The Zebra Loach is an amazing freshwater fish that we recommend to aquarists of all skill and experience levels.
They’re very pretty, easy to care for, and will help clean your tank by munching on algae and organic matter that accumulates over time. We’ve been a fan of this species for years and continue to enjoy them to this day!
In this guide, we’ll teach you all there is to know about Zebra Loach care. You’ll learn about their behavior, size, ideal diet, tank mates, and more.
Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
The Zebra Loach (Botia striata) is a freshwater bottom feeder fish that can be found primarily in western India. They prefer to live in streams and rivers that don’t move very fast since they spend extended periods of time in one place.
While this species used to be prevalent in many different spaces, that’s changed in recent years. Due to rapid habitat loss caused by deforestation and pollution, they have been forced into a much smaller region.
This also has led to a significant decrease in their population. Currently, the Zebra Loach is considered an endangered species.
Because of this, aquarists are urged to be smart when looking to purchase one. Be responsible and make sure that you’re getting them from a seller that has bred these fish in captivity. If you don’t do this you’re contributing to the decline of their population in the wild.
Author Note: This might seem like a hassle, but it’s really not. Start by approaching your trusted pet stores and breeder and asking them about their practices when it comes to Zebra Loaches.
You can even ask for pictures of their setup if you want to be 100% sure. They won’t mind!
A typical Zebra Loach lifespan is around 10-15 years when given great care. This can vary a bit based on a number of factors (including genetics), but most specimens end up in this range.
This means you should have these fish for quite a while! This allows you to build a bond with them, something that many people outside of the fishkeeping space don’t realize is possible!
The appearance of the Zebra Loach is definitely one of the main reasons aquarists are so attracted to these fish in the first place. They have quite a unique pattern that we absolutely love!
From the front of their head to the base of their caudal fin, these fish have a series of alternating stripes that circle their body vertically. These stripes angle downward a bit near the head and start to reverse angle behind the eyes.
The colors are usually a mix of dark, light, and yellowish-brown. Most of these stripes are the same width, but there are some thin ones in there as well.
Their fins have some stripes on them as well, but these are different. Since their fins are semi-translucent, the stripes you see are black. They tend to be thicker on the caudal and pectoral fins, and thinner on the dorsal fin.
When it comes to their body shape, they’re clearly from the classic “loach” mold. They have a head and mouth that’s angled downward. Their body is the thickest right before the dorsal fin and tapers down quickly at the end of the fin.
They have a half-fan dorsal fin and a forked caudal fin. The pectoral and ventral fins are rather wide with a decent surface area.
Average Zebra Loach Size
The average Zebra Loach Size is around 3-4 inches in length when fully grown. Their size is impacted by a number of factors like genetics, breeding practices, and care during their growing years.
Author Note: It’s important to remember their size when planning out their tank and habitat. While these definitely aren’t large fish, many new aquarists assume they’re smaller than they actually are!
Zebra Loach Care
Proper Zebra Loach care can be managed by a beginner without much difficulty. Their hardy and low-maintenance nature is part of what makes them such a popular choice in the aquarium community.
But don’t fall for the trap of assuming they can handle whatever conditions you throw their way. While they’re less sensitive to suboptimal conditions than some other freshwater species, it’s still important to provide them with the best possible care!
Stick to the recommendations below, and your Zebra Loach should live a long and happy life.
The recommended tank size for Zebra Loaches is at least 30 gallons. While you might think that seems a bit large for a relatively small fish, there’s a good reason for this.
These fish need to be kept in a group of at least 5 in order to thrive and stay peaceful among each other. We’ll cover that a bit more later on, but it’s worth pointing out here as well.
Author Note: Of course, more room is always better. It will allow you to keep additional fish, set up a more elaborate habitat, and maximize the happiness of the species in your tank.
It’s important to make sure the water parameters in their aquarium are within the recommended ranges below. While these are hardy fish that afford you a bit of leeway as an owner, you should still take this very seriously.
Remember, consistency and stability very important too. If the water is seesawing between both ends of the optimal spectrum that can still cause problems for your Zebra Loaches.
- Water temperature: 73°F to 79°F
- pH levels: 6 to 7.5
- Water hardness: 2 to 10 dKH
It’s recommended to perform a partial water change (25-30 percent) on a weekly basis as well. This will help maintain cleanliness in the water which is crucial for the health of your fish, but also consistency with various nutrients in the water. Water changes plus a solid filter will go a long way!
We encourage you to perform a water test once or twice a week to make sure the water parameters are acceptable. Record the results to make sure there’s consistency as well.
Setting Up The Inside Of Their Habitat
When thinking about setting up their habitat, it’s essential to replicate the waters where they’re found in the wild. An understanding of their behavior is also very helpful.
First off, let’s talk substrate. Since Zebra Loaches spend the majority of their time at the bottom of the tank, the substrate needs to be comfortable for them.
We recommend something soft (sand is always a great choice). A rougher substrate can lead to irritation, cuts, and possible infection.
It’s also very important to include a decent number of plants in their tank as well. This species is used to well-oxygenated waters, which is something plants can help a lot with.
Having plants and vegetation in the aquarium will also help their diet. By dropping little bits of plant matter and encouraging a little aquarium algae to grow, your Zebra Loaches will have something natural to snack on throughout the day!
You should also include items like driftwood and rocks to the tank as well. Since these fish like to spend their time hunkered down safely at the bottom of the aquarium, these will help them keep stress levels low (they’re also good for accumulating a little bit of algae as well).
Author Note: Don’t go overboard when including the items above. While they’re all essential, think about the size of the tank you’re planning to keep these fish in too.
Zebra Loaches need room to swim, so don’t make things too crowded! Exercise common sense when coming up with the ideal ratio of decorations/open water and you’ll be just fine.
Lastly, you’ll want to keep their lighting situation on the dim side. You can do this by choosing a low-output lamp, or use some floating aquarium plants to accomplish this as well.
The Zebra Loach is rather hardy and durable fish. With that being said, they can still get sick just like any other freshwater species.
While there are a lot of possible illnesses and diseases that can plague freshwater fish, it seems like the Zebra Loach is most susceptible to Ich.
Ich is a very common parasite that can become quite serious if it’s not dealt with. The most obvious sign of this disease is the series of white spots that will begin to cover the body of your fish.
There are plenty of other potential diseases that can affect this species as well, but they’re not as common.
Another thing to look out for is infection from cuts. The most common cause of this is keeping your Zebra Loach in a tank with a rough substrate (or aggressive species that want to fight).
In general, the best way to prevent these fish from getting sick is to maintain the quality of the water in their tank. A tank with clean and stable water conditions always leads to healthier fish who are more resistant to disease.
The ideal Zebra Loach diet has a variety of different foods. These fish will eat pretty much anything you put in front of them, so it’s important to make sure you’re giving them the right stuff!
Giving them a base diet of sinking catfish pellets is a good place to start, but you’ll need to do more than that if you want this species to stay healthy.
It’s nice to drop in some vegetables from time to time as well. Cucumbers, zucchini, spinach, and lettuce are all great.
In addition to pellet food and veggies, you should give these fish some protein-rich options to balance out their diet. Bloodworms, daphnia, brine shrimp, and mosquito larvae are all great choices (we recommend alternating between them).
Zebra Loaches are also willing to snack on algae and plant matter that builds up on the substrate. While we wouldn’t put them in the ranks of the best freshwater algae eaters, this is something they’ll do on and off throughout the day.
Behavior & Temperament
The behavior of the Zebra Loach is very straightforward. They’ll spend most of their time at the bottom of the tank looking for food to snack on and exploring a bit.
These fish are interesting when it comes to their activity level. There will be extended periods of time when you’ll see them hiding out in the same location. Then you’ll catch them being rather active, before going back to hiding out.
This makes them fun to spectate because there’s an element of unpredictability and excitement. You never know what exactly they’re going to do!
In general, Zebra Loaches are rather peaceful. They can get along with many other species (more on that in the section below).
There are a few exceptions, and if you keep them in a group smaller than 5 they might get feisty. But for the most part, they just want to be left alone.
The most important tank mate you should keep with a Zebra Loach is more Zebra Loaches. These fish need to be in a group (5 or larger) and will cause trouble with one another if that number isn’t met.
Outside of that, your tank mate options are rather extensive. As long as they’re kept with other peaceful fish who aren’t too large, they should be just fine.
Other peaceful types of Botia are all great, but you have additional options too. Here are some of the tank mates we recommend:
- Yoyo Loach
- Cory Catfish
- Cherry Barb
- Clown Loach
- Sparkling Gourami
- Neon Tetra
- Odessa Barb
- Celestial Pearl Danio
- Ember Tetra
Author Note: Zebra Loaches aren’t great with most freshwater aquarium snails since they’ll try to eat the smaller ones. They also don’t get along with Betta Fish or small cichlids like Apistogramma because they’ll be tempted to nip at their fins.
Breeding Zebra Loaches in home aquariums is not something anyone has had success with yet. While these fish are regularly bred in commercial environments, they have access to equipment and hormones that the average aquarist does not.
Since that’s the case, we don’t recommend trying to breed this species. You’ll almost certainly fail and will likely increase the stress levels in your fish for no good reason.
Instead, spend your time focusing on giving them great care and maintaining the best possible habitat. If someone figures out how to breed this species in home tanks safely and reliably, we’ll update this guide immediately.
By now it’s probably clear that Zebra Loach care is something anyone can do. All it takes is an understanding of the fundamentals and a commitment to always look out for your fish!
The Zebra Loach is one of our absolute favorite freshwater species. Their unique look and easygoing nature make them a joy to own.
In other words, they’re a great headache-free fish.
If you want to learn more about these fish or have questions about something you read in this guide, reach out to us on social media or directly through our website. We enjoy talking with other aquarists and are always happy to help!