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The Engaging and Active Zebra Loach Fish

The Zebra Loach is a species of aquarium fish that catches your attention right away. The bold stripes along the fish’s body seem to blur as they race along the bottom. They even wink in a charming fashion while at rest, waiting for food to arrive.

Zebra Loach


Few fish that live on the bottom are as enjoyable to watch as a group of Zebra Loach botia. So how can we care for these fun little pets?

What is the Zebra Loach?

The Zebra Loach is related to the Blue Botia fish and the Clown Loach, two bottom dwelling fish that are easy to find in stores. While Clown Loaches grow over a foot long, Zebra Loaches remain small. They are much more manageable to keep, not needing tanks quite so large.

Zebra Loaches are found just in the Western Ghats of India within slow moving streams. The region is under threat, however. India’s rapid development is causing changes to the small habitat where the Zebra Loach Botia lives.

As a result, the Zebra Loach is now on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (ICUN) list of endangered species. But nowadays almost all Zebra Loaches are captive bred in aquarium fish farms.

What is the Zebra Loach

In this way, wild stocks remain intact and aquarium hobbyists get to enjoy the antics of these active freshwater fish.

  • Common Names: Zebra Loach, Candystripe Loach, Striped Loach, Tiger Loach, Golden Zebra Loach
  • Scientific Name: Botia striata
  • Natural Habitat: Western Ghats mountain range, Southern India
  • Length: 3 to 4 inches
  • Aquarium Size: 20 Gallons
  • Temperament: Peaceful fish
  • Ease of Care: Easy

Tank Size for Zebra Loaches

At about four inches, the Silver Striped Loach is smaller than other botia species. So it can live in a smaller tank setup than its relatives. A 20 gallon long or high is enough for a trio of Zebra Loaches. But if you want to keep more then you should invest in a larger tank size.

While they are bottom dwelling fish, Zebra Loaches are active fish. They don’t sit around much and spend a lot of time burrowing and chasing one another. A small home aquarium would leave a Zebra Loach feeling far too cramped for comfort.

Zebra Loach Tank Setup

You will need to think a little about the layout when setting up a Zebra Loach aquarium. One important consideration is the substrate you choose. Gravel is not the best choice for bottom dwelling species with no scales and soft whiskers.

Zebra Loach Tank Setup
My Aquarium Club

A Zebra Loach botia will try burrowing into it. And when they do the large gravel grains will scratch their skin, leaving wounds for bacteria to infect.

Sand is much better for Zebra Loaches and better replicates the silt and mud filled streams these freshwater fish prefer. A sand layer 2 inches deep is enough for your Zebra Loach to bury itself.

But don’t worry; these are an active species and won’t disappear forever into the sand. A Zebra Loach spends just as much time above the sand and they will appear when they smell food in the water.

Water Conditions for Zebra Loaches

Water parameters for a Striped Loach are not difficult to achieve. These freshwater fish prefer somewhat acidic to alkaline conditions (pH 6.5 to 7.5). Avoid extremes in either direction and you will be fine.

Since tap water tends to be alkaline, a few Indian Almond leaves or pieces of driftwood can help bring the water chemistry towards acidity.

The water temperature range should also be moderate; 73-79°F suits them well. Any colder or warmer can be stressful for them.

A Zebra Loach does not need strong currents so don’t worry about powerheads or wave makers. But the splash zone from your filter’s outflow can increase aeration, which is important.

Zebra Loaches and Aquarium Plants

Zebra Loaches do enjoy nibbling on aquatic plants sometimes. Soft leaved plants are in the most danger. It’s best to choose durable plants that are too bitter and tough for most plant eaters. Java Fern and Anubias are popular choices since they are more durable plants than most mosses or stem plants.

Zebra Loaches and Aquarium Plants
The Spruce Pets

Feeding Zebra Loaches

Feeding time for a Zebra Loach is an interesting period. You’ll see just how fast these fish can move when they are hungry and searching for a bite. The Zebra Loach is a true omnivorous species.

It eats many invertebrates, including worms, tiny shrimp, pest snails, and other critters living in the mud. They also enjoy vegetable matter, including soft leaf plants like Elodea. Even a little green hair algae is nice to nibble on.

Therefore variety is key to providing a Zebra Loach with a balanced diet. Any prepared food formula should have fresh ingredients listed on the label.

Sinking items like catfish pellets will slip past fish in the middle and upper levels of the aquarium. Once they reach the bottom your Striata botia will find them by scent.

All loaches enjoy live food and frozen foods as well. Meaty foods like brine shrimp, blood worms, and tubifex worms will be eaten the moment they hit the bottom of your tank.

Gold Zebra Loach Tank Mates

Some other species of botia are aggressive fish but the Zebra Loach is a more passive fish. So we want to choose peaceful species as tank mates.

Gold Zebra Loach Tank Mates

Non aggressive species of hardy fish include most of what you will find at a local pet store. You want to avoid fish that grow too large or are too mean to get along with other community aquarium fish.

Here are a few good choices for a community of generally peaceful species of fish:

Any other bottom dwelling fish should also be peaceful. So I don’t recommend keeping them with other loaches.

Many botia and other bottom feeders have a boisterous nature. They also grow larger than a Zebra Loach fish. They will end up fighting, sometimes to the death. You can keep Zebra Loach fish in small groups of the same kind, however.

All botia have a sharp spine underneath each eye. When threatened, this spine is thrust outwards and can slice through flesh like a razor blade.

It isn’t poisonous but even the small Zebra Loach can pierce human skin. Also when catching one in a net, make sure that spine does not get tangled up, trapping it.

Here is a video that gives you a good look at the eye spine of a Clown Loach:

Breeding Zebra Loach Botia

Breeding Golden Zebra Loaches is not an easy matter. In their natural habitat the loaches compete for mates and spawn in leaf litter and other bottom debris. But they almost never spawn in captivity, even when given the best care and richest foods.

Why they are so reluctant to spawn is not known. They may respond to chemical or seasonal shifts in the wild. Or they might need to migrate upstream each year. So commercial fish farms encourage them to ripen with hormonal treatments.

Once treated the males and females scatter their eggs among living and dead plants. The fry are left to fend for themselves since the parents do not give care, as cichlids and other fish do.


While they are endangered in the wild, regular and Golden Zebra loaches aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Thanks to commercial breeding efforts these cute little botia are able to be enjoyed by aquarists around the world.

Their body shape is unique and their energy levels are off the charts. Add on their hardy nature and you have a community tank resident to enjoy for several years.

More Frequently Asked Questions about Zebra Loaches

The Zebra Botia loach is an easy fish to care for. But sometimes aquarists hesitate since they look so unusual. So here are the answers to a few more frequently asked questions about these freshwater fish.

Will Zebra Loaches Eat Snails?

Yes they do eat aquarium snails. Since Zebra Loaches are small they are great at eating Ramshorn Snails and other species that reproduce fasat. With enough time a few Zebra Loaches may even eliminate these snails from your community tank. But more often they just keep their numbers very low, ensuring that snails don’t get out of control.

Do Zebra Loaches Eat Algae?

Golden zebra loaches do eat a little algae, including green hair algae. But they aren’t as talented at eating algae as the other algae eating fish on this list.

Are Zebra Loaches Aggressive?

The Golden zebra loach is a great addition to a community tank because they are not at all aggressive to other fish. Sometimes they will chase each other around but they never bother their tank mates. Keep them with other non aggressive species of fish because they can be bullied by territorial tank mates.

How Many Zebra Loaches Should I Keep in an Aquarium?

As schooling fish, Zebra Loaches enjoy other zebras as tank mates. A group of three is a good minimum but six or more will make them even happier. You will want to provide 20 gallons of space per three Zebra botia loaches. And don’t forget the sand substrate so they can burrow when they wish.

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