Care Guide for Hillstream Loaches – The Oddball Algae Eater
Although they are one of the most striking algae eaters, the care requirements for reticulated hillstream loaches (Sewellia liolata), can be confusing. This article shares our personal experience with how to keep this incredible species.
What are Reticulated Hillsstream Loaches?
There are many types of hillstream loaches that live in similar environments, but let’s specifically discuss the reticulated hillstream loach (also known as the tiger hillstream loach or gold ring butterfly sucker) because it is one of the most common varieties available in the aquarium hobby. This 2.5-inch (6.4 cm) oddball fish looks like a miniature stingray because of its streamlined shape, flat underside, and horizontal fins that can tightly grip onto any smooth surface. The fish’s unique body has light-colored spots as well as dark brown striping patterns. They can be found on the glass side-toside crawling or fluttering on the ground, searching for food.
The hillstream loach has a highly patterned and streamlined body that is built to grip tightly onto rocks and withstand rushing rapids.
Originally found in tropical regions of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, hillstream loaches live in shallow riffles, river rapids, and slower-moving stream pools in between. Their natural habitat has a lot of rocks, and less vegetation. Because heavy rainfall can stir up sediment and cause fluctuating water parameters, they are quite hardy and can handle a wide range of environmental conditions.
How to Set Up an Aquarium for Hillstream Loaches
Most of the initial research into this species says that they are a cool water fish that must be kept in a river manifold tank with fast current and high oxygenation. We have personally kept them in hot water tanks with clown loaches, unheated setups with goldfish, and even heavily planted 20-gallon tanks with gentle sponge filters – and the hillstream loaches happily thrived and bred in each of those different settings.
Make sure to use a tight-fitting aquarium hood or top because hillstream loaches can easily climb out of your aquarium.
They appreciate a stable pH, preferably between 7.0-7.8, and good water quality. Any kind of fish tank filter will work, as long as it’s appropriately sized for your aquarium and the other inhabitants can handle the flow. It is okay to keep them at 65-80degF (20-25degC), although they might be more susceptible than others to stress and illness. Also, keep a tight lid on the aquarium since they have the ability to climb up glass walls and escape. Check your filter if your hillstream loach is not there. They sometimes like to climb inside.
What fish can live with hillstream loaches? They get along with most peaceful community fish that are similarly sized and won’t fin nip them. We’ve kept them with goldfish, livebearers, shrimp, snails, tetras, danios, and other schooling fish with no problems.
Hillstream loaches generally do well in community setups, but the males sometimes spar with each other if the tank doesn’t have enough cover.
How many hillstream loaches can be kept together? Most people only get one because they’re more expensive and can cost around $15 each. We recommend getting just one or a group of three or more. Two can be too strong for each other, and the stronger one could bully the weaker one to get more territory or food. Males enjoy squabbling with their partners, going round and round trying get on top of each other. But, there is no bodily harm. To reduce aggression levels, make sure to provide more decorations or aquarium plants to block line of sight.
What do Hillstream Loaches Eat?
They eat small aquatic crustaceans, algae, and other small organisms that live on the river bottom. In your aquarium, they will happily scrape off anything that grows on your fish tank walls, rocks, driftwood, and plant leaves. This includes soft diatom algae, hair algae, and even black beard algae at times. They cannot survive on algae alone, so ensure they are fed a variety of high-quality food such as Repashy gel food and sinking wafers. Also, make sure they eat frozen spirulina salt shrimps and blanched vegetables. If you feed them well, there is a higher likelihood the adults may start breeding.
Hillstream loaches not only clean algae off flat surfaces like tank walls but also lacy leaves and uneven rocks.
How Do You Breed Hillstream Loaches?
When it comes to sexing hillstream loaches, the females usually have a wider head and plumper body, whereas the males have a slightly jagged silhouette at the beginning of their pectoral fins near their “shoulders.” Most of the time, juveniles are sold in the fish stores and it can be hard to sex them, so buy a group of six or more if you want to breed them.
Many people have success breeding them in an established aquarium that has lots of mulm, infusoria, algae, hiding spots, and perhaps a rock pile for the fry to dart underneath. Make sure the adults get plenty of food, and cover your filter intake with a pre-filter sponge to prevent the fry from getting sucked up. These tiny babies love to eat vinegar eels and microworms. To increase their survival rate, you can also put them in a breeder box to keep them safe from predators.
For more information on other fantastic algae eaters, read about our top 10 favorites that can help keep your fish tank nice and clean.