How Kuhli is that? Taking a fresh look at a fish from my childhood

Sometimes it's really fun to look back on the fishes that got me all excited as a kid, back in the days before I ruined everything by taking the hobby so seriously. Yet, progress is progress, and it's fun to resist these old friends and take a look at them in a more contemporary light...Here's the latest in this occasional "series" on the fave fish of my youth!

I think the first truly "exotic" fish I ever owned was a Kuhli Loach (Pango kuhlii or P. semicincta, depending on who you talk to). I added this fish to my venerable 5 gallon community tank when I was around 7 or 8 years old. I obsessed over this fish for months before being able to afford one, and when I added it to the tank, it was one of those memorable moments we get to enjoy in fish keeping. Of course, "having" is not always as good a thing as "wanting", in the case of some fish, and this guy was a bit of a let-down, in that I practically never saw him. Of course, with a finer-grained sand, I knew that the fish would probably bury itself from time to time, but this was more like the rule, rather than the exception with this fish.

(Pic by Kathy Porritt)

Now, part of this could be attributable to the fact that these guys are generally found in small groups in the wild, and are surprisingly gregarious fish. Housing one alone, even in a relatively small tank with no large fishes, resulted in this fish "falling back" on his more instinctive secretive behavior.

Fast forward a few decades...

I'm in my "botanicals are cool" mindset, and of course, I occasionally will flash back to memories of the fishes of my childhood...And of course, one of the fondest memories was of the Kuhli Loach. If there were ever a fish that I sort of lost track of, this would be it. And it's funny- in your youthful days, you're just sort of excited about having the fish in your tank, and not putting in as much thought about catering to their needs. Now days, it's a different mindset for me, I guess.

If I were to keep this fish again today, I'd keep a group of like 6-10 specimens, and I'd probably go a bit more towards a loose representation of one of their many habitats- a shallow, slow-moving rainforest stream from Sumatra or Borneo. The nice thing about these habitats is that they often are associated with peat swamps and contain blackwater, although there are numerous clearwater streams as well that these fish are found in.

(Image by Paul Mannix)

That being said, these blackwater streams have all of the usual "calling cards" of coolness for us: Tinted water, lower ph and carbonate hardness, diffused light from the jungle canopy, and some marginal vegetation at water's edge. Typically, the current is not too strong in these streams, making it easy to replicate water movement with simple filter returns, although if you're into that sort of thing, you could use a small powerhead to kick up the flow a bit.

I think I'd tend to go with a larger, shallow aquarium, to really get that "stream" vibe going, and I'd probably to a layout with a bunch of smooth stones and some gnarled driftwood, likely Manzanita, to simulate some of the fallen branches found in these waters. A great layout to play with would be one similar to the one that Jeff Senske of Aquarium Design Group did some time back for his "Tannin Tank." Although not specifically designed with Loaches in mind, it offers many of the characteristics that work well with these fish!

Botanicals can certainly be utilized in the aquarium to provide additional cover, hiding places, retreats, and of course, a cool aesthetic for these fishes. Oh, and I'd use a fine sand substrate...and LEAF LITTER! Yup, once again, those darned leaves are a very attractive place for Kohl's to hang out in, and I'd be inclined to go with a combo of Guava and Catappa, with the ratio skewed towards Guava, as they have a certain look and greater durability in an aquarium where you just know the inhabitants will be rooting in and out of!

And of course, keeping just a tankful of Kuhlis could be really cool, but isn't it just more fun to adda few friends? Yeah. If you want to be hardcore and be totally authentic, there are species of Rasbora, Boraras, Sundanio, and multiple Gouramis that are often found in similar habitats,so why not?

I love the idea of dedicated species aquariums, but the fish geek in me just can't help but add a few friends for them, ya' know?

Let's just be real for a second. I'd totally avoid plants. I mean, sure, you can add some, but if the idea is keeping these fishes that constantly root through sand and leaves, you're going to have plants uprooted...It's almost unavoidable. Well, you could use the AquaVerdi Tank Planters  to keep your plants rooted...On the other hand, you could simply use a little artistic license and use plants like Java Fern or even (gasp!) Anubias, attached to the wood and rocks.Of course there are other alternatives in regards to plants, but these would be decent alternatives, IMHO.

(Pic by Marrabbio2 under CC BY SA-3.0)

It's fun thinking about a "next level" aquarium dedicated to a fish from my childhood...In fact, it's kind of the perfect ultimate evolution of my youthful fish geek experience. And with the experience and insight earned through decades of mistakes, tragedies, and triumphs, taking a fresh look at an old friend is always cool!

What fish of your early days would YOU want to dedicate a tank to today?

Keep pondering, stay creative. Stay focused. Stay "Khul" (couldn't resist)..

And Stay Wet.

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


3 Responses

banano fish
banano fish

December 22, 2020

great article!

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman

December 31, 2016

Damn you, autocorrect! :)

Matthew A. Chambers
Matthew A. Chambers

December 30, 2016

Great post but a funny autocorrect: looks like Kuhli became Kohl’s!

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