Clown loaches are an awesome species and they’ve got tons of personality.
So it’s important you house them with the right buddies to see them thrive.
In this guide, I walk you through what makes an ideal friend for them, share my best clown loach tank makes, and warn you on who you need to avoid.
Table of Contents
What makes a good clown loach tank mate?
Clown loaches come from tropical waterways that stay pretty darn hot most of the year. These fish thrive in temperatures of 80°F or higher.
That cuts out a lot of potential tank mates right off the bat.
Yes, you will see people keeping clown loaches in water temperatures in the 70s. Yes, the loaches can survive this, but they’ll also be much more prone to Ich and other parasites and diseases.
Their behavior will also be greatly subdued if they’re not warm enough. You can’t really appreciate all their goofy antics if they feel chilly all the time.
For the most part, clown loaches are lovers not fighters. They might tussle with each other a bit, but for the most part, they’re very peaceful fish.
So they can’t hold their own against super aggressive, territorial fish.
In fact, if they get bullied enough, they’ll stay in their hiding spots until they starve.
Don’t try to put them with highly aggressive fish like jaguar cichlids, red devils, Jack Dempseys, jewel cichlids, etc. These big bruisers are just too overwhelming for clown loaches that just want to hang out and be goofy.
Best Tank Mates for Clown Loaches
1. Other Clown Loaches
It is absolutely essential to keep clown loaches in a group. They will be miserable and anxious unless they are in a group of six or more.
These fish have evolved behaviourally to rely on strength in numbers. Without enough friends in their gang, they feel vulnerable to predators and will hide the majority of the time.
Keeping them in a larger group will encourage them to come out into the open more and will give you a chance to see their playful antics as they roam around and play together.
Pro Tip: These are just general guidelines. Please, research individual species before you bring them home.
Discus are large South American cichlids that are pretty much the jewels of the aquarium world. They’re big, brightly colored, and luckily, very peaceful.
Discus also thrive at the same high temperatures that loaches enjoy.
These beauties are fairly delicate and demanding, so they’re not really for beginners. But if you’re fairly experienced, they’re the gold standard of freshwater aquariums.
Rainbowfish, from the genus Melanotaenia, are native to Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and Australia. If you’ve never seen them, believe me, the name rainbowfish is very fitting.
These colorful fish are top dwellers that pretty much ignore other species of fish. They’re very peaceful, colorful and active, I highly recommend them.
Rainbows will thrive in the same temperature range as clown loaches.
My top recommendations for species from this group:
- Boesemani rainbowfish (Melanotaenia boesemani) – the front half of their bodies is bright blue and the back half is bright yellow. Max length is 4 inches (10 centimeters). They do best in a group of 3 or more.
- Dwarf rainbowfish (Melanotaenia praecox) – their bodies are a shiny silver that has an iridescent purple sheen. Their fins are a bright scarlet color that contrasts beautifully with their silver bodies. They need to be in a group of five or more. They max out at 3 inches (7.5 centimeters)
I’ve kept both species, in fact the Boesemani are the centerpiece of one of my tanks now, and I can vouch for the fact that they’re just awesome.
There are several different species of fish known as “barbs” in the aquarium trade. All come from the family Cyprinidae, the same family as carp, koi and goldfish.
Barbs are fast swimming schooling fish native to tropical areas of Southeast Asia, just like clown loaches. Barbs come from fast-moving waters very similar to clown loaches’ natural habitat.
My top recommendations for species from this group:
- Tinfoil barb (Barbonymus schwanenfeldii) – these fish are a beautiful metallic silver color. This species also gets quite large, around 12 inches (30 centimeters) and must be kept in a group of five or more. So you would need an enormous tank to keep tinfoil barbs and clown loaches.
- Tiger barb (Puntigrus tetrazona) – my favorite barb, these guys are a sunset orange color with dark brown stripes. They max out at about 4 inches (10 centimeters), much more manageable than tinfoil barbs. Should be kept in a group of six or more.
- Cherry barb (Puntius titteya) – pintsized little fish that top out at 2 inches (5 centimeters). Males are a bright red and females are an orangy pink color. They also should be kept in a school of six or more.
- Rosy barb (Pethia conchonius) – males are a bright pink color and females are a bit more of a subdued rose color. They top out at about 6 inches (15 centimeters) and also need to be kept in a group of five or more to be happy.
You’ll frequently see both green and gold severums in the aquarium trade, both are the same species, Heros efasciatus.
They are a semi-aggressive South American cichlid that grows to 8-10 inches (20-25 centimeters).
I’ve kept several of these over the years and can attest that they have a lot of personality. They can be bullies with other top dwelling fish, but in my experience, they mostly ignore bottom feeding fish.
Gouramis are super cool in my opinion, there just isn’t anything else quite like them.
They are labyrinth fish, meaning they have a crude lung-like organ that lets them gulp air to breath from the water’s surface.
Gouramis also have these crazy pectoral fins that have evolved into antenna-like “feelers” that they use to feel their way around in their environment. They will use their feelers to investigate any unfamiliar object in the tank.
They’re native to India, Pakistan and Southeast Asia. Several different species are available in the pet trade:
- Blue gourami (Trichopodus trichopterus) – aka three spot gourami. This fish is light blue with two black eyespots along its side. They top out at about 4 inches (11 centimeters) long.
- Moonlight gourami (Trichogaster microlepis) – these fish are a beautiful shimmery silver color. They grow to 6 inches (15 centimeters) long.
- Pearl gourami (Trichogaster leeri) – pearl gouramis are a champagne color with a ruby throat. They have a black horizontal line that bisects their eyes and continues most of the way to their tails. They are covered in iridescent speckles all over their bodies and fins. They grow to about 4 inches (11 centimeters).
Pro Tip: I do not recommend giant gouramis (Osphronemus goramy). They grow into HUGE aggressive tank busters that will bully and kill any other fish in the tank.
Tetras can be found in South and Central America as well as Africa. They’re all considered to be a part of the Characidae family.
There are many, many different species of tetras available in the aquarium trade. I would recommend staying away from the super tiny ones, like neon tetras.
When you mix fish that are huge with fish that are tiny, the tiny fish tend to disappear, if you know what I mean.
Species I recommend:
- Congo tetras (Phenacogrammus interruptus) – Congo tetras are a colorful and peaceful schooling fish native to Africa. They need to be kept in a group of 10 or more to be truly happy. They grow to about 3.5 inches (9 centimeters), so they’re small, but not so small that they tempt the loaches.
- Black skirt tetras (Gymnocorymbus ternetzi) – black skirt tetras originate from South America. They are a very laterally compressed fish with a deep chest that tapers sharply to their tail, making them roughly hatchet shaped. They have a very long anal fin that trails behind them and looks like a skirt. They grow to about 3 inches (7.5 centimeters) and do best in a group of 10 or more.
Most plecos make great tank mates for clown loaches. Plecos and loaches just ignore each other in general, as if they can’t be bothered to acknowledge the other’s presence.
Some of my favorite species:
- Bristlenose pleco (Ancistrus sp.) – these adorable yet super weird fish are excellent algae eaters. Males grow fleshy tentacle-like “bristles” on their noses. Max length is 7 inches (18 centimeters).
- Rubber lipped pleco (Chaetostoma milesi) – this species has a long sloping snout that kind of looks like a giant lip. They have round dots on their heads and black outlines on their body scales, making their armored scales really stand out. Max length is 7 inches (18 centimeters).
- Gold nugget pleco (Baryancistrus xanthellus) – gold nugget plecos are dark brown/black and covered with perfectly round, bright yellow dots. Their dorsal fins and tails are edged in the same bright yellow. These gorgeous little algae eaters can be hard to track down and are quite expensive. Max length 10 inches (25 centimeters).
Pro Tip: Avoid putting species of plecos with large flowing fins, like featherfin plecos, together with clown loaches. Some clowns have been known to nip and tear at their fins.
Tank Mates to Avoid
Highly Aggressive Fish
Like I said earlier, super aggressive fish should be avoided. Clown loaches just can’t really defend themselves against serious bully fish.
They will be miserable and probably die if they’re subjected to the prolonged stress of an aggressive tank mate.
Some aquarists report that clown loaches will nip at fish with long flowing fins, like Bettas and fancy plecos.
Goldfish and clown loaches are completely incompatible because of temperature. Goldfish thrive in water temps in the 60s while clown loaches need to be kept at 80°F (27°C) or higher.
So sorry, not even an option.
OK so you don’t have to worry about aquarium snails hurting your clown loaches, but you DEFINITELY have to worry about your clown loaches hurting the snails.
Clown loaches love to eat snails. They’ll gladly gobble them up like candy.
They can even eat snails that are too big to fit in their mouths by sucking the snail out of its shell and then taking bites out of it.
So, if you have some nice mystery snails or nerites, you’ll need to move them to another tank.
Just like with snails, ornamental shrimp will just be a tasty snack for a clown loach.
Clown loaches are an awesome species and it’s easy to see why they’re so popular in the aquarium hobby.
Not only are they gorgeous, they’ve got tons of personality and goofiness and they’re great cleaner fish to boot!
There are lots of fish that can be mixed with clown loaches but it’s important to put them with fish that have similar needs, especially when it comes to temperature.
Clowns need peaceful neighbors that won’t beat up on them. It’s also best to keep in mind that clowns will grow into big boisterous fish that can overwhelm tiny fish in the tank.
That still leaves you with tons of choices for other fish that you can use to build a thriving community tank with.
I wish you and your fish the best of luck!