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Family: Cobitidae, Subfamily Cobitinae

Common Name: Horse Face Loach

Origin and Habitat: Occurs over a wide geographic area of Southeast Asia including India, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaya, Indonesia (Java and Sumatra), Borneo and Vietnam; see further under Discussion below. Inhabits swift, clear streams and rivers with sand or gravel substrates and migrates into flooded fields.

Compatibility/Temperament: Peaceful; they establish a social structure within the group and in-fighting is less with this species. Some sources suggest single fish in an aquarium, or a group of 3, but we advocate 5 or 6 since this fish is found in groups in its habitat and more rather than fewer will avoid any serious harassment. They can be combined with other peaceful loach species; suitable upper fish are barbs, larger rasbora, danios, characins. This loach spends considerable time buried in the substrate, even more as it matures.

Horse Faced Loach Diet

In nature, this fish sifts the substrate through its gills to extract insect larvae, small crustaceans, worms, etc. In the aquarium they generally accept prepared sinking foods. Frozen bloodworms, artemia, live worms would provide additional nourishment.


Attains 8 inches; females are the larger gender, up to twice the size of males.

Minimum Tank Suggestion

48 inches in length.

Water parameters for Horse Faced Loach

Soft to medium (< 12 dGH) acidic (pH < 7) water, temperature 25-29C/77-84F. Some sources mention brackish water without details.


This interesting loach is not the best community aquarium resident, simply because it may rarely be observed. It tends to bury itself in the substrate with only the eyes protruding, and as it matures it does this more and more and becomes mainly nocturnal.

Given its burrowing and feeding habits, a substrate of very fine gravel ["sand" grade] or sand is preferred. Decor such as wood and rock must be placed on the tank bottom prior to adding the substrate or the burrowing habit of this fish may cause problems; plants will likely be uprooted so those that attach to wood and rock such as Java Fern and Anubias are best. These will also allow for low lighting which suits the nocturnal nature of this fish, and floating plants may be included to further reduce the light. A good filter flow is appreciated, as this fish comes from faster-flowing streams although it also migrates into the flooded forest, and this will also handle any sediment stirred up by the burrowing.

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. This species should only be added to a biologically established aquarium.

Like all cobitids, 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. This fish is not easy to net, so it is preferable to introduce it to as permanent a home as possible, i.e., a large tank even when young so it can remain in the initial aquarium as it grows. This fish is hardy and long-lived in the proper environment.

Acantopsis choirorhynchos was initially described in the genus Cobitis by P. Bleeker in 1854. Roberts (1989) placed it in the present genus Acantopsis erected by van Hasselt in 1823. The name derives from the Greek akantha [= thorn] and ops [= similar]. There are presently eight recognized species in this genus [source: Fishbase], and given the wide geographic distribution it is likely that the fish seen in the hobby may come from several undescribed species that are closely related and form a complex including the named species.

The family Cobitidae, often termed the true loaches, currently holds two subfamilies, Cobitinae and Botiinae. Recent phylogenetic studies by Tang et. al. (2006) and Slechtova et. al. (2007) have shown that these two groups have quite separate and distinct genetic lineages and it is proposed that the two subfamilies be raised to family status. This is likely to be accepted in the very near future.


Roberts, T.R. (1989), "The freshwater fishes of western Borneo (Kalimantan Barat, Indonesia)," Memoirs of the California Academy of Sciences No. 14.

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," Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 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.

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