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Panda Loach (Yaoshania Pachychilus) Care Guide

Panda Loach (Yaoshania Pachychilus) Care Guide

Native to just a few locations in China, the Panda Loach is a distinctive freshwater fish that will bring charm and allure to your aquarium setup.

In this guide, we will explore various aspects of their care, covering topics such as appropriate tank setups, water conditions, feeding habits, and health considerations. 

If you’re like me, you will fall in love with these adorable loaches

Key Takeaways

  • Panda Loaches need a tank that is at least 20 gallons with a substrate of fine gravel or sand.
  • They are social fish, displaying playful and curious behaviors that add vibrancy to your aquarium.
  • They require well-oxygenated water with strong currents to mimic their natural habitat in China’s fast streams.
  • Feed them small amounts of high-quality dried foods twice a day and provide algal-covered surfaces for grazing.
  • Breeding Panda Loaches can help conserve the species, but setting up a proper breeding environment is challenging and requires careful monitoring.

Panda Loach Origin & Natural Habitat

  • Common name: 
  • Scientific name: 
  • Care level: Moderate
  • Size: Up to 2.5 inches (6 cm)
  • Lifespan: 6-8 years
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Group size: At least 5
  • Minimum tank size: 20 gallons 
  • Tank level: Bottom dweller
  • Water temperature: 68°F and 75°F (20°C and 23.9°C)
  • Water pH: 6.8-7.4
  • Water hardness: 6-10 dKH

Originating from the fast-flowing hillstream rivers of Guangxi Province in China, the elusive Panda Loach thrives in a unique ecosystem that is as rich in biodiversity as it is threatened by human activities.

This subtropical dweller’s natural abode sets the stage for their specialized care requirements in freshwater aquariums.

Threats To Natural Habitat

They thrive in unique habitats – their homes are small, clear streams with lots of oxygen. These streams only flow at certain times of the year. Unfortunately, people are altering these places, cutting down trees, constructing things, and polluting the water. 

Their small world is getting even smaller because there aren’t many places where they can live. Only three spots on Earth have Panda Loaches. If we’re not careful, we might lose them forever.

We need to protect their homes to keep them healthy and swimming happily.

Appearance & Size

These rare fish are visually striking with their distinctive black-and-white coloration, resembling the markings of a panda. As they get older these patterns blend out into a more mottled gray/brown color. Even so, they are still very stunning little fish.

Their sleek bodies are built for fast-flowing water. Their heads and bodies are flattened with their fins splaying out horizontally.  

They are known for their unique lip lamina (thick lips), which helps them cling onto surfaces in fast-flowing streams.

They are small, reaching just 2 to 2.5 inches in length when full-grown. Their bodies are elongated and somewhat flat, which helps them cling to surfaces in fast-flowing streams.

Difference Between Males & Females

Males and females have subtle differences. Males often display brighter colors and may have thicker pectoral fins. Females are usually bigger and fuller especially when they are ready to lay eggs.  

Identifying these dimorphic traits can be challenging without close inspection since they’re not always obvious at first glance. It’s easier to see these differences when they reach full size.

Experts still have much to learn about these fish. Their secretive nature in the wild keeps many of their breeding habits hidden. In captivity, careful observation over time might give away some clues about which panda loaches are male or female.

Personality & Behavior

Even though they are peaceful by nature, they can be a bit territorial when it comes to guarding their favorite spots in the tank. 

You’ll notice they dart around the bottom of the tank in little short bursts, not the most graceful swimmers, but they are a lot of fun to watch!

They are very social, especially as adults, and often show curious and playful behaviors, swimming against the current or exploring around plants and decorations. 

Life Span

The Panda Loach can live between 6 and 8 years if cared for properly in an aquarium. Their lifespan depends on factors like water quality, diet, and stress levels. It’s important to maintain stable water conditions to help these loaches thrive.

Regular water changes and a balanced diet can extend their lives. Good care will ensure they stay healthy for many years.

Panda Loach Care & Tank Setup

Ensuring your fish’s health and happiness involves setting up an aquarium environment that closely mimics their natural habitat

Tank Size

You will want to have at least a 30-gallon tank to provide ample space. This size gives these active swimmers room to move and explore.

Steer clear of tiny ‘nano’ tanks for Pandas, as they require more space than these setups offer. Prioritize an aquarium that provides ample room for their well-being and happiness.

Keep at least a group of at least 5 together, they are social fish and more likely to show their natural behaviors when they feel safe.

Water Parameters

  • Water temperature: 68°F and 75°F (20°C and 23.9°C)
  • Water pH: 6.8-7.4
  • Water hardness: 6-10 dKH

Maintaining the ideal water parameters is crucial for the health and well-being of these tropical fish.

Water Temperature

Keep the water in your tank between 68°F and 75°F (20°C and 23.9°C). This range is best for their health and mimics their natural environment. 

Use a reliable aquarium heater to manage the temperature consistently. This will help prevent stress that can lead to sickness in these fish. High temperatures are harmful, so always check your heater and thermometer work right.

Water pH Levels

Aim for a pH between 6.8 and 7.4 to keep them healthy and happy in your tank. This range supports the growth of biofilm and algae, which they love to nibble on.

They come from areas with slightly higher pH values, but they adapt well within the recommended aquarium range.

Use a reliable pH testing kit to check the water’s acidity regularly.

Stable conditions support their immune system and overall well-being, so avoid sudden shifts in water chemistry.

Water Hardness

Aim for a water hardness level between 6-10 dKH. If it’s too soft or too hard, these fish might get stressed or sick. Always check the water before adding Panda Loaches to your tank.

They need stable conditions to stay healthy. Don’t put them in new tanks that aren’t ready, and don’t forget about their water hardness needs. Use test kits often to track your aquarium’s levels.

What Panda Loaches Need In The Tank

Creating the perfect environment goes beyond basic water parameters; it’s about replicating their natural conditions to promote health and happiness. You’ll need to consider everything from substrate texture to the intricacies of tank decor, aiming for a setup that caters to these loaches’ love for grazing on biofilm, navigating through smooth river rocks, and enjoying plant-covered hideaways.


Fine gravel or sand works best as it allows these fish to exhibit their natural behaviors such as sifting through the bottom.

This type of substrate helps promote the growth of biofilm and algae, which are key food sources for Panda Loaches.

Smooth river rocks can also be added on top of your chosen substrate. They will also provide additional surfaces for algae to grow, creating an environment similar to their natural habitats.

Make sure to avoid sharp or rough substrates that can harm the delicate belly’s barbels of your loach. 


Add plenty of rocks and driftwood to create hiding spots and interesting places for them to explore. The decorations should mimic a fast-flowing stream with smooth surfaces for algae to grow.

Make sure plants are securely planted so they don’t get uprooted by the flowing water or active fish.


Plants play a big role in a panda loach’s tank. They love to have places to hide and explore. Use live freshwater plants that can withstand strong water currents. They will add oxygen to the water and help keep the environment clean for your loaches.

Choose sturdy live plants that can handle a strong water flow, like Java Fern, Hornwort, Anubias, and Java Moss are some good options. 

Make sure they are well-rooted or anchored down as Panda Loaches might dig around them when they search for food on the substrate. 


Your lights should mimic natural daylight and lean more toward bright lighting. This mimics their natural stream habitat and helps algae flourish on rocks and surfaces. 

Pick LED lights that you can set on a timer for consistent light patterns each day.


Panda Loaches not only require well-oxygenated water, and strong currents to make them happy but they also need more filtration than many other tropical fish species.

For freshwater aquariums, it’s generally advised to use a filter system that can cycle 4 to 5 times the tank volume per hour. However, Panda Loaches require a filter system that can turn over water 10 to 15 times the tank volume per hour. 

For instance, a 20-gallon tank would need a filter running at a rate between 200 and 300 GPH (gallons per hour). This helps keep the water clean and provides the strong currents that Panda Loaches prefer.

Panda Loach Tank Mates

When choosing tank mates, opt for peaceful and similarly-sized fish to create a harmonious underwater community.

Ideal Tankmates

  • Tetras: Smaller tetra species like Neon and Cardinal Tetras have a preference for similar water conditions and have good community behavior being schooling fish.
  • Rasboras: Small, peaceful rasboras like the Harlequin Rasbora, make great companions due to their easy-going nature.
  • Corydoras Catfish: These peaceful bottom-dwellers will happily share a tank with Panda Loaches and will help keep the substrate clean, reducing overall maintenance. 
  • Dwarf Gourami:  These peaceful fish will add a pop of color to your aquarium and they won’t compete for space.  They prefer to spend their time in the mid to top part of the aquarium
  • Cherry Shrimp: These small shrimp make safe tank mates. They won’t be prey and contribute to a clean environment by scavenging.

Tankmates to Avoid

  • Aggressive fish: Fish that like to fight or bully might stress Panda Loaches out or hurt them.
  • Large territorial fish: Big fish that need space might push loaches away from good spots in the tank
  • Fin-nippers: A big no-no, as they can stress or injure these peaceful loaches’ delicate fins.
  • Fish that need different water conditions: If other fish need warmer, colder, harder, or softer water, they won’t make good roommates.

Food & Diet

These fish are omnivores and not picky eaters. However, it’s important to provide them with a nutritious and diverse diet to ensure their overall health.

Use high-quality pellets or flakes, meaty foods like brine shrimp, bloodworms, mosquito larvae, repashy and leafy greens for their meals.

One thing to keep in mind is that, even though they are omnivores, Panda Loaches don’t fare well with excessive protein. I use NatureHolic Snail Feed Pudding designed for snails, and they love it! Additionally, I feed them NatureHolic Spirulina Tablets.

If necessary, introduce sinking catfish pellets to ensure your loaches can readily access their share at the tank’s bottom, where they primarily search for snacks.

How Much and How Often to Feed Them

Feed them small amounts several times a day. Aim for two to three feeding sessions daily. Make sure the food is enough that they can eat it all in a few minutes. This prevents overfeeding and keeps the tank clean.

Panda Loach Breeding

Breeding Panda Loaches can be a challenging yet rewarding endeavor for enthusiasts, with captive breeding playing a crucial role in the conservation of this unique species. Adopting best practices and understanding their specific reproductive needs are key to successfully increasing their numbers in home aquariums.

Before breeding make sure you provide the adults with a high-quality diet. Meaty foods like frozen brine shrimp and bloodworms will help condition them for spawning.

Set up a separate breeding tank with conditions that mimic their natural environment. Make sure it is mature enough to have biofilm and algae growth for the fry to feed on.

  • Use fine gravel or sand substrate to protect eggs and fry.
  • Add smooth rocks, caves, dense plants, and plenty of driftwood so they have plenty of hiding spots.
  • Keep the water temperature between 72-77°F (22-25°C) and pH level between 6.0 and 7.0 to encourage spawning behavior.
  • Introduce mature males and females into the breeding tank. A group of 4 or 5 with only 1 to 2 of them being males.
  • Monitor for signs of spawning, such as chasing or pairs resting together on surfaces. If spawning is successful the female will lay her eggs in a hidden, well-protected spot.
  • After spawning, remove the adults from the breeding tank to prevent them from eating the eggs or fry.
  • Feed the fry with small foods like baby brine shrimp that are easy for them to eat.

Importance of Captive Breeding

Captive breeding could help keep Panda Loaches around for years to come. It eases the pressure on wild populations. Many loaches in tanks are taken from nature, which can hurt their numbers.

By breeding them in aquariums, we protect these fish and their native streams.

Having Panda Loaches born in captivity is tough but important. Success means less demand for wild-caught ones, giving their natural homes a chance to heal and thrive. Efforts to breed these fish support conservation and education about aquatic life care

Common Health Issues

Understanding and addressing common health issues is crucial for ensuring the well-being of your Panda Loaches in captivity.

  • Ich: This is a parasite that causes white spots all over a fish’s body. To treat ich, raise the tank water temperature slowly and add aquarium salt or use commercial ich medications. Make sure you follow the instructions carefully.
  • Fin Rot: Zebra Loaches may suffer from fin rot if the water isn’t clean, leading to torn or frayed fins and tails. Maintain a clean tank and perform regular water changes to prevent this issue.
  • Fungal Infections: These appear as fuzzy spots on a fish’s skin or fins. Antifungal treatments are available, but improving water quality is crucial for prevention.
  • Stress: Stress can compromise your loaches’ overall health and potentially lead to disease. Ensure stable water conditions, provide hiding places for them to feel safe, and avoid overcrowding in your aquarium.

Disease Preventions

  • Do regular water tests and perform partial water changes consistently to maintain low toxin levels. This care routine helps prevent diseases like ich
  • Provide a balanced diet for your loach, incorporating vegetables, pellets, and protein-rich foods like bloodworms. A nutritious diet strengthens the fish and helps prevent sickness.
  • To stop infections, don’t overcrowd the tank and give each loach enough space. Check new plants and decorations for germs before putting them in your aquarium. 
  • Prevent infections by avoiding overcrowding in the tank and ensuring each loach has sufficient space.
  • Make sure all new fish are quarantined and healthy before adding them to your community tank.
  • Before adding new plants and decorations to your aquarium, check them for potential germs.

Other Loaches You May Be Interested In

  • Kuhli Loach: This loach is thin and has stripes too. But it is good at hiding because it looks like the ground under the water.
  • Dwarf Chain Loach: It’s tiny and has pretty chain-like lines all over. They come from rivers near Thailand.
  • Clown Loach: This fish is bright orange with big black bands. It comes from rivers in Indonesia.
  • Dojo Loach: This loach displays a range of colors, from olive green, light brown, or grey, and often has a lighter belly. It originates from streams and ponds in eastern Asia.
  • Yoyo Loach: This loach has a slender silver or golden body with dark bands. It originates from the waters of India and Pakistan.
  • Reticulated Hillstream Loach: This stunning little fish looks like a mini-stingray. It comes from rivers and streams throughout Asia.
  • Zebra Loach: It’s small with stripes just like a zebra. The zebra loach lives in fast streams in India.

Panda Loach FAQs

What Is A Panda Loach?

The Panda Loach, also known as Yaoshania pachychilus or Protomyzon pachychilus, is a rare and small freshwater fish that many aquarium hobbyists love.

Where Do Panda Loaches Come From?

Panda Loaches come from streams with high flow rates and water depth in parts of China. They live among rocks and pebbles where there’s lots of oxygen and algae growth.

How Big Do Panda Loaches Get?

They don’t get very big at all, reaching just 2 to 2.5 inches in length when full-grown.

How Should I Set Up My Tank For A Group Of Panda Loaches?

For a group of 5 or more panda loaches, provide soft water with plenty of oxygen saturation along with an aquascape including rocks for biofilm layer carpeting submerged surfaces which they prefer.

Is It Hard To Breed The Panda Loach Species?

Yes, breeding panda loaches like the hillstream loach can be difficult because these fish are hard to sex (tell males from females) and require specific conditions like increased flow rate during seasons such as periods of high rainfall.

Wrapping Up

Caring for Panda Loaches does require effort and attention, but the rewards of having these unique fish make it all worthwhile. 

They are lively and playful, adding a delightful touch to your aquarium as they dart around the bottom, energetically foraging for food and engaging in interactive behavior.

With their charming presence, they will transform your aquarium into a vibrant and captivating underwater haven.

I’m Elle, the founder of FishHQ. I created this website to share knowledge, tips, and inspiration for beginner hobbyists to help them create a healthy, happy, and vibrant environment for their fish to thrive. Read more...