If you’re looking for an interesting fish that you aren’t going to find in every fishkeeper’s collection, the horsefaced loach may be just the thing that you’re looking for.
Horsefaced loaches aren’t the easiest fish to care for, however, and may be better suited to aquarists with a bit of experience.
If you still want to keep them, this guide will give you everything you need to know to get started.
Here is a preview of what you’ll need to successfully care for a group of horsefaced loaches.
|Size||Typically 8” – up to 12”|
|Lifespan||5-8 years (10+ years is possible)|
|Diet||Omnivorous (Tropical sinking pellets, tubifex, frozen foods, etc)|
|Recommended Tank Size||55-gallon minimum|
|Tank Area||Bottom & Under the Substrate|
In the guide below, we’ll expand on the information in this table. We’ll cover common hang-ups and problems that could cause you huge problems if you’re not prepared in advance for them.
Let’s get started, shall we?
The horsefaced loach is a less common fish that spends most of its time at the bottom of your aquarium, buried up to its eyes in your substrate.
In other words:
You may not see a horsefaced loach for months at a time, only to have it show up again. (Then, it may disappear again after a day or two, back into the substrate.)
They are generally peaceful and will get along well with anything. This means that you have to protect them from more aggressive fish.
Note that they are sometimes confused with the long nosed loach, which only gets to be up to 4.5” long and is more aggressive.
Horsefaced loaches naturally live in streams. Because of this, tank setup is more important for them than for other types of fish.
Furthermore, they are extremely sensitive to changes in water conditions.
This means that when you buy them you must drip acclimate them, otherwise they will go into shock.
You can do this either by putting them in a bucket in their original water and setting up a small siphon from your aquarium or by putting them in a small container and adding a quarter cup of water from your aquarium by hand once every 30 minutes until the PH, temperature, and hardness match that of your aquarium.
This is a simple but important step in successfully introducing horsefaced loaches into your aquarium.
How Many Horsefaced Loaches Can I Keep? [Table]
|Tank Size||Number of Horsefaced Loaches|
|55 Gallons||Up to 3 horsefaced loaches|
|75 Gallons||Up to 5 horsefaced loaches|
|120 Gallons||Up to 7 horsefaced loaches|
They can live in a somewhat narrow range of water, with PH between 6-7.5 and temperatures between 77-84F being acceptable.
More than the values themselves, stability is key for this species to survive.
Rapid swings in temperature or PH will quickly take their tole on the horsefaced loach.
Unlike a lot of fish, they like to have a current in their water. A power head or circulation pump, therefore, may be an appropriate addition to their aquarium. You should aim to recirculate your water 10x per hour.
Which brings us to our next topic:
Due to their being native to fast moving water (which would naturally sweep away pollutants), horsefaced loaches are more vulnerable than most fish to poor water quality.
Because of this, you’ll want to do weekly water changes of at least 30% in their aquarium.
Also, rather than just adding water conditioner to the aquarium and pouring tap water in afterwards, try the following:
- Fill a bucket up with water.
- Add water conditioner (such as Prime)
- Insert a heater to match the temperature to your tank’s temperature.
- Adjust PH as necessary to match it to your tank’s PH.
- Move the water from the bucket back into your tank.
This should help reduce the potential impact of water changes on the horsefaced loaches and other fish in your aquarium.
If you read the behavior section of this article, you’ll know that they like to spend their day buried in the substrate at the bottom of your aquarium.
They also like to sift through it with their mouths.
This makes the type of substrate you have in your aquarium extremely important.
Although they can live in gravel, you’ll be most successful using sand as a substrate. Pool filter sand and black diamond blasting sand are two common options that will work for this type of loach.
Another thing that you’ll have to take into consideration is that they are known for uprooting plants.
Therefore, to prevent them from messing up your planted tank, you’ll want to focus on floating plants or plants like java moss and anubias that you can grow above the soil on objects in your aquarium.
Since they are an unusually shy species of fish, you’ll also want to have plenty of objects in your aquarium for them to hide in when they do surface. This can include clay pots, rocks, or store bought decorations.
The horsefaced loach is a nocturnal fish.
Because of this, you should avoid keeping them in aquariums that are too brightly lit, to avoid stressing them out.
Lower light setups should be much more appropriate for their care. You can also, however, arrange your decorations and plants in a way that shades the bottom of the aquarium.
Horsefaced loaches are omnivorous fish that will eat anything that falls to the bottom of the aquarium.
They spend the day eating mouthfuls of sand and blowing it out of their gills. This lets them grab anything edible that has fallen to the bottom and gotten buried in your substrate.
Sinking pellets are, therefore, good choices for the horsefaced loach, though they will eat any flakes that last long enough to sink to the bottom as well.
Whole foods like daphnia, tubifex, or shrimp are also good to mix into their diet.
There is conflicting information on whether horsefaced loaches require a group of themselves like some other varieties of loaches.
I’ve heard of some people successfully keeping them long term by themselves. Other sources indicate they should be kept in a group of at least 3.
Regardless of whether a group is required, they can benefit from having a group of 3 or 6, and you may see that a group of them are more active than a single one.
Because horsefaced loaches are shy, you want to keep them away from semi-aggressive and aggressive varieties of fish.
Instead, go for peaceful community fish. Since horsefaced loaches aren’t known for attacking other types of fish, they are safe to include in tanks with most fish their size or smaller.
Be sure you actually have a horsefaced loach, because long nosed loaches (which are commonly confused for horsefaced loaches) will eat fish smaller than themselves.
Some good varieties of fish include:
- Barbs (Especially more peaceful varieties like the rosy barb)
By keeping dither fish like the tetra or barbs in with your loaches, you may encourage them to be a bit less shy and come out more often.
No repeatable process for breeding horsefaced loaches has been identified yet.
And while they will occasionally become pregnant, horsefaced loaches are widely regarded as being impossible to successfully breed and get to produce offspring.
(Meaning that the ones that you can buy are all wild caught.)
This could just be because of the less popular nature of horsefaced loaches, however, and the right technique may be out there waiting to be found.
Horsefaced loaches can be more vulnerable to parasites and diseases than other freshwater fish.
Because of this, you should take extra precautions to keep your loaches as healthy as possible.
One way you can do this is to quarantine any new fish you bring into your aquarium.
Quarantine New Fish
The quarantining process is pretty simple and easy to pull off.
It’s usually done as follows:
- Set up a new aquarium that is empty of other plants, fish, and invertibrates. Unless the species you’re putting into qt requires it, you should also avoid adding substrate. (i.e. Substrate for the loach itself, but not for anything else you’re putting into quarantine to go into the loach’s tank.)
- Acclimate the fish and add it to the quarantine tank as usual.
- Keep the fish in quarantine for between 14 – 60 days. Longer is better.
- Only medicate if the fish shows signs of disease.
- At the end of the period, add them to your display tank as usual.
This will help avoid adding any diseases or pests into your aquarium.
Plants don’t need to be quarantined, but they should be sterilized with potassium permanganate or a similar plant safe disinfectant.
Here are some of the diseases that the horsefaced loach is vulnerable to that quarantining can help to prevent:
Like with most fish, the horsefaced loach is prone to getting ich.
Ich is a parasite that lives in your aquarium’s water and attaches itself to your fish, resulting in white spots covering your fish.
This is a pretty simple disease to treat, but it can be serious if you let it get out of hand.
It can be easily treated with ParaGuard or a similar product, or by increasing the salinity and/or temperature of your tank to 86F for a period of 10 days.
This is another common disease in loaches. Skinny disease can be identified by your horsefaced loaches losing weight for no apparent reason.
This, obviously, can be concerning. What’s more, it may be hard to diagnose, since your loaches will hardly ever be above the substrate.
You should treat this as a combination of internal parasites and bacterial infections.
A good treatment for this is three phase:
- Apply a dewormer. A good option is fenbendazole, applied to the tank at 2 ppm. Alternatively, soaking their food in the medication will work.
- Once you’ve completed that treatment, use an antibacterial (such as Maracyn + Maracyn II)
- Then repeat the dewormer.
Information from this treatment was taken from a page on clown loaches, due to horsefaced loaches (and information on them) being more hard to come by. You can read about it in more detail here.
Horsefaced loaches aren’t exactly the easiest fish to keep, but they are fish that seem to be loved and regarded as memorable by most that keep them.
If you’re looking for a fish that you will be able to watch, this may not be the fish for you. (Since they’re commonly buried all day.)
If you get a few, however, you won’t regret it.
Because of the general lack of information available about this fish, this guide should be seen more as a starter than a full guide. This will get you well on your way to successfully keeping the horsefaced loach, and the rest you will need to learn through experience, fish stores that carry them, and forums.