Zebra Loach – A Complete Care Guide

Zebra loaches are stunningly bright, super social, and an excellent fish to take into community aquariums. Unlike Clown Loaches that grow much larger and with time go dull, they remain the same in coloration. They are small and don’t require much work to establish a healthy lifestyle. But there are a few things you shouldn’t miss out on learning.

In this article, I’ll walk you through a detailed information sheet that includes their natural habitat conditions, a useful guide to setting up their tank, ideal tank mates, and common diseases you should always keep an eye out for.

Key Takeaways

  • Zebra Loaches are extremely social and friendly. They never thrive living alone or in smaller groups.
  • They are tropical aquarium fish species that live in water temperatures ranging from 73 F° to 79 F°.
  • They are very small, going about 4 inches in size. They can easily live in groups in small species-specific or community tanks.

An Overview of Zebra Loaches

Scientific NameBotia Striata
Common NamesZebra Loach, Zebra Botia, Lined Loach, Crossbanded Loach, Candystripe Loach, Striped Loach
FamilyCobitidae
OriginWestern Ghats, India
DietOmnivore
Care LevelEasy to intermediate
ActivityActive
Lifespan8 to 15 years
TemperamentPeaceful
Tank LevelBottom Dweller
Minimum Tank Size30 gallons
Temperature Range73 F° to 79 F°
Water Hardness5 to 12 KH
pH Range6.5 to 7.5
Filtration/Water FlowSlow
Water TypeFreshwater
BreedingEgg layer
Difficulty to BreedHard
CompatibilityCommunity tanks
OK, for Planted Tanks?Yes

What is Zebra Loach?

Zebra Loach is one of the most irresistible aquarium fish you will ever come across.

They scientifically go with the name Botia Striata while commonly known as Zebra Loach or Crossbanded Loach. These small and socially active fish are part of the Cobitidae family from the order Cypriniformes.

The low-key maintenance and friendly composition of a Zebra Loach help it stand out pretty well among other fish. And while there are plenty of features you’ll see in them, their beautiful body coloration and the patterns which emerge from their tiny bodies stay always on top.

Origin and Habitat

Zebra Loaches claim their origin in the Western Ghats mountain range located in Southern India. They also inhabit a few regions of Bangladesh in a relatively smaller number.

They were first sighted in 1926 by the Indian Zoologist Narayan Rao. These now endangered species were initially distributed across different Indian regions including Mysore.

But with time, the increasing pollution surrounding their habitat and constant deforestation have left Botia species in a much smaller quantity. Retreating to narrower regions due to environmental threats, their normal community growth has been sharply stunted.

According to IUCN, they are on the red list of endangered fish species1.

Appearance

Resisting frequent glances at the mazy, unusually beautiful, and sharply sticking out stripes and body coloration of Zebra Loaches is almost like an enterprise. The more you try to look away, the more you feel pulled in.

Zebra Loach in Aquarium

Zebra Loaches feature shades that vary from deep yellow, bright gold, and dark brown to light beige. Looking at their head, you notice a set of some barbels lacing their heads and noses. These barbels help them scavenge for food sitting at the bottom of the tank.

Zebra Loaches have a small-sized body that consists of thick and thin sides from different fin locations. Their body looks widened from behind the dorsal fin but tapers off rapidly around the length of the fin.

As for body shape, they mold their bodies like a loach. Their heads and mouths are inclined downward with maxillary and rostral barbels visibly overhanging. Beginning from the front side of their head to the base of their caudal fin, Zebra Loaches feature a series of mazy stripes sloping backward and forward. Those which appear around the tail look vertical in shape.

They have almost nine bands which vary in width like the varying width of their body. These stripes look deep blue or dark green with each band secured with a white line. The Zebra Loaches fins including caudal fins, pectoral fins, and dorsal fins also comprise some of the stripes. These stripes, unlike the other bands sitting on different body locations, look black.

In addition to the fins, the zebra loach’s tail is also partially transparent. The tail features stripes of pale mud-colored dots going along the length of it. Their dorsal fin grows the shape of a half fan or you can say it looks semi-circular, with the tail fin looking like a fork. As for the pectoral and ventral fine, you see them going decently wide.

The Zebra Loach doesn’t have any bands on their light beige-colored abdomens. Also, they take on vivid colors which don’t fade away with time. These Loaches don’t offer much deviation when it comes to their gender. So far the only known difference between a male Zebra Loach and a female Zebra Loach is the rounded body of the female. They look even plumper during breeding practices.

Lifespan

Aside from genetics, the general life cycle of most Zebra Loaches is between 8 to 15 years.

As a novice aquarist who wants to experience the charms of fish keeping for extended periods of time, a Zebra Loach fits perfectly for this purpose. Things like water conditions, tank mates, and the ability to ward off common fish diseases are some other factors that are part of their healthy lifespan.

Average Size

A Zebra Loach goes as big as 4 inches only. They establish social hierarchies where they live or travel to. Therefore in a home aquarium, the small size of Botia Striata helps you keep them in groups.

Zebra Loach Care

Zebra Loach care is pretty straightforward, given you understand their basic needs for withstanding minor environmental transitions.

Zebra loaches are hardy fish and can put up pretty well with whatever you throw their way. But there are some really essential things you should always know beforehand.

A well-running aquarium, some good community friends, perfectly set water parameters, and precautions to minimize the chances of falling prey to common fish diseases count as some of the most important things to their proper care.

Apart from this, an accurate perception of their dietary needs will help you get them on the safe side in home aquariums.

Aquarium Setup

Zebra Loaches love to move in slow-moving streams with a good range of vegetation.

When you look at the natural habitat of a Zebra Loach, things like slightly acidic water, warm water temperature, and moderate water hardness are also pretty visible. They stay strong when it comes to putting up with water level shifting. Make sure you don’t compromise on their basic requirements though.

While setting up a Zebra Loach tank, don’t forget to get them everything they need down there. They always stay in the bottom levels, traveling hardly to the mid-water range. And considering their soft barbels, you have to be careful with decorating the lower aquarium area.

Zebra Loach Tank Setup (Tank Size)

One of the core reasons they are my absolute favorite is their small size.

Unlike their cousins Clown Loaches, Zebra Loaches remain small. This makes it easier for aquarists to keep these schooling fish in community aquariums or with their own specimen.

Ideally, a tank size of 30 gallons does well for a decent group of Zebra Loaches. You can go up with the size if there are going to be larger fish in the tank.

Water Parameters

As a freshwater fish, a Zebra Loach finds it stressful to live in poor water conditions. And no matter how hardy people say this fish is, a Zebra Loach can’t survive in unhealthy water parameters for a long time.

Apart from understanding their preferred water parameters, ensuring stability is also essential.

Make sure the parameters stay within the recommended range and don’t sway from one side to the other.

  • Water temperature: 73 F° to 79 F°
  • pH levels: 6.5 to 7.5
  • Water hardness: 2 to 10 KH

Filtration and Aeration

To curtail disease, it’s always better to invest in high-quality filtration so your water stays clean.

This amazing freshwater fish enjoys well-oxygenated water. To help them stay active, get a high-quality canister filter. Canister filters are even more necessary in planted aquariums.

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Also, perform frequent water changes to keep the water clean and devoid of toxins. You can change water up to 25% per week to do away with ammonia and nitrite.

Pro Tip: If you get a strong filter know that Zebra Loaches don't appreciate fast water currents. Adjust your flow accordingly and consider disbursing flow with a spray bar.

Lighting

In their wild habitat, the Zebra Loach Botia stay active and explore their surroundings at a subdued pace. Their activity level is usually above average during daylight and goes down when the sun goes down. Hence, in their tank setup, you need to arrange a moderate lighting system to monitor their activity during the night. And throughout the day, make sure there is plenty of sunlight falling on their habitat.

This is primarily linked to their need for solid oxygenation to ward off different ailments. A reasonable section of aquarium plants you can introduce to their tank will grow with the help of lighting.

Aquarium Plants and Decorations

Plants and decorations fall in the role of giving them the best life in home aquariums.

In the wild, Zebra Loaches find comfort in caves and use plants and algae to fluctuate their diet. Instead of going for expensive oxygen boosters, supplement their tank with live plants.

You can always go for artificial plants. But since artificial vegetation only gives a good look to the tank and does nothing to raise the oxygenation level, easy-to-care-for plants can be good investments.

Here are some of the best live plants tested out for Zebra Loaches.

  1. Marimo Moss Ball
  2. Amazon Sword
  3. Java Fern
  4. Vallisneria
  5. Christmas Moss
  6. Cryptocoryne wendtii
  7. Java Moss

As for caves, don’t go for flower pots or other manufactured caves with rough edges. Due to the frail barbels of a Zebra Loach, anything that falls in the category of rough-edged objects should be off the list.

Also, the openings should be large enough to work as a proper hideout free of trapping the fish. However, it should not be too large to look like an open space.

Tank Maintenance

Tank maintenance holds as much value to their proper care as things like food and correctly gauged water parameters. A Zebra Loach Botia spends most of its time at the water bottom, making it prone to infections.

Including weeding out toxins like ammonia and nitrite from the tank, dusting off decorations, trimming off plants, and regularly cleaning rocks and glass help establish a healthy lifestyle within the aquarium community.

Substrate

Being a bottom dweller with soft barbels, Botia Striata is used to seep through the substrate to look for food morsels.

Even if it doesn’t feel the need to do so, a soft substrate is necessary to ensure there’s no rough abrasion between its barbels and substrate.

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Natural sand is excellent for bottom feeder fish to forage around in.

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You can layer the base of the tank with sand or soft gravel substrate. Make sure the grains are not too refined or too large for the fish. For planted tanks, planted tank substrate works great and won’t bother your Zebra Loach’s barbels.

Zebra Loach Tank Mates

For a peaceful fish like Zebra Loach Botia, any similar-sized fish with a friendly attitude will do just fine as a tank mate.

Zebra Loaches are famous for their social nature. But before I chalk out a whole list of Zebra Loach tank mates, you should understand their behavior first.

A Zebra Loach sometimes hides behind plants or goes into caves as means of cute mischief. They never harass their tank mates or show territorial aggression. That means that if you have species-specific tanks or a community tank, they will show the same friendly behavior they display in the wild.

Generally, a Zebra Loach prefers staying with more Zebra Loaches. If you want to go outside of their preferred criteria of a happy home, make sure you don’t add aggressive, larger, or territorial fish to your list.

Feel free to choose tank mates from the list given below.

  1. Yoyo Loach
  2. Cherry Barb
  3. Neon Tetra
  4. Ember Tetra
  5. Sparkling Gourami
  6. Odessa Tetra
  7. Cory Catfish
  8. Celestial Pearl Danio
  9. Clown Loach
Pro Tip: While Clown Loaches and Zebra Loaches are good to live together, the size will be a drawback to Clown Loaches. In case you want to house them, get a larger tank to house groups of Clown and Zebra Loaches.

Poor Tank Mates

The small size and apparently cordial behavior of a Zebra Loach Botia might trick you into believing that they are safe tank mates for other fish.

While this is mostly true, a Zebra Loach is active to snack on fish with flowing fins. You should also always avoid fishwater species that threaten their harmony.

  1. Long-finned Tetras and Bettas
  2. Small Snails

Breeding Zebra Loaches

Breeding Zebra Loaches without taking professional help is almost impossible even for advanced-level aquarium hobbyists. Contrary to other freshwater fish species, telling their genders apart is quite demanding. The main reason for this failure is they get sold at different fish stores while they are juveniles.

Another drawback to breeding Zebra Loaches at home is the inability to have an access to hormonal therapies and equipment that commercial breeders use.

The first step to try to breed them is to determine their sex. There’s not too much information to offer on this subject. But the main difference that is known between male Zebra Loaches and female Zebra Loaches is the rounded body of a female Zebra Loach.

Male Zebra Loaches can develop a strong coloration of stripes visible on their long noses or snouts, which is another difference known so far.

Once you’re done with separating the male and the female Zebra Loaches, start pre-conditioning them to breed. Protein-rich diet and raised water temperatures might help with this.

You can either get the couple a separate breeding tank or breed them in a tank devoid of other fish species. These tiger loaches lay their eggs on leaf litter. Make sure you add a decent amount of it to the breeding tank.

After this, all you can do is wait for the female to lay eggs. Even today, apart from professional breeders, no one knows how long it takes them to start laying their eggs on their preferred surface.

Though the chances of successfully getting a Zebra Loach to breed are tough, if you have been successful, separate the parents from the fry as soon as possible.

Due to uncertainty in their behavior after laying eggs, we can’t really know how they would treat the fry. As with other fish, after the Zebra Loach fry gets hatched, feed them infusoria for a couple of days. Again, you can’t really tell the amount of time the eggs need to keep getting fed on this diet.

Also, what temperature suits them best is also unknown yet.

I would recommend you not to breed them in a home aquarium unless you are sure that you won’t stress out the fish.

Zebra Loaches Food and Diet

With a Zebra Loach, you don’t have to fuss over what to drop in their tank.

They are omnivorous fish and bottom dwellers. Whatever you feed them should go straight to the base of the tank for the fish to eat up easily. While commercial foods are not that bad, opting out for cheaper brands would cost you your beloved pet’s life.

Starting from sinking Catfish pellets, you can design their menu with vegetables like cucumbers, spinach, lettuce, and zucchini. Encouraging minor algae growth will also result in a good variation in their diet. You can lace it up with plant matter that grows on the substrate.

Feeding Zebra Loaches a protein rich diet will further help you keep them healthy and happy. You can always rely on bloodworms, daphnia, brine shrimp, mosquito larvae, and earthworms. If you find it hard to get the food down there, use sinking pellets. Apart from this, you can use frozen foods, too.

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Before planning out what goes into their tank as their core diet or variation, make sure you know that striped Loaches don’t chase food as actively as their tank mates. It’s always better to feed them at a different time when things are calm in the aquarium.

Pro Tip: Underfeeding and overfeeding can be some common issues with Zebra Loaches. Feed them twice a day by monitoring who is eating what in the tank.

Common Health Problems

Botia Striata is a hardy fish with good defensive skills. But damaged water quality, stress, poor food intake, or compromised quality of food can invite some common diseases to your tank. These things can badly influence Zebra Loach lifespan.

Knowing the diseases with symptoms and cures will help you get rid of these ailments. In worst cases, the last resort is always taking medication prescribed by veterinarians.

Skinny Disease

This ailment is pretty common among the Zebra Loach. Mainly caused by internal parasites, here are some symptoms you should watch out for.

  • Rapid weight loss
  • Loss of color
  • Fins getting clamped or tattered
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Red spots on the fish’s body

To treat this disease, use antiparasitic drugs like Levamisole.

Ich

Ich is another common disease that can attack your pet at any time. This ailment is caused mainly byan external protozoan parasite.

Here are some common symptoms:

  • White spots on fins or other body parts
  • Frequent rubbing of the body against sharp objects
  • Loss of appetite

FAQs

What fish get along with Zebra Loach?

Peaceful species like tetras and loaches do well with Zebra Loach. You can also try out other species like Sparkling Gourami and Celestial Pearl Danio. Make sure you get them a large tank to live freely and peacefully.

How many Zebra Loaches should be kept together?

You should always house a group of 5 to 8 Zeba Loaches together. The more Zebra Loaches there are, the better it gets for them to conduct social gatherings within their community tank.

Do Zebra Loaches eat snails?

Golden Zebra Loaches often snack on small shrimp and snails. If you’re giving them a protein-rich diet, make sure they don’t get overfed. Also, due to their nature of attacking down snails, you can’t house these bottom feeders with any small snail or shrimp.

How much do Zebra Loaches cost?

Zebra Loaches are a bit expensive due to their rarity. As they are always commercially bred, the average price ranges from 20$ to 50$ per pair.

Can I keep 1 Zebra Loach?

If you want them to live happily and stress-free, then the answer is no. You can either get them to community tanks or make them live with their own species. Ideally, a group of 5 Zebra Loaches will be good to go with.

Closing Thoughts

If you’re looking for a smaller fish that will do well in a medium-sized community tank, the Zebra loach is a great option. Not only do they have great personalities, but they will also help to clean the bottom of your tank when they are small. However, breeding them can be difficult, so if you’re up for the challenge be sure to let us know how it goes! Have you kept a Zebra loach before? Let us know in the comments below.

by Mark

Mark is the founder of Aquarium Store Depot. He started in the aquarium hobby at the age of 11 and along the way worked at local fish stores. He has kept freshwater tanks, ponds, and reef tanks for over 25 years. His site was created to share his knowledge and unique teaching style on a larger scale. He has worked on making aquarium and pond keeping approachable. Mark has been featured in two books about aquarium keeping - both best sellers on Amazon. Each year, he continues to help his readers and clients with knowledge, professional builds, and troubleshooting.

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