Butterfly Hillstream Loach – Detailed Guide: Care, Diet, and Breeding

Butterfly Hillstream Loach – Detailed Guide Care, Diet, and Breeding

Chinese butterfly hillstream loach or Beaufortia kweichowensis / Beaufortia Leveretti is a great intermediate fish for freshwater aquariums.

This fish thrives in the aquarium as a peaceful bottom dweller. It is quite active and social with members of its own species.

The main difficulty with Beaufortia species is that they are not really the easiest fish to keep. The fish requires an enclosure with very clean water and high water flow to survive.

Although it is possible for them to adapt to warmer and no-flow waters, the adaption process is long, complicated, and, unfortunately, not guaranteed.

Keep reading for more information on the Chinese hillstream butterfly loach, this guide covers details on its appearance, behavior, feeding habits, care, and lots more.

Quick Notes about Butterfly Hillstream Loach

Name Chinese hillstream butterfly loach
Other Names Butterfly Pleco, Chinese Sucker Fish, Hong Kong Pleco, Stingray Pleco, Butterfly algae eater, and UFO Pleco
Scientific Name Beaufortia kweichowensis, Beaufortia leverreti kweichowensis
Tank size (recommended) 15 gallons (~60 liters)
Keeping Medium-Hard
Breeding Medium-Hard
Size up to 7 cm (~ 3 inches)
Optimal Temperature 18 – 24 °C (65 – 75 °F)
Optimal PH 6.5 – 8.0 
Optimal GH 4 – 12   
Dwellers Bottom
Nitrate Less than 20
Diet Omnivore
Temperament Peaceful
Life span up to 6 years
Color Form From light beige to almost black

Origin and Taxonomy of Butterfly Hillstream Loach

The Chinese hillstream butterfly loach is a species of gastromyzontid loach indigenous to shallow, freshwater streams and rivers in China. The loach was described as Gastromyzon leveretti kweichowensis by P.W. Fang in 1931. Its scientific classification is as follows:

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Cypriniformes
Family: Gastromyzontidae
Genus: Beaufortia
Species: Beaufortia kweichowensis / Beaufortia Leveretti

Chinese hillstream butterfly loach was named after Dr. Lieven F. de Beaufort and the type locality: Kweichow in China.

Note: The Chinese name of the Hillstream “貴州爬岩鰍” (guì zhōu pá yán qīu) literally translates to “The rock-climbing loaches of Guizhou”.

Natural Habitat of Butterfly Hillstream Loach

Butterfly Hillstream Loach – Detailed Guide Care, Diet, and Breeding restingBeaufortia kweichowensis is native to the Xi Jiang River system in Southern China, the major tributary of the great Zhu Jiang (Pearl River).

The type locality of the Chinese hillstream butterfly loach is San-ho Hsien, Kweichow, China in the upper part of the basin, Guizhou Province. Apart from this area, the fish can also be found in Guangxi Autonomous Region and Guangdong Province.

Beaufortia kweichowensis inhabits shallow, fast-flowing hill streams and rivers with highly oxygenated water. In this habitat, one can find substrates composed of smaller rocks, sand, gravel, and lots of boulders.

There are not much aquatic vegetation in the region, and the substrate usually contains submerged leaves.

The presence of oxygen-rich water and sunlight encourages the development of abundant biofilm on surfaces, and this serves as a major food source for the Chinese hillstream butterfly loach.

Description of Butterfly Hillstream Loach

Butterfly Hillstream Loach – Detailed Guide Care, Diet, and Breeding eatingThe Chinese hillstream butterfly loach is typically about 3 inches (7 cm) in length and can live between 5-6 years in captivity.

The fish has a flat belly and yellow-brown body with lots of prominent black spots that give it a beautiful pattern. Do note that body coloration can vary between individuals, with some specimens being visibly lighter or darker than others.

They are also capable of changing body color depending on the background and stress (from light beige to almost black). When Beaufortia species loses its color, the specks become almost invisible.

Beaufortia sp. has a specialized morphology adapted to life in fast-moving waters.

At a close glance, you will notice its horizontally oriented paired fins, the presence of a flattened head and body, and pelvic fins that are fused together. Notably, these features form a powerful suction cup by which the fish can cling firmly to slippery, fouled surfaces in the habitat.

Interesting facts:

According to the study, Beaufortia kweichowensis has 2 suction cups! When the Chinese hillstream butterfly loach remains stationary, the whole body acts as a sucker. However, during locomotion, two suckers can be distinguished:

  1. an anterior sucker bearing the pectoral fins and the head
  2. a posterior sucker bearing the pelvic fins.

A unique adhesive system is so effective that in wet or underwater environments and can resist a normal pulling force up to 1000 times the fish’s weight!

Beaufortia sp. vs Sewellia sp. vs Gastromyzon sp.

There is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding in our hobby. Aquarists (and even pet stores!) often do not see (or do not know) the difference between different types of hillstream loaches.

  Beaufortia sp. Sewellia sp. Gastromyzon sp.
Size almost 2 – 3 inches (5 – 7 cm) 2 – 3 inches (3 – 8 cm) 1.5 – 2.5 inches (4 – 6 cm)
Mouth shape Short Elongated and short Widest
Pectoral and pelvic fins Average Widest Narrowest
Behavior More territorial

Behavior of Butterfly Hillstream Loach

To a large extent, Beaufortia sp. is a peaceful species and will co-exist with a variety of small, docile fish and invertebrates like dwarf shrimp.

The fish lacks the ability to swim vastly in open water, hence it mostly crawls along the substrate and climbs on rocks in the tank.

Since the fish exists in loose aggregations in nature, it is best to obtain a group of 4 to 6 to witness its most interesting behavior. They tend to be a little shy when kept alone or in smaller groups like 2-3.

They will do well with non-aggressive tankmates, and when kept with members of their own species (conspecifics)— they tend to be more active and will exhibit their social personality to the max.

Furthermore, the fish will sometimes defend territories against conspecifics, especially when food is involved. In a bid to secure the prime feeding spot, the alpha (stronger) males will defend these spots against all conspecifics males and similar species by pushing them away.

Additionally, the females are known to dwell together in the quieter areas of the tank with high flow. Interestingly, their presence in male territories is usually tolerated by males.

Note: Even though actual harm never occurs during such bouts, do not take it lightly. The oppressed fish might be afraid to feed which will stress and weaken it even more.

Therefore, it is absolutely crucial to provide plenty of shade and space to reduce the frequency of skirmishes.


  • Social: Yes
  • Schooling: No
  • Active: Yes
  • Peaceful: Yes/Can be a bit territorial

Feeding Butterfly Hillstream Loach

Butterfly Hillstream Loach – Detailed Guide Care, Diet, and Breeding on plantChinese hillstream butterfly loach feeds off benthic algae, biofilm, and microorganisms from solid surfaces in the wild. The fish is a renowned algae grazer, so you would be doing it a huge favor by providing a steady supply of algae for its consumption.

In the aquarium, the fish will accept high-quality dry foods and meaty foods like live or frozen bloodworms and daphnia.

They will also eat:

  • sinking fish pellets, flakes, algae wafers,
  • spirulina,
  • a vegetable matter like blanched spinach, zucchini, cucumbers, kale, mashed peas, etc.

Note: This species may be prone to internal health problems if fed a diet with very high protein content.

The best way to ensure the longevity of your Chinese hillstream butterfly loach is to provide a mature aquarium with lots of algae— growing on rocks and other solid surfaces. So, stop cleaning the algae off the walls.


  • Diet Type: Omnivore
  • Food Preference: Algae
  • Feeding Frequency: Daily

Read more “How to Blanch Сucumbers and Zucchini for Shrimp, Snails and Fish the Right Way”.

Butterfly Hillstream Loach and Feeding Problems

Lots of aquarists complain that these fish can be very picky eaters in the beginning. They often won’t touch commercial foods. Even more, consider yourself lucky if they can eat something other than algae on the walls!


Because most (almost all of them) of Hillstream loaches are wild-caught. Obviously, they do not have flakes and wafers there.

Therefore, feeding them algae wafers or even blanched vegetables, will not be a guarantee they eat them. As a result, they might starve to death in captivity.

To avoid this problem, you have to grow algae for them and the easiest way to do that is to use rocks in a separate container.

  1. You need some kind of transparent container (large bottle, spare tank, etc.).
  2. Fill it with water. Use the water that comes from water changes.
  3. Put there a lot of small rocks like marble chips and ceramic filter media (The rocks should be clean and aquarium safe, of course).
  4. Leave it under the strongest lighting you can find. Ideally – 24/7.
  5. Use any fertilizer to grow plants in a tank.
  6. Using an airstone will boost algae growth as well.
  7. Once you see that rocks are turning green, take a few a place them in the tank to feed
  8. Return the rocks to the container when they are clean.

At the same time, do not give up and keep training your Hillstream loaches to eat algae wafers and vegetables.

Give them time to learn that this can be a food source for them. For example, break one wafer into several pieces and leave them in their favorite places overnight.

There are some reports that Hillstream loaches really like Repashy Soilent Green (check the price on Amazon).

Tank Requirements and Water Parameters

Tank size:

Despite their small sizes, the minimum tank size for housing one Chinese hillstream butterfly loach is 10 gallons (~40 L). Recommended for 1 fish – 15 gallons (60 liters), while for about 3-4 specimens you will need a 30-gallon tank and above.

Let me clarify.

This is a pretty demanding fish and requires good and stable water quality. Unfortunately, it is difficult to achieve and maintain in nano tanks.  

In addition, they prefer to be kept in groups of 4 – 5 or more specimens. A small tank cannot support their feeding habits.

Note: Also, place a tight-fitting lid since this fish can climb glass.

Related article:

Water Parameters:

Temperature: Chinese hillstream butterfly loaches inhabit natural waters where air temperature seldom drops below 60 °F (15.5 °C).
In the aquarium, the recommended temperature is between the range of 18 °C – 24 °C (65 °F – 75 °F). Higher temperatures can be tolerated for a temporary period with high dissolved oxygen levels present.

pH: The pH level of the aquarium water should be maintained between the values 6.5 – 8.0.

Hardness: Water hardness values should be kept at 4 – 12 GH.


Chinese hillstream butterfly loach is not demanding when it comes to lighting. They can thrive under any lighting conditions.

In the aquarium, lighting should be adapted to the needs of plants and algae in the tank.

So, the presence of medium to high lighting is recommended, the reason being that it facilitates the growth of algae on solid surfaces in the aquarium.

Note: Even though high lighting will significantly increase the growth of algae, I would NOT recommend that if you are new to this hobby! Without understanding how the balance works in the tank, a beginner aquarist is risking to have so many different types of algae that it will turn the tank into a total disaster.

You can read in my article “Advanced Guide to Planted Tank Lighting”.


Even though these fish can be kept in any tank with any substrate, I would still recommend smooth gravel over any other type.

  • Their natural environment is composed of smaller rocks, sand, gravel, and lots of boulders.
  • It is easier to grow algae on them.

Unless you are buying captive-bred (for many generations), we have to provide our fish a setup similar to what they experience in their native habitat.

Avoid coarse gravel. Its sharp edges can injure/scratch the body of the fish as they swim in the lower regions of the tank.

Read more in my article “The Ideal Water Parameters for Fish and Shrimp Keeping”.


The natural habitat of the Chinese hillstream butterfly loach is characterized by the presence of submerged leaf litter, and this may be replicated in an aquarium.

It’s essential to cultivate hardy plants like BucephalandraMicrosorum pteropus (Java fern), and Anubias spp. that can thrive in tanks with very high flow and they do not require any substrate for that!

Aside the roles of aesthetics and provision of hiding spots for relaxation, the leaves of the Anubias provide shade for critters and enough surface where algae can attach for the fish to consume.

You can also find more information on species that can grow without substrate in my article:


Keep in mind that a powerful filtration system needs to be in place to properly aerate the aquarium water and maintain a high level of oxygenation.

Most experienced aquarists recommend going for an over-sized filter to be able to keep the water clean and well-oxygenated.

The fish enjoys water with a strong current and rich oxygenation; external canister filters with spray bars (for surface agitation) may serve for this purpose, otherwise, additional powerheads can be installed to provide adequate flow and oxygenation of the water.

Moreover, you should aim for a total turnover rate of between 10 – 15 times per hour.

Lastly, air stones and other aeration decors can be added to the tank for more oxygenation.

Check my article “Low Oxygen in Aquarium Water”.

Conflicting Information

There is a lot of conflicting information on the Internet regarding this species. Some people believe that the requirements for Hillstream loaches are overly exaggerated.

They will tell you that:

  • Hillstream loaches don’t necessarily need fast-flowing water to thrive.
  • They can tolerate a wide range of temperatures and they will be fine in 75 to 80 F (25 – 27 C).
  • They are pretty good eaters and they are not hard to take care of.

I bet that it sounds familiar!

Well, I will stand my ground here – I do disagree. If you look deeper and take your own research you will find lots of other comments and reports. People say that their Hillstream loaches died in a few days/weeks after shipping when they followed those recommendations.

I am not saying that those people are wrong. Every tank setup is unique and if it works for them, it does not mean that it will work for you

Basic Tank Equipment (links to check the price on Amazon)

Care and Maintenance

Years of combined experience of hobbyists state that Chinese hillstream butterfly loaches are sensitive, and a poor choice for the first inhabitants. In addition, they are very susceptible to tank changes and need extra attention in the first few weeks.

They often do not show any change in behavior, when stressed, right up till they roll over dead.

That is why before introducing them, your tank should be cycled, fully established, and have algae growth for sustenance.

Actually, I would like to stress it out – the main reason they are dying is that they need an established tank!

You can also read my article “Step-by-Step Cycling your Shrimp Aquarium Fishless”.

In order to keep this fish healthy and stress-free always, the aquarium water needs to be very clean, adequately aerated, and well-oxygenated.

It is your duty to ensure that there is a powerful and efficient filter in the aquarium, in addition to other aeration devices to foster water movements, thus boosting the dissolved oxygen levels.

Also, it is worth mentioning that the Chinese hillstream butterfly loach should NOT be added to a biologically immature tank. It will find life difficult in such settings because of its demand for stable water conditions and biofilm to feast on.

Endeavor to carry out weekly water changes of at least one-third of the tank water, the essence of this is to eliminate excess amounts of nitrates from the water.

Furthermore, provide plenty of hiding places using smooth rocks and driftwood. Notably, you should avoid the use of new driftwood since it is capable of leaching tannins into the aquarium water, and this can cause discoloration amongst other problems.

Aged driftwood should be used instead, and be sure to provide ample lighting to encourage the growth of algae on surfaces.

Sexual Differences

sexing Butterfly Hillstream LoachThrough close observation, one can easily notice that the females are broader and possess bulky bodies, and the snout closely connects with the pectoral fins.

Whereas the males are less weighty and the snout is more squarely shaped with the pectoral fins a little bit apart.

Breeding Butterfly Hillstream Loach

Chinese hillstream butterfly loaches are not normally bred in captivity. Some aquarists may have attempted to do so over the years, however, we do not have a breeding protocol yet.

It is assumed Beaufortia spp. are egg scatterers and the eggs hatch where the current takes them.

They release their eggs and milk into the water column. Fertilized eggs then fall down under the gravel where they will develop for a few days and hatch.

The fry is tiny (about 2 mm or 0,08 inches) and stays between gravel most of the time.

Chinese hillstream butterfly loaches do not predate on their babies. However, because they are very small, they may not even notice that. Therefore, it is recommended to keep and raise the fry in a separate tank.

The rearing tank should have the same water parameters, some current, and rich oxygenation.

Note: Be careful with filter intake. It requires an extra pre-filter in the form of a sponge to prevent fry from being sucked in.

The substrate is not needed, this way it will be easier to feed the fry and clean afterward.

Feeding and cleaning – at least 1 time a day. Crush pellets, flakes, and/ or use some powder feeds. It is imperative to have them in a mature tank so they can graze on constantly in order to have good growth and survivability.

Common Problems with Butterfly Hillstream Loach

The Chinese hillstream butterfly loach doesn’t possess scales on its flattened body; this makes it liable to contract infections easily, and they are extremely sensitive to medications used to treat fish diseases.

To be on the safer side, strive to maintain stable water parameters, provide the fish with a good, clean environment, and feed them a well-balanced diet to keep them healthy and stress-free.

Additionally, make sure to clean, disinfect/quarantine any new additions to the aquarium; be it fish, plants, or decorations as these can introduce parasites and diseases into your display tank.

Butterfly Hillstream Loach and Compatible Tankmates

The requirements of the Chinese hillstream butterfly loach greatly limits the choice of suitable tankmates it can be kept with.


To avoid complications and compatibility issues, the fish should be housed in a tank with species that come from similar waterways; these include species such as Barilius, Rasbora, Tetras, Gobies, and catfishes like Glyptothorax, Akysis, and Oreoglanis.

In addition, other hillstream loaches (Sewellia sp., Gastromyzon sp., etc.) can get equally along with Beaufortia sp. however, there might be some territorial conflicts between them.

They are can be paired with fish species like Guppies, Platys, Corydoras catfish, Rasboras, Bristlenose Plecos, Neon tetras, Swordtails, Pygmy CoriesOtocinclus CatfishPanda Garra, etc.


Hillstream butterfly loaches are certainly not predatory fish, so they will not hunt down adult dwarf shrimp. However, they are still omnivores. Therefore, if baby shrimp are tiny and fit in their mouth, there is always a chance that they might snack on them.

Does it happen very often? No, it is not. Lots of aquarists keep dwarf shrimp and hillstream butterfly loaches in the same tank.

Out of all shrimp species, the best neighbors will be Bamboo shrimp and Vampire shrimp as they prefer relatively high water velocity and a coarse substrate (boulder, cobbles, etc.). 


Butterfly Hillstream Loach – Detailed Guide Care, Diet, and Breeding and snailHillstream butterfly loaches are compatible with any freshwater snails. Together they will do a good job in scavenging for food particles, plant matter, and algae along the lower levels of the tank.

Crayfish and Crabs:

Absolutely not! Hillstream butterfly loaches away from most types of crayfish and crabs because of their nippy and aggressive nature.

You can read more about it in my article “Can You Keep Crayfish With Other Fish?”.

In Conclusion

The Chinese hillstream butterfly loach is popularly known as a peaceful, interesting, and hardy aquarium fish. This species is among the several species sold as “hillstream loaches” in local fish stores, it is affordable and makes an excellent addition to mature freshwater aquariums with ample water flow.

Be sure to keep at least a group of 3 specimens and/or up to a maximum of 6 in larger aquariums, this enables them to exhibit active social behavior which the viewers will find highly entertaining.

Since the fish doesn’t tolerate poor water quality so well, try as much as possible to keep the tank water clean and well-oxygenated at all times. Lastly, maintain optimal water conditions and ensure that there is an abundant supply of biofilm, and your fish will live for many years.

2 thoughts on “Butterfly Hillstream Loach – Detailed Guide: Care, Diet, and Breeding

  1. Michael, researching many species and aquarium related topics I have found your website to be the best resource for any topic I have had to look into. Greatly appreciate your work and research you have put behind them.

    1. Hi Mikko,
      Thank you for the kind words 🙂
      I do my best and hope that it will be useful someday for somebody.
      Best regards,

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