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What is a Kuhli Loach?

By J.M. Densing
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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The kuhli loach is a small fish that resembles an eel, usually with stripes. It lives in fresh water, and prefers a tropical climate. It's also popular as an aquarium fish. The scientific name for the kuhli loach is pangio kuhli or acanthophthalmus kuhli — it is also known as a coolie loach, leopard loach or prickly eye.

The kuhli loach usually has a brown body, with stripes that are a light pinkish and orange color. Its underside is an extremely light color, almost white. The body shape is long and narrow, similar to an eel or a small snake, with small fins that are almost transparent. The eyes are camouflaged within one of the stripes and are difficult to see. Around the mouth are pair of barbels that make the fish look like it has a moustache. The kuhli loach is about 3 to 5 inches (8 to 11 cm) long when it is fully grown.

In the wild, the kuhli loach is commonly found in streams, likes and rivers in warm, tropical waters around Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Java, Thailand and Borneo. The fish is usually a bottom dweller and likes to burrow in the soft matter on the lake or river floor. This fish is usually found together in small groups of fish with other kuhli loaches and come out more at night. In home aquariums it likes to stay at the bottom and will hide in plants or other aquarium objects or burrow into the sand or gravel at the bottom of the tank. This fish thrives in small groups and can be taught to come out during the day.

The kuhli loach is an omnivore, meaning it will eat both plants and animals. In the wild it is a scavenger that will eat whatever it is able to find on the bottom, including the leftovers from other fish. In home aquariums, it enjoys all kinds of commercially available fish food, such as flakes and pellets, and will especially enjoy fresh or live food like brine shrimp. Although it prefers to eat at night, in an aquarium setting the kuhli loach can be taught to come out and eat during the day.

Although kuhli loach reproduce readily in the wild, laying a few hundred greenish eggs at a time, it rarely breeds in an aquarium. It is not an aggressive fish, and should only be kept together with other peaceful fish. This fish will often hide during the day, but it is known to be extremely active at night. It is more likely to come out in daylight if there are several together. The kuhli loach tens to be healthy and easy to care for, and can live up to 10 years.

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