6 Reasons Why Loaches Are Not Compatible with Apistogramma

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Loaches and Apistogramma are both diverse groups of fish. While loaches can be a fun addition to any tropical freshwater aquarium, they may not be the best fit for Apistogramma Dwarf Cichlids.

Let’s take a closer look at these six reasons why these two species may not be compatible.

#1 Loaches Are Bottom-Dwelling Fish

Kuhli Loach

Loaches are benthic fish and typically swim near the bottom or at the bottom of the tank. They are known to be active and playful, often digging in the substrate and exploring all of the hiding spots, including Apistos’ caves.

One thing is for sure – they will compete for the food and space unless the tank is large enough and laid out so they don’t bother each other very much.

In a commonly-used 20-gallon Apistogramma tank, this can cause stress and aggression between the two species, leading to fights and potential harm to both fishes, especially if you have a breeding pair in the tank.

#2 Some Loaches are Large, Shy Fish

Although the smallest rosy loach only reaches around one inch, most popular loaches grow to an average size of 4-8 inches when fully matured, not to mention they prefer to be kept in schools of their own kind. Some species will become less active, weaker, and more prone to diseases when kept alone.

This tends to be problematic, too. Loaches are too small to fit in Apistos’ caves and too large to compete for food with them. And if there is a lot of activity going on in the tank, loaches are likely to be scared and hide away most of the time.

You need to dig a little into the specific species of loach before adding them to a tank with Apistogramma. Considering the average size of Apistogramma, avoid larger loaches, as they will eat Apistos at the first opportunity. 

#3 Loaches Are Eggs/Fry Predators

On top of being potential competitors, loaches are also known to be big eaters and can prey on Apistogramma eggs or fry during the night. This is especially true for those nocturnal (crepuscular) loach species, including:

  • Kuhli loach (Pangio kuhlii)
  • Silver Kuhli Loach (Pangio anguillaris)
  • Horseface Loach (Acantopsis dialuzona)
  • Sun Loach (Yasuhikotakia eos)
  • Splendid Loach (Yasuhikotakia splendid)
  • Speckle-tailed Loach (Yasuhikotakia caudipunctata)
  • Jaguar loach (Yasuhikotakia splendida)

These fish tend to be more active at night, and they may enter breeding caves and make a meal of Apistogramma eggs or fry. Sometimes, the brooding females might even be disturbed, thus reducing the chances of successful breeding.

Like Plecos and Corys, if you are seriously interested in breeding Apistos, avoid adding these fishes.

#4 Some Loaches Are Fin Nippers

Several loaches have a bad reputation for nipping the fins of tank mates. Zebra loaches, Rainbow Loaches, Black Kuhli Loaches, and Queen Loaches are some of the commonly-known fin nippers.

While they may not cause serious damage, those fin nips can be annoying for Apistogramma species with extended fin lappets, such as Red Shoulder Dwarf Cichlid (A. macmasteri) and Redline Apisto (A. hongsloi), which can become quite aggressive in response to such disturbances.

#5 Loaches Prefer Different Water Parameters

Loaches are native to freshwater rivers and creeks throughout Central and Southeast Asia, northern Africa, and Europe, and they have adapted to a wide range of water parameters. Depending on the species, some loaches may prefer more soft, acidic water while others may need slightly alkaline water.

In contrast, Apistos are found exclusively in South America, where the waters are soft and more acidic. Some species originate from the blackwater streams and tributaries beneath dense forest canopies.

Therefore, unless the loaches you have are compatible with Apisto water parameters and can thrive in their habitats, they may not be suitable tankmates.

You should test your water regularly and provide a stable environment for both fish species, or else risk one or both of them being unhappy and stressed out.

#6 Not All Loaches Consume Algae and Snails

Most species of loaches have no interest whatsoever in eating algae. The most well-known algae eater among loaches is the Reticulated Hillstream Loach, but this oddball fish tends to be very susceptible to the disease when kept in tanks with higher water temperatures.

Author note: Kuhli Loaches do not eat algae, snails, and shrimp.

Other loaches like the Yoyo, Clown, Zebra, and Skunk loach are effective snail eaters. They will consume any snails they come across in the tank by suctioning them right out of their shells.


Ways to Help Loaches and Apistogramma Coexist

With so many potential problems that can arise, it’s best to err on the side of caution and avoid putting loaches with Apistogrammas. However, if you really want to add loaches to your tank, here are some tips that will help them coexist in a community tank:

  • Get a Big Tank: First, the tank must be large enough for both the loaches and Apistos. Remember, the more fish you have in your tank, the bigger it should be.
  • Avoid Species That Are Not Compatible: Don’t add fin nippers and large loaches to a tank with Apistogrammas. Stick with species that are small and peaceful.
  • Create Hiding Places: Provide plenty of rockwork, live plants, driftwood, and other tank decorations for both species to hide in.
  • Cover the Filter Intakes: A few species of loach have been known to find their way into impellers.


Most species of loach will not do well with Apistogrammas due to their incompatible water parameters, temperaments, size differences, and food preferences.

If you do choose to keep loaches with Apistogramma, it’s important to understand their needs and preferences and create an ideal environment for both species.

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Ivan Yeoh
Ivan Yeoh

I’ve been working with fish for the past 12 years, and I can honestly say that it has never been a dull day. In my time, I’ve worked at the largest fish farm in Singapore – so you could say I know a thing or two about keeping things running smoothly in watery environments.

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