Care Guide for Hillstream Loaches: The Oddball Algae Eater
Reticulated hillstream loaches (Sewellia lineolata) are one of the coolest-looking algae eaters, but there’s a lot of conflicting information about their care requirements that makes people hesitant to try them. After more than a decade of owning, selling, and breeding them, this article shares our personal experiences on how to successfully keep this amazing 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. During the daytime, you can often find them climbing on the glass in a side-to-side crawl or fluttering their fins on the ground while searching for food.
The hillstream loach’s body is highly patterned and streamlined. It is designed to hold onto rocks and withstand rapids.
The original hillstream loaches lived in tropical regions in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Laos. Their native habitat tends to have lots of rocks and is sparser in 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.
We believe that they appreciate a stable pH (preferably between 7.0-7.8) as well as 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 hillstream loaches can be kept together? Most people only get one because they’re more expensive and can cost around $15 each. We recommend that you get one, or a small 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. The males love to fight, and they will circle around trying to take the other’s territory or food. However, no one is hurt. 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. This includes soft diatom algae, hair algae, and even black beard algae at times. However, they cannot survive by eating algae only, so make sure to feed them a wide variety of high-quality foods, such as Repashy gel food, sinking wafers, frozen spirulina brine shrimp, and blanched vegetables. You can increase the chances of them reproducing if you give them good food.
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. The tiny babies like to eat infusoria, vinegar eels, microworms, live baby brine shrimp, and powdered fry food. 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.