If you’re looking for an energetic and exciting animal to bring some pizazz to the lower parts of a large aquarium, consider adding a group of Yoyo Loaches. These social and active bottom feeders are a treat to observe, and they’re an excellent choice for many peaceful planted communities, too!
Overview of the Yoyo Loach
Common Name (species)
Yoyo Loach, Pakistani Loach, Almora Loach (Botia almorhae)
India and Pakistan
3 to 6 inches in length
Scavenging omnivore; feeds on shrimp, snails, insects, eggs/larvae and plant materials
Offer sinking catfish/omnivore pellets with treats of algae wafers and brine shrimp, mosquito larvae, bloodworms and shrimp eggs
Energetic and curious
Peaceful and social, but may squabble among themselves when kept in small groups or tight conditions, and solo loaches may be shy
Minimum Tank Size
40 gallons; add 15 gallons per loach or 110-gallons for 5
75 to 86°F
Soft water 3 to 10 dGH
Slightly acidic 6.5 to 7.5
Well filtered and highly oxygenated water with a minimal current and no detectable ammonia/nitrates
Egglayer; Difficult to breed in captivity
Ideal for peaceful communities with similar sized or smaller fish like tetras, catfish, Corydoras, Goldfish, and plecos. Avoid keeping with larger fish or semi or aggressive species, or with invertebrates like snails or shrimp
OK for Planted Tanks?
Excellent option for planted aquariums but still needs open areas for swimming, and may snack on plants
The Yoyo loach (Botia almorhae) is a lovely, long freshwater fish with eye-catching markings and behaviors. Unlike most species of loach, the Yoyo is active during the day, so you won’t struggle to find them in your tank. Here’s a few quick facts about these strange looking scavengers:
- Yoyo loaches are named for their markings, which often seem to spell out the word “yoyo” against their silversides, and their habit of darting straight up and down in the tank’s water column like a yo-yo toy.
- They’re not an ideal choice for beginners, but they offer a lot for fish keepers with a moderate amount of experience caring for catfish and other sensitive species.
- Full-grown Yoyo loaches can reach between 3 and 6 inches in length, depending on the species, and can jump out of an aquarium if uncovered.
Natural History and Types of Yoyo Loach
Loaches are distributed throughout many parts of Asia and the Middle East, and there’s several similar and closely related species in the Botiidae family that may be sold in the trade as “Yoyo” loaches:
- Yoyos are found in clean, slow-moving rivers and streams, often at higher elevations in the hills and mountains.
- They prefer to gather in rocky pools alongside the main waterway, where they can hunt for food in the still waters and find shelter among the rocks and crevices.
- Wild loaches are omnivores who feed on small invertebrates and crustaceans like snails, insects, eggs and larvae along with plant materials and debris.
There’s at least two types of Yoyo commonly seen in the trade, and likely others as well. The main species, Botia almorhae, also known as the Almora Loach, is found only in northern India and Nepal. The Pakistani Loach, Botia lohachata, has a different range and darker markings, and tends to grow a bit larger:
- Native to the Ganges basin, young Almora loaches are usually found in the lower parts of the system and adults in the higher streams.
- It’s believed the adults migrate into the mountains, possibly to spawn, but we don’t know for sure.
- Prior to 2004, lohachata was the preferred species name for all these fish, but scientists recognized the almorhae variety as a separate species and redrew the Botia family tree. We’re still not sure how the Pakastani and Indian/Nepalese populations are related.
- You can find both types for sale in stores and online, and they’re not always correctly identified.
Yoyo Loach Appearance and Size
Botia loaches are unique in one respect; they’re nearly scaleless fish. Their skin is embedded with tiny scales, which lends a hint of color to their appearance, but also renders them very sensitive to toxins and water quality:
- Yoyo loaches have a silver base color, often with a tint of iridescent blue or yellow/gold colors.
- Their markings are collections of random spots and bands that range from a dark brown to black color. The patterns are highly variable and often change as fish mature.
- These markings may appear as horizontal lines extending down or partially down from their spine, or may cover the whole fish in a net-like or reticulated pattern.
- In young loaches, the random pattern of partial bands may seem to spell the word “yoyo” along their sides.
Juveniles are sold around 2-inches in length, and adults range from 3 to 6 inches at maturity. They have a long, slender body with a cone-shaped face and snout surrounded by 4 pairs of barbells. Yoyo’s also have tiny, defensive suborbital spines under their eyes, so be careful they don’t get tangled in your fishnet.
Loaches typically live from 5 to 8 years in captivity, but with proper care and close attention to water quality, diet and maintenance routines, they may survive substantially longer. There’s reports of Yoyo’s who’s lived for over 15 years in an aquarium!
Behavior and Temperament
Yoyo’s are very energetic fish who are always looking for food. They are active during the day, instead of at night, so you can enjoy watching them explore. They got the nickname “Yoyo” from their habit of popping up to the center of the tank and back repeatedly, just like a children’s toy!
Loaches are curious and social fish, but they are best kept in groups of 5 or more instead of solo or pairs. They can be territorial with each other, but usually don’t pay much attention to other fish when they have a social group of their own:
- You can keep a single Yoyo in your community, but they might spend more time hiding and generally acting shy if they are alone, or they may chase other fish away from their territory.
- Pairs and small groups may have problems with bullying, since they form a social hierarchy around a dominant fish, so bigger groups of 5 or more are better.
- Most reports of aggressive Yoyo loaches I’ve run across are either unhappy solo fish or those struggling for dominance in a very small group, although some loaches may pick on long-finned community members (see Tank Mates below).
How to Care for Your Yoyo Loach
Loaches are considered moderately challenging to care for since they’re very sensitive to their conditions and water quality. I don’t recommend Yoyo’s for beginning fish keepers, but once you’ve mastered the needs of scaleless fish like catfish you should be up to the challenge. Let’s take a look at their requirements:
Loach Tank Set-up and Habitat Requirements
These active bottom feeders need plenty of space, extremely clean water and do best when kept in mature aquariums, so you’ll want to set up a loach habitat a few months prior to introducing your Yoyo’s to the community.
While you may be able to start a young loach in a 20-gallon tank, you’ll need at least 40-gallons for a single adult and 110-gallons for a group of 5. While they mostly stick to the bottom and middle regions, these powerful swimmers can also jump a few feet out of the water, so a lid or hood is needed to keep them safe.
Wild loaches live in rocky-bottomed rivers and streams, so using a mix of aquarium gravel, rocks and pebbles is an easy way to recreate their natural habitat. Coarse or jagged gravel could injure their sensitive barbells as they dig for food or shelter, so look for smoother products or a mix of substrates.
Filtration and Aeration
With their tiny scales, Yoyo loaches are especially sensitive to toxins like ammonia and need very clean, filtered water. They don’t care for heavy currents in the bottom of their tank, but some fish enjoy swimming in the flow by the filter outtakes:
- Using a canister or baffled HOB filter should meet their needs if properly maintained, although an undergravel filter may be adequate in lightly stocked, mature planted communities.
- Air stones and bubbling devices can help increase the oxygen in your water and provide a fun place for loaches to swim and “yo-yo” up and down the water column.
Water and Temperature Parameters
Yoyo loaches prefer stable temperatures from 75 to 86°F, so you’ll need an aquarium heater. They prefer a slightly soft and acidic water, with a pH of 6.5 to 7.5 and hardness of 3 to 10 dGH.
Plants, Light and Decorations
Yoyo loaches are active during the day and prefer planted aquariums, but don’t care for really bright lights, which can make growing aquatic plants a bit challenging. You may need to use fertilizers or a carbon diffusion system to support a heavily planted aquarium:
- Consider hearty, low-light plants like Java Fern and species of Anubis, or use floating plants to shade parts of your tank.
- Leave some open areas for your loaches to swim and explore, and provide plenty of rocky crevices and caves for them to hide in.
- Ideal decor for loaches includes plants, rocks, slate and boulders, along with bogwood and branches.
The key to healthy Yoyo loaches lies in your tank’s water quality, since even low levels of ammonia or nitrates increase their stress and can lead to a shortened lifespan. That’s why they are not a good option for new or cycling habitats and are best kept in mature aquariums:
- Keep your water clear and fresh by maintaining your filtration system and replacing the filter media every few weeks.
- I recommend weekly 20% water changes and gravel vacuuming for loach set-ups, and you may need to do it twice a week for smaller environments under 100-gallons capacity.
Yoyo loaches are omnivorous, but they prefer a mostly carnivorous diet. As scavengers, they’ll eat almost anything they come across, so it’s best to feed them daily and offer a few treats a week to balance out their nutrition. Sinking diets and live foods are usually the best options rather than flake or floating diets:
- Offer your loaches a primary diet of sinking catfish or bottom feeder pellets.
- To deter them from feeding on live plants, offer algae wafers or spirulina pellets a few times a week, and/or fresh blanched veggies like cucumber or zucchini.
- Provide protein-rich treats of brine shrimp, Daphnia eggs, mosquito larvae, and/or crustacean eggs a few times a week as well, but be careful they don’t gorge on bloodworms.
Yoyo loaches do best when kept in peaceful communities with similar sized or smaller tank mates that have overlapping care requirements. Consider schooling tetras, mollies and platys, single-tail goldfish, glass catfish, algae-eating Bristlenose or Clown plecos, or bottom feeders like Clown loaches and Corydoras species.
Some loaches nip at long-finned fish, so Angelfish and Fancy Goldfish may not work out, but it just depends. Avoid keeping them with semi or aggressive fish like cichlids, Tiger Barbs and most freshwater sharks. Loaches will also readily eat snails and shrimp, so avoid invertebrates.
We don’t know much about Yoyo loach reproduction, but they are notoriously difficult to breed in captivity without using artificial hormones. Migration may play an important role in the breeding behavior of wild loaches, but that’s very hard to replicate in an aquarium, so you won’t be seeing any babies in your tank.
As nearly scaleless fish, Yoyo loaches are especially susceptible to water-borne pathogens, toxins, and many aquatic medications. They’re usually the first species in the community to show symptoms when there’s an outbreak of Ich, and they’re prone to other bacterial, viral and fungal infections:
- Poor water quality or inconsistent maintenance routines dramatically increase stress and lower their immune systems, making it more likely they’ll succumb to an illness.
- Quarantine new animals and plants for a few weeks before adding them to your loach community, and avoid using medications or tap water that contains copper, which is toxic to loaches and scaleless fish like catfish.
- Be very cautious when medicating a loach tank and keep a hospital set-up ready in case you need to remove them to treat the rest of the community.
- Consider investing in a UV sanitizer to reduce the parasites or pathogens floating in your water column.
Ideal Yoyo Loach Set-Up: Supplies and Equipment List
For a group of 5 Yoyo loaches and a variety of other community fish, you’ll need to set up your tank and allow it to fully cycle and mature for a few months before adding your loaches. Here’s a complete list of the supplies and equipment needed for the ideal loach habitat.
To set up your aquarium, you’ll need:
- 110-gallon or larger tank with a stand, cover/hood, and light fixture
- Aquarium gravel, pebbles or smooth rocks
- Canister or HOB filter
- Heater and temperature gauge
- Airstone or bubbling device with air pump and plastic tubing
- Variety of live plants
- Decor including rocks, slate and boulders
Additional equipment that may be useful includes:
- UV sanitizer
- Plant fertilizer tabs and/or liquid fertilizers
- CO2 diffuser or injection system
To feed your loaches and care for your aquarium, look for:
- Sinking catfish or bottom feeder pellets, algae wafers or spirulina pellets, fresh/frozen/dried brine shrimp, Daphnia eggs, mosquito larvae and bloodworms
- Gravel vacuum, hoses and a bucket for maintenance
- Replacement filter media
- Water conditioner
- Water testing kit (pH, ammonia, nitrate/nitrite)
Yoyo loaches are an excellent choice for bigger, mature planted communities and fish keepers with experience caring for sensitive scaleless fish. What do you think of these bouncy bottom feeders? Share your thoughts below, or check out the bigger Tankarium community on social media!