Zebra Loach Care Guide

Zebra Loach Care Guide

Zebra Loach Care Guide7 mins read

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Sydney Perry
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Zebra Loach Care Guide
Image from Flickr

A favorite choice in the loach species, among especially beginner aquarists is the zebra loach. The small zebra loach size and color variations make it a bold and attractive addition to most small and medium-sized aquariums. Color variations such as the rare gold zebra loach also tickle the fancy of many more advanced aquarists.

In all respects, the zebra loach is a peaceful, social, and colorful addition to any communal or initial aquarium. They require to be kept in groups and perform extremely well with other species of tank mates that are similarly peaceful. The bottom dwellers require little expertise in care. In fact, with a few simple guidelines could easily flourish in most aquarium setups. Breeding Zebra loaches poses some difficulty, though not impossible to achieve.

In a nutshell, the zebra loach is a perfect specimen for any small to medium aquarium, it is hardy, adaptable, and beginner-friendly. They are colorful, especially the Golden Zebra loach variety, and have a rather active, boisterous nature in comparison to the more shy species of loaches.

On the other hand, there is very little risk of aggression, or any other issues from these guys, making them the perfect bottom-dwelling addition.

Breed Overview

Lifespan15 Years
Size9 cm (3.5 Inches)
ColorsYellow, Gold
Water TypeFreshwater
FoodMostly carnivorous
Tank Size30 Gallons for 5 fish
TemperamentPeaceful, Active
Water Temperature21–26 °C (70–79 °F)
Water pH0 – 7.5
Difficulty LevelEasy, Beginner Friendly

Zebra Loaches As A Species

Native to the rivers and streams of the Western Ghats in India, the zebra loach (Botia striata), is a tropical freshwater fish from the Botiinae family. Also known as the striped loach it prefers clean, and clear mountain streams. These normally have plenty of rock and boulder formations, among sandy substrate, littered with dead leaves.

The zebra loach is a bottom-dwelling aquarium favorite with its small stature and peaceful nature. It is ideal for most community aquariums, though has some trouble getting along with other species, similar-sized bottom dwellers.

Zebra loaches are quite shy in turn, however can be active and boisterous once they are more relaxed. They are known to be easygoing docile bottom dwellers. They will mostly hide, especially during the day, coming out for periods of swimming and fun antics.


Zebra loaches are extremely popular, especially for their striking colors and patterns. Like most loach species, they have a slim long body, flat belly, sharp pointy nose, and short barbels surrounding the nose, resembling a tuft of whiskers. The color patterns are exquisite, covering the entire body from nose to tail with thin, diagonal gold and gray stripes. Stripes in Zebra loaches are unique in each fish, as compared to fingerprints in humans.

An interesting fact about them is that they will keep their striking patterns and colors even as they age. Indeed, they will not lose colors after juvenile stages, as with other loach species. Significantly there are some color variations and changes in Zebra loaches. Most will have Gold to pale yellow stripes, and brown to even greenish stripes, depending on the individual fish.

1. Zebra Loach Size And Lifespan

Zebra Loaches flourish in tropical temperatures and can enjoy a lifespan of around 15 years, with proper care. They are a smaller loach species, reaching sizes of around 9 Cm (3.5 Inches). This makes them ideal for small to medium-sized aquariums.

2. Male And Female Differences

Unfortunately, it is close to impossible to sex the zebra loach without professional help. Your best bet is to keep a group of Zebra loaches and hope that there are males and females as they mature. The only telltale sign so far is when females start showing a large abdomen during breeding.

3. Golden Zebra Loaches

The Gold Zebra loach is an interesting color variation from the Botia family, scientifically known as the Botia histrionica. Originally from Myanmar in India, it is a small golden to pale beige-colored fish with black broken or solid stripes and markings. You may also notice them with the name of the Burmese loach, Asian loach, or Silver Striped loach. In comparison to the Zebra loach, the gold Zebra loach is a much more active and boisterous species, and in turn much rarer.

4. Other Color Variations

Most Zebra loaches only vary slightly in color. However, if they are captive-bred color morphs, they can be hybridized with other loach species. As mentioned, their stripe color can vary from a pale yellow to a deep brown or gray, and in some cases even have a blue or green hue. As said, every Zebra loach has unique colors and patterns, meaning you will have a one-of-a-kind pet every time.

Caring For Zebra Loaches

Tips for Caring For Zebra Loaches
Thriving in tropical climates in their natural habitat, Zebra loaches enjoy warmer water and soft, slightly acidic parameters. Temperatures of 21–26 °C (70–79 °F), are ideal and pH ranges between 6.0 to 7.5. Image from Flickr

The Zebra loach is always an ideal candidate for beginner aquarists and community aquariums. In fact, due to zebra loach size, they can easily thrive in smaller aquariums. They will adapt well to slight water fluctuations and other peaceful tank mates.

You can easily keep a few Zebra loaches together in a group, or a single Zebra loach. However, be careful with other small loach species. There may be rare occasions where they will not get along with each other.

1. Tank Set-Up

Zebra loaches are generally peaceful and docile. However, they do get up to some activity and boisterous behavior. They need an aquarium with plenty of hiding spaces, soft substrate to burrow in, and peaceful tank mates.  To keep them calm and content it is best to have a group of at least 4 or 5 Zebra loaches in an aquarium.

Tank Size

Besides their small size, Zebra loaches still require some tank space. This is especially when you keep them in a group. Thus, an aquarium of at least 30 gallons is perfect for a group of 4 to 5 Zebra loaches. On the other hand, consider space when adding loaches to a community tank, as they need their own space and ample hiding spots.

Water Parameters

Thriving in tropical climates in their natural habitat, Zebra loaches enjoy warmer water and soft, slightly acidic parameters. Temperatures of 21–26 °C (70–79 °F), are ideal and pH ranges between 6.0 to 7.5. A water hardness level of (< 10 dGH), is similarly more suitable.


Because of their soft underbellies and bottom-dwelling tendencies, you will need a different substrate to regular gravel. This one should be gentler and contains no sharp elements that could cause injury. A soft sand will be your best option, or you could try a very fine gravel substrate.

Tank Décor and Plants

To round off their habitat the zebra loach needs some hiding spots, with rocks, driftwood, or caves. Soft floating and rooted plants are ideal. Lighting is not an issue as they do well under most bright, or even dim lights. However, a clear indication of day and night is essential. You may notice your loaches piling up together during the day and night for a nap. Thus caves and hiding spots need to accommodate this behavior.

2. Feeding

Technically omnivores, the zebra loach has a predominantly carnivorous diet. They will readily accept live and frozen foods, taking it mid-water, or scavenging at the bottom of the aquarium.

  • How to Feed – Feed your Zebra loaches a well-balanced pellet or flake food as a staple. You can supplement their diet with bloodworms, shrimp, or earthworms that are live or frozen. Vegetable-based foods such as shelled peas, zucchini, and cucumber are ideal additions for variety.
  • When to Feed – It is best to feed them two meals per day, consisting of balanced ratios of proteins and vegetables. Only feed as much as they can finish within a few minutes, and do not leave uneaten food for too long.

3. Tank Maintenance

Zebra loaches, if on their own, are generally content with a partial water change. This should be only once every two weeks, as opposed to weekly water changes. However, depending on the community fish in a communal tank, more regular water changes are necessary.

To perform a water change, you must siphon around 25% to 30% of the water from the bottom of the tank. Then, prepare clean water in a separate container. You can do this using water conditioners, and a heater to achieve the necessary temperatures.

You can then add the clean water to the aquarium. Keep in mind even small amounts of ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates in your tank water can have adverse effects on your fish. Therefore always test and keep these levels as low as possible.

Keep tank décor, equipment, and gravel clean and free from waste plant materials and leftover foods to keep water parameters optimal. Zebra loaches thrive in pristine clean and clear water conditions and can be sensitive to sudden spikes, and changes in water parameters.

Temperament And Behavior

Understanding the Temperament and Behavior of Zebra Loaches
Zebra loaches are mostly peaceful bottom dwellers who like to establish a social structure within their group. Image from Flickr

Having initially set up a new aquarium, you may want to invest in a few other species of tank mates. On the other hand, if you already have a community tank you may want to check all species are compatible with your Zebra loaches.

Zebra loaches are mostly peaceful bottom dwellers. They also like to establish a social structure within their group. Apart from this, they require numerous hiding spaces and can be quite active at times.

Suitable Tank Mates

A few suitable tank mates that can be considered are:

  • Barb Fish.
  • Neon and Ember, Red Tetras.
  • Yoyo Loaches.
  • Cory Catfish.
  • Cherry Barbs.
  • Clown Loaches.

It is advisable to avoid snails and shrimp as tank mates, as these could easily become a snack for your loaches.

Acclimating New Loaches

When you have set up your aquarium, you should check you have achieved all required water parameters and the correct temperatures.

At this stage, it is vital to allow the tank to cycle for at least one week before introducing new fish. With an established community tank, you can acclimate a zebra loach and add them as soon as you buy them. However, it may be necessary to quarantine them first. This is so you can ensure that they are healthy and free of all parasites.

In turn, this is where it becomes a necessity to source them from a trusted retailer or breeder.

Choosing A Healthy Fish

Reliable breeders or pastors who specialize in these tropical fish are easy to find with some internet research. Just ensure that the fresh you purchase are healthy and show no visible signs of lethargy, illness, or discoloration. Especially if you are looking for the gold zebra loach variety, it may be more challenging, as they are a rarer species.

Healthy loaches will have appropriate swimming behavior, steady breathing, and clear bright eyes. Check that they have clear skin, no ulcerations, bumps, or bruises. Check also that they do not have a swollen belly.

Adding A Loach To The Aquarium

Before adding your new fish to their home, it is vital to acclimate them to the water conditions and temperatures. Due to the small zebra loach size, they can easily get temperature shock.

You can allow the bag to float on the surface of the water for around 20 minutes. After this replace a quarter cup at a time of water from the bag with water from the tanks at intervals of 15 minutes.

When you have replaced most of the water, gently net one fish at a time. Or, you can allow them to swim freely into their new home. Ensure that you check water conditions regularly! Always keep a close eye on your new loaches daily, for any signs of stress or discomfort.

Breeding Zebra Loaches

Zebra loaches, especially the gold zebra loach, are challenging to breed – especially for beginners. They need suitable water conditions and the ideal environment. Even then they are extremely hard to sex. So, your best option would be to get a group of loaches and hope for the best.

  • Sexing Loaches – Females will generally be bigger than males and have a round belly. On the other hand, males have more profound pectoral fins.
  • Enhancing the Environment – It is essential to provide slightly higher water temperatures and a softer current filter, such as a sponge filter for breeding. Ideally, a separate breeding tank would be the best choice. You can supplement your Zebra’s diet with more proteins such as brine shrimp, and bloodworms.
  • Breeding – Zebra loaches are known as egg scatterers and require a spawning mop or fine leaf plants for eggs to attach to.

Health Concerns In Loaches

Common Health Issues in Loaches
If you notice that your loaches are struggling to swim, stay upright, or are swimming erratically, they may have an infection in the swim bladder. Image from Flickr

Loaches are mostly hardy species. However, the zebra loach is slightly sensitive to sudden substantial changes in water conditions, and external stressors. There are however a few common freshwater diseases and pests that could affect your zebra loach.

Common Health Conditions

  1. Ich – Also referred to as White spot disease small parasites appear as white spots on the skin and fins of your loaches. You can treat it with over-the-counter medication, and by increasing water temperatures slightly. It is vital to quarantine all fish and plants affected by Ich, as it is contagious.
  2. Swim Bladder Disease – Have you noticed that your loaches are struggling to swim, stay upright, or are swimming erratically? They may have an infection in the swim bladder. The infection can be bacterial in which case you’ll need antibiotics. Or it can be fungal, where aquarium salts can do the trick. Improving water quality and ensuring you feed them a proper diet will help to prevent swim bladder disease.
  3. Fin Rot – Fin Rot is a fungal condition usually set on by physical damage to the fins and body. The fins may appear ragged and blotchy with discoloration and tears. You can usually treat it with antibiotics or an antifungal treatment and by improving water conditions.

To Conclude

Zebra loaches are extraordinary in color and character. They are one of the most unique loach species, and you will fall in love with their coloration and markings. In fact, with their peaceful temperament and lively personalities, they are small but dynamic in almost any sized aquarium – communal or solo.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Colors Are the Gold Zebra Loach?
Zebra loaches can differ in color depending on the individual fish, with colors and patterns ranging from pale yellow to brown, dark brown to green, and even blue in some cases. The Gold Zebra Loach is a rare color variant where the base color is a gold beige color with black stripes.
Why won’t my Zebra Loaches breed?
Zebra loaches are difficult to breed and to determine gender, for that matter. In most cases where captivity breeding is attempted, it is not successful. However, by implementing the right strategies and conditions for breeding, you may just get lucky.
How big do Zebra Loaches get?
Zebra loaches are relatively small, and usually only reach maximum sizes of up to 9 cm (3.5 Inches). Because of the Zebra loach size, they can easily be kept in small and medium aquariums.
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