Sand Loaches, They Breed by Themselves

It has been said very often, it is not the hobbyist which breed fish, it is the fish that breed. All we can do is try to help, and sometimes we don’t even do that. Such was the case when our Acanthocobitisurophthalmus spawned. I just went in one day and noticed some strange behaviour going on in our ten gallon planted tank. It just so happened that the only fish in the tank were the sand loaches, as the last of the other fish, Odessa barbs, had just died of old age. The other thing in the tank was a couple of small apple snails.

sand loaches

We bought the sand loaches at a local pet store; they didn’t know anything about them and I had never seen them before. But we bought all they had, I think there were about five. They were very inexpensive, only $1.49 from what I remember. I assumed that they were probably not going to get very big. They were just under two inches when we got them and they did grow a little but not much. They definitely fattened up some too as they got older. They were very thin and long and would perch themselves on the bottom of the tank on their pectoral fins. They are cream colored, or sand colored, with faint vertical stripes the entire length of their body. They did seem to chase each other from time to time, but never for very far, and they never did any damage to each other. They seemed somewhat shy, but would come out from the very thickly planted Anubias and Windelov Java ferns whenever food was in the tank. You would also see them around the tank just hanging out. Overall they seemed like a great little fish to have.

I had seemingly done nothing to help them spawn, but in reality I guess I had. They very much enjoyed the very thickly planted tank, and I had provided them their own tank with no other fish. I apparently had also given them a huge food source. After noticing that they had spawned, I had also noticed that the two apple snails were nothing more than empty shells. I’m not sure if the apple snails had just died or if the sand loaches had killed and eaten them. Loaches in general are known to be very good at eliminating unwanted snails from an aquarium, but these snails were very large comparison.

The breeding activity was very apparent: there were three loaches left in the tank when the first spawning took place. One was very slender and not quite as big; the other two were more bulky and a little bit larger than the other was. I believe the smaller slender one was the male. I walked into our fishroom and immediately noticed that something was going on in this tank. Two of the fish, what I believe were a female and the one male, were darting around the tank very quickly together. They would stop and the male would very quickly try to wrap himself around the female and then they would be off again. I noticed very small opaque eggs everywhere and as I watched saw eggs going flying several times when the pair were “wrapped” together. The eggs would just go everywhere when they released from each other and started darting all over the tank again. I tend to feed the fish just before going to bed, it was already very late, but we watched this for about twenty minutes. They were apparently at the end of this spawning cycle anyway since I only saw eggs a few times. There were hundreds of eggs all over the tank!  I was amazed at how many eggs had been produced from this fairly small fish. Maybe the male had been spawning with both females, but I only saw him with one.

I decided to siphon some eggs out to a separate tank to see if I could try to raise some of them. I left many eggs in the spawning tank hoping they would survive, but by the next morning I couldn’t see a single egg. I still hoped that some would make it since the tank was so densely planted, but I never saw any fry in that tank. The ones that I had taken out hatched very quickly, in about 24 hours. They were the smallest fry I had ever seen, just clear little slivers clinging to everything. There were probably sixty or more eggs and I think that almost all had hatched. I waited a few days before trying to feed them. The first food was “filter grunge”; I would take a seasoned sponge filter and squeeze it into the tank. They needed very small food and this seemed to work pretty well. I later added APR and after a few weeks started with newly hatched brine shrimp. I had quite a few that seemed to be growing, but then I had to go away for a few days. When I returned there were only a handful left, but of these I raised five up to adulthood.

We had lost one of the females shortly after the first spawn, but still had one pair left. We did have a second spawning too, about 1 month later. I was unfortunately not able to get any eggs the second time and lost both fish within a couple of weeks. I am guessing that the spawning had taken too much out of them. It was a very frenzied and an exhausting courtship. I would see them stop at times as if to catch their breath, they were definitely breathing very hard and rapidly. We had these fish for close to two years but they always had tank mates. I am guessing that they may have spawned earlier but I just never saw any eggs as they were probably eaten as soon as they were laid. But then again, maybe these were the only times and we just so happened to see it each time.


I had carefully marked the calendar with the dates on the spawns and the egg hatching and the fry free swimming. But these spawns happened in October or November so the calendar was recycled before I was able to transfer the data to this article. The fry are now almost two years old, so I am considering removing all of their tankmates and trying to spawn these fish again, in the same tank even. I believe I have at least one pair, maybe more than that. I am not sure, as you rarely see them for very long. I might even add a few apple snails again.

by David Banks
First published: In Depth, newsletter of The Tropical Fish Club of Burlington.Aquarticles

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