such as three or four. If they have enough space to spread out, it’s unlikely that they’ll bother each other.

Hillstream Loach Tank Mates

Since these loaches usually keep to themselves and have a peaceful demeanor, they can live with other fish, as long as they have enough space to keep a distance.

The fish they live with should also be calm and okay with a fast current. Also, they should require the same temperature, hardness, and pH as hillstream loaches.

Do not put hillstream loaches in an aquarium with aggressive or territorial fish. Dominant species might pick on these loaches and injure them.

Here are some fish species that can live with hillstream loaches:

The more species you include in the aquarium, the bigger the tank will need to be. An overcrowded tank can stress out fish, especially creatures like hillstream loaches, who like to have personal space.

Hillstream Loach Care

Hillstream Loach Care

These loaches are low-maintenance, as long as you give them their basic needs, such as ideal water parameters, water flow, and space. They require more space and set up requirements than the average fish, which is why they’re best for fish keepers with some experience.

Hillstream Loach Diet

In the wild, these fish are omnivores that seek out substances like algae, biofilm, and insect larvae. Their diet in captivity should mimic what they eat in the wild.

So, these fish enjoy a mix of pellets, flakes, algae wafers, brine shrimp, and frozen bloodworms. They prefer foods that sink since they don’t come to the surface often. They can also have vegetables as snacks for added vitamins, such as kale and spinach, but not all loaches will be interested.

Hillstream loaches will also feed on natural algae in the tank. A healthy fish tank won’t have enough algae to sustain a fish, so you can’t rely on that as their only source of food. So, look at it as a bonus rather than a replacement for the food you give your fish.

When choosing flakes and pellets for your hillstream loaches, make sure you use small pieces because these fish have small mouths.

Hillstream Loach Tank Size

Hillstream loaches thrive when their tank is at least 50 gallons because they do best with at least 3 to 4 fish of their kind.

The aquarium should be long rather than tall since these fish spend most of their time exploring the bottom. 50 gallon fish tanks have plenty of room to add other fish species if you’d like.

Since the minimum tank size is so large, it allows fish keepers to have a fast-flowing current across the aquarium without it being too disruptive. A small tank with a fast current could add stress instead of reduce it.

Setting up the Tank

First, you’ll need to choose a substrate to put in the bottom of the tank. Hillstream loaches spend a lot of time in the substrate, so the best option is something soft and sandy that won’t scratch them as they brush past it.

Next, you’ll want to consider adding some smooth rocks. Rocks will build up algae over time, giving the loaches something to snack on. Shining a light at the rocks can increase algae production. The fish may also use the rocks as places to relax.

Hiding places are also crucial for any fish tank. Driftwood, plants, and artificial hides can all help your fish feel more comfortable in their environment. Hiding places reduce anxiety in fish and make them less likely to develop health concerns.

If you buy artificial hides and decorations, rinse them off before placing them in the tank. Check to make sure they don’t have any sharp edges.

Water Parameters

Before you introduce your fish to the aquarium, you’ll need to make sure the water fits their needs. Here are the necessary water conditions:

  • Temperature: 68 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit
  • pH: 6.5 to 7.5
  • Hardness: 10 to 12 dGH

You can use a water test kit to check that your water parameters are ideal. You’ll need to change 40% to 50% of the water about once a week to maintain it, and it’s a good idea to test the water again after every water change.

Water Flow Requirements

These loaches are used to living in fast-flowing water in the wild, so to reduce stress, the water should also have a current in the aquarium.

You can use a powerhead to have fast-flowing water. Powerheads need to be placed in the middle to upper parts of the tank. Creating movement in the water also produces extra oxygen, so without that added oxygen, your hillstream loaches might not get enough to survive.

Health Concerns

Health Concerns

All fish are prone to some health problems, but hillstream loaches are more at risk of skin conditions because of their smooth bodies. Here are a few fish diseases you should look out for.


Ich is also known as ick or white spot disease, and it’s hard to miss. Fish with ich will have white spots across their body and fins.

Fish can get ich by interacting with contaminated fish and items. So, be cautious of where you buy new fish from. As a safety precaution, you can quarantine new fish and decorations for a few weeks before introducing them into your main aquarium.

If one of your fish has ich, remove them from the tank right away and put them in a separate tank. Raise the temperature of the quarantined tank by about two degrees to get rid of the parasite faster. Fish in quarantine can overcome ich within a week.

Fungal Infection

Improper water conditions could cause fungal infections on your fish’s body or fins. These infections look like white growths.

If only one fish has a fungal infection, remove them from the tank and put them in a quarantined tank with ideal water parameters. Add a tablespoon of fish salt in the new tank for every gallon of water. The infection should clear up within two days.

Skinny Disease

New fish can also carry bacteria for skinny disease, which is another reason to quarantine new fish. Fish with skinny disease will lose a lot of weight even if they’re eating fine. You can add an antibacterial treatment to the aquarium or to a quarantine tank to cure your fish.

If you’re ever unsure of how to handle your fish’s symptoms, you can talk to a vet or an employee at a fish shop to learn about treatment options.

Hillstream Loach Breeding

Breeding hillstream loaches is challenging but not impossible. The best way to find success is to set up a breeding tank for your fish to ensure that no other fish eat the eggs and fry.

Choose a healthy male and female in the breeding tank, and set the temperature to about 78 degrees Fahrenheit. Yet, even with proper water parameters, the breeding pair might not mate with each other.

If the male wants to breed, he will chase the female and perform a courtship dance. The female will stay close to the male if she’s interested. Then, them male will dig a nest in the substrate where the female can lay her eggs.

It’ll take a few weeks for the eggs to hatch, and if the fry is less than five millimeters long, remove the adults from the tank. The parents are unlikely to eat the fry, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Feed the fry in the breeding tank until they grow big enough to not become snacks to the fish in the regular tank.

Breeding hillstream loaches requires a lot of trial and error. So, if you’re looking for a fish species to breed for the first time, you’ll be better off choosing a different kind of fish.

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions
Plants N Fins

Before you decide if you’re ready to commit to this species, here are some common questions.

Do Hillstream Loaches Clean the Tank?

Yes, hillstream loaches can clean their environment by eating algae off various surfaces. You might find them clinging to rocks, plants, and the aquarium’s walls.

Do Hillstream Loaches Eat Snails?

No, hillstream loaches won’t eat snails because they don’t have the right shaped mouths for it. So, if you want to introduce snails into your tank, they can live peacefully beside this species of fish.

Are Hillstream Loaches Right for You?

A hillstream loach is a great bottom-feeding fish to introduce to a large aquarium. Their care isn’t difficult, but they need to have fast-flowing water to keep their stress levels low.

If you have enough space and time to set up a hillstream loach tank, then it’s a great species to consider. The way they move across the bottom of the tank and clean up algae is both mesmerizing and beneficial.

Jason Roberts
About Jason Roberts
Jason is an aquarium fanatic that has been a fish hobbyist for almost three decades.