Care Guide for Hillstream Loaches: The Oddball Algae Eater

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. You can find them on the glass doing side-to-side crawls or flapping their fins while looking for food.

The hillstream loach has a highly patterned and streamlined body that is built to grip tightly onto rocks and withstand rushing rapids.

Hillstream loaches were originally found in tropical areas of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. They live in river rapids and shallow riffles with slower-moving streams in the middle. Their natural habitat has a lot of rocks, and less vegetation. Heavy rainfall can create sediment that can fluctuate water parameters and stir them up. They are extremely resilient and can adapt to a variety 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. If your hillstream loach is missing, try looking in your filter because sometimes they like to crawl 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 tend to do well in community settings, but males may sometimes fight over the tank’s cover.

How many hillsstream loaches can you keep together? Because they are more expensive, most people only buy one. They can run around $15 each. We recommend that you get one, or a small group of three or more. The stronger of the two may try to bully the smaller one for food or territory. Males like to scuffle with each other, circling round and round trying to get on top of their opponent, but no bodily harm is done. To reduce aggression levels, make sure to provide more decorations or aquarium plants to block line of sight.

What are Hillstream Loaches Eating?

In the wild, they consume small aquatic crustaceans that live at the river bottom, algae, and small organisms living on underwater surfaces. In your aquarium, they will happily scrape off anything that grows on your fish tank walls, rocks, driftwood, and plant leaves. Soft diatom, hair, and sometimes black beard algae are all acceptable. You can’t feed them algae, but they won’t survive on it alone. So make sure you give them high-quality foods like Repashy gel food or sinking wafers. 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. You should ensure that both the adults and the fry have enough food. To keep the fry from becoming entangled, cover the filter with a sponge. These tiny babies love to eat vinegar eels and microworms. You can place them in a breeding box to increase their survival rates and protect them 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.