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Zebra Loach

Scientific Name: Botia striata
Family: Cobitidae, Subfamily Botiinae

About the Zebra Loach

Species Type: Freshwater Fish
Category: Cyprinids

Care Level: Moderate. May tolerate only a narrow range of water parameters, have specific dietary requirements including frozen or even live foods, may have behaviors that severely limit potential tankmates or may require a specialized aquarium setup.

Origin: Krishna River system, southern India. Found in clear mountain streams having a substrate of rock, boulders, gravel and sand with leaf litter from the overhanging forest.

Compatibility/Temperament: Generally peaceful, but like all loaches (to some degree) they establish a social structure within the group and there will be some in-fighting though not damaging if the fish are maintained in a group of at least six and there are numerous hiding places in the aquarium. They can be combined with other loach species. Long-finned upper fish should be avoided to prevent fin nipping; suitable upper fish are barbs, rasbora, danios, characins.

Description

This is an ideal loach for beginning aquarists or those unfamiliar with loaches as it is smaller than most and relatively peaceful, thus making a good addition to a community aquarium keeping in mind the comments under Compatibility. Other Common Names include Thin Lined Loach, Striped Loach, Yellow Lined Loach and Tiger Loach (not to be confused with the true tiger loaches of the genus Syncrossus).

This species is very active, and as noted under Compatibility/Temperament needs a spacious aquarium with plenty of hiding spots so it can be kept in a group of at least 5 or 6, otherwise some members may be relentlessly picked on and succumb to stress and injury. A riverine aquascape would be ideal; a substrate of fine smooth gravel with smooth rocks representing boulders, caves made from bogwood or rock, and subdued lighting partially achieved with floating plants. Plants such as crypts, Anubias and java fern for the lower areas. The current from the filter need not be excessive. Water must be stable; like all loaches, this species is intolerant of dissolved organics and nitrates should be kept below 10ppm, which can be achieved with live plants and regular weekly partial water changes.

Sexual dimorphism is not obvious until they reach maturity when females will be rounder and thicker. There are so far no reports of successful spawnings in aquaria.

Like all Botia species, this one possesses a pair of very sharp spines under the eye sockets; these spines can be extended when the loach feels threatened, and care must be taken not to entangle the spines in nets as it can damage the fish.

The fish is intolerant of dissolved organics and poor water quality including high nitrate levels. Regular partial water changes of 50% weekly plus the plants should achieve stable water parameters. Loaches are prone to parasitic (such as ich) and protozoan infestations and poor water conditions are a major factor. Treatment must be carefully monitored, as the fish, like all loaches, is scaleless and thus highly sensitive to any medications or chemicals. Never use salt; and other treatments when necessary should usually be half-strength. Prevention is by far the better.

When buying loaches, please be very observant with their behavior and body structure. You are advised to avoid at all costs loaches that appear to have chronic skinny disease. Symptoms will include their obvious skinny appearance where the skull and spinal column are almost visible and concaved stomach. Recommended treatment for this is Levamisole hydrochloride. Ask your local fish store for their sources. Here again, avoidance/prevention is better.

The species was described in 1920 by C.R. Narayan Rao. "Botia" is derived from an Asian word for soldier or warrior, and striata is from the Latin and refers to the thin stripe pattern. In 1956, a conspecific was named Botia striata kolhapurensis by Kalawar & Kelkar but this is now deemed an (invalid) synonym.

The subfamily Botiinae within the family Cobitidae is uncertain; Nalbant (2002, 2004) and Kottelat (2004) raised the subfamily to family status as Botiidae and divided it into two tribes:
Tribe Leptobotiini - Leptobotia, Parabotia, Sinibotia.
Tribe Botiini - Botia, Chromobotia, Syncrossus, Yasuhikotakia.
Tang et.al. (2005) agreed. Slechtova et. al. (2006) basically agreed but proposed two Subfamilies rather than tribes, and moved one genus:
Subfamily Leptobotiinae - Leptobotia, Parabotia.
Subfamily Botiinae - Botia, Chromobotia, Sinibotia, Syncrossus, Yasuhikotakia.

References:

Nalbant, T. T. (2002), "Sixty million years of evolution. Part one: family Botiidae (Pisces: Ostariophysi: Cobitoidea)," Travaux du Museum d'Histoire Naturelle "Grigore Antipa" 44, pp. 309-333.

Nalbant, T. T. (2004), "Hymenphysa, Hymenophysa, Syncrossus, Chromobotia and other problems in the systematics of Botiidae. A reply to Maurice Kottelat," Travaux du Museum d'Histoire Naturelle "Grigore Antipa" 47, pp. 269-277.

Kottelat, M. (2004), "Botia kubotai, a new species of loach (Teleostei: Cobitidae) from the ataran River basin (Myanmar), with comments on botiinae nomenclature and diagnosis of a new genus," Zootaxa 401, pp. 1-18.

Slechtova, V., J. Bohlen, J. Freyhof and P. Rab (2006), "Molecular phylogeny of the Southeast Asian freshwater fish family Botiidae (Teleostei: Cobitoidea) and the origin of polyploidy in their evolution," Mol. Phylogenet. Evol. 39, pp. 529-541.

Tang, Q., B. Xiong, X. Yang and H. Liu (2005), "Phylogeny of the East Asian botiine loaches (Cypriniformes, Botiidae) inferred from mitochondrial cytochrome b gene sequences," Hydrobiologia 544(1), pp. 249-258.

Zebra Loach Diet

Mainly carnivorous by nature, in the aquarium this fish is omnivorous therefore will accept most prepared foods. Sinking pellet and tablet foods are important as these are bottom feeders though they do take food mid-water. Frozen bloodworms and shrimp will be relished, and for larger fish small earthworms. An avid snail and snail egg eater. Vegetable matter such as blanched spinach, shelled peas, cucumber and zucchini for variety. Several aquarists have mentioned that loaches will sometimes eat live plants, with swords (Echinodorus sp) being particular favourites; signs of this will be several small holes eaten in the leaves. Other plant species (crypts, Aponogeton, Anubias, Java Fern) are left alone.

Size

Attains 4 inches, frequently slightly less.

Minimum Tank Suggestion

36 inches in length.

Ideal water parameters for Zebra Loach

Soft (< 10 dGH), slightly acidic to slightly basic (pH 6 to 7.5) water, temperature 23-26C/73-79F. At one habitat site the water was ~2 dGH, pH 7 and temperature 70F.

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