Dwarf Chain Loach – Detailed Guide: Care, Diet, and Breeding

The Dwarf Chain Loach (Botia sidthimunki) – Detailed Guide Care, Diet, and Breeding

Are you tired of the same old fish species commonly found in pet shops? If so, I have a surprise in store for you. Although the Dwarf chain loach (Ambastaia sidthimunki) may not be frequently seen in the trade, it is nevertheless worthwhile to look for.

This small fish is not only cute and adorable, but also curious and relatively easy to care for, making it a great choice for beginners. The Dwarf chain loaches have a preference for neutral to slightly acidic water and warm temperatures, therefore, these fish can be a fantastic addition to many aquarium setups.

In this article, I will delve more deeply into the particulars of this unusual fish species. I will talk about its nutrition, recommended tank configuration, and other crucial care factors.

In 2000, Ambastaia sidthimunki was listed as threatened species. Starting from 2011 and up to the present, this species has been listed as endangered and is accordingly protected by laws that prohibit their capture in the wild (The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species).

The Thai Department of Fisheries is trying to conserve these fish via aquacultural production under the “Rehabilitation of Thai Local Fishes and Aquatic Animals Project”.

Quick Notes about Queen Arabesque L260 Pleco

Name Dwarf Chain Loach
Other Names Dwarf Loach, Dwarf Botia, Chipmunk Botia, “Sid”, Monkey loach, Sid. pygmy loach, Clawn fish, Ladderback loach, Dwarf loach Mekong loaches, or Pla Muh Aree
Scientific Name Ambastaia sidthimunki
Water type Freshwater
Tank size (minimum) 20 gallons (~80 liters)
Keeping Easy-Medium
Breeding Difficult
Size 1.5 – 2 inches (3 – 5.5 cm)
Optimal Temperature 75 – 82°F (24 – 28°С)
Optimal PH 6.5 – 7.5 
Optimal GH 3 – 15 
Dwellers Mid to bottom-dwelling
Nitrate Less than 60
Diet Omnivore
Temperament Peaceful
Life span up to 10 years
Color Form Whitish or pale yellowish with a black midlateral stripe

Taxonomy of Dwarf Chain Loach 

Botia sidthimunki was first described in 1959 by Dr. von W. Klausewitz and was named in honor of Dr. Aree Sidthimunk, a Thai biologist and researcher at the Thai Ministry of Agriculture, Department of Fisheries, who made significant contributions to the study of fishes in Southeast Asia.

In 2004, the ichthyologist Dr. Maurice Kottelat removed this species from the genus Botia which contains most of the common aquarium loaches and assigned it to the new genus Yasuhikotakia erected by Nalbant in 2002, along with the similar-looking species Yasuhikotakia nigrolineata.​

In 2012, sidthimunki loaches have been classified under the Ambastaia genus. The genus name derives from Ambastai (or Ambastus in Latin), the name of a river in a work by the first-century writer Claudius Ptolemy, a Greco-Roman citizen in Egypt who lived ca. AD 90-ca. AD 168. During our time this river has been identified as being the Mae Klong.​

Ambastaia sidthimunki, commonly known as the Dwarf chain loach or the pygmy chain loach, is a small freshwater fish belonging to the family Botiidae. The taxonomy of Ambastaia sidthimunki is as follows:

  • Kingdom: Animalia (animals)
  • Phylum: Chordata (vertebrates)
  • Class: Actinopterygii (ray-finned fishes)
  • Order: Cypriniformes (carps and minnows)
  • Family: Botiidae (loaches)
  • Genus: Ambastaia
  • Species: Ambastaia sidthimunki

Destribution of Dwarf Chain Loach 

The Dwarf Chain Loach (Botia sidthimunki) – Detailed Guide Care, Diet, and Breeding DistributionAmbastaia sidthimunki is a freshwater fish species that is native to the Mae Klong and Chao Phraya river basins in Thailand. These rivers and their tributaries flow through central and western Thailand, with the Chao Phraya river being one of the country’s major rivers.

Note: Due to the fact that this fish species is under threat of extinction in nature, the specific locations where they can be found in the wild are kept secret and protected by the government.

Habitat of Dwarf Chain Loach 

The species inhabits slow-moving streams and small rivers with sandy or gravelly substrates, where it can be found hiding among aquatic vegetation, rocks, and driftwood.

Ambastaia sidthimunki is known to occur at elevations ranging from 100 to 400 meters above sea level.

Description of Dwarf Chain Loach 

The Dwarf Chain Loach (Botia sidthimunki) – Detailed Guide Care, Diet, and BreedingThe Dwarf chain loach is a small freshwater fish species. They typically grow to be around 1.5-2 inches (3-5.5 cm) in length when fully mature.

Distinguishing characteristics:

Shape: These fish have an oblong and compressed body. The dorsal profile is slightly convex and somewhat equal to the ventral profile. Snout is pointed. A two-pointed, erectile spine is in front of the anterior border of the eye, but below the lower border of eye. Eyes do not protrude above the skin.

Color: Generally, the body of the Dwarf chain loach is whitish or pale yellowish on the back and head, lighter on the sides and below. They have two dark brownish bands on each side of the head and the anterior part of the body.

Color patterns: The color pattern of the Dwarf chain loach is unique within Botiidae. In adults, it consists of a whitish-yellowish background with a black midlateral stripe on the flank and another, middorsal stripe, with vertical bars connecting the two stripes and extending on the lower half of the body, a large blackish blotch at the base of the caudal fin. Juvenile fish have a number of narrow bars on the flank, these bars become indistinct with age.

There may be other color pattern components, such as middorsal stripes, black dots, and subdistal fin margins.

Unlike species of Yasuhikotakia, the Dwarf chain loaches do not have the lengthy frontal feature of the anterior margin of the orbit (“spinous fringe”).

Barbels: They have four whiskers at the end of the snout which it uses to sense their surroundings and find food.

Fins: The dorsal fin developed before the ventral fins. All of these fins are relatively small.

If you need a more detailed, comprehensive, and scientific description of this fish species, you can read about it in this research study.

Behavior of Dwarf Chain Loach 


Dwarf Chain Loaches are social fish and should be kept in groups of at least 5-6 individuals. Large groups make them confident. In a group, they will often engage in playful chasing and other social interactions.

They can also be kept with other loaches or fish of a similar size.


Happy and healthy Dwarf chain loaches are peaceful fish. They are not territorial and do not bother other fish and, thus, can be easily recommended for community tanks.

However, when kept alone or in small numbers, they can become stressed and may exhibit aggressive behavior toward other fish. There are some reports describing how these fish have been observed chasing and/or nipping the fins of other fish.

In addition, these small fish, when kept in large groups or after they have acclimated and become familiar with the aquarium environment, can often become quite aggressive eaters. It is important to keep this in mind when choosing other fish species as tank mates.


Dwarf chain loaches are relatively active swimmers and enjoy exploring their surroundings. They enjoy hiding in caves and nooks. They are also known to dart around the tank, when they do it, they tend to move in a straight line and can even bump into other fish.

They also like interacting with other fish and are highly playful.

Placement in Tank:

Despite many sources referring to them as bottom-dwelling fish, it is not entirely accurate.

While it is true that this species of fish is better adapted to this behavior in its natural habitat, in aquariums, you will often see them not only near the bottom but also in the middle of the tank. During feeding, they can be found practically everywhere.


  • Social: Yes
  • Activity: Medium-high
  • Placement: mid to bottom-dwellers
  • Peaceful: Yes
  • Nippers: No (unless stressed)
  • Jumpers: No

Diet of Dwarf Chain Loach 

In the wild, the diet of Dwarf chain loaches generally consists of small crustaceans, insect larvae, and other small aquatic invertebrates. However, it does not mean that they are strictly carnivores.

Dwarf Chain Loaches are omnivorous fish.

In aquariums, they eat absolutely everything, from boiled carrots to any dry food. Actually, this is one of the best things about this species. They are not finicky at all!

Of course, a well-balanced diet (a combination of high-quality flake, pellet, frozen or live food, such as bloodworms, brine shrimp, and daphnia) is always recommended, for example:

Some good examples of commercial foods (links to Amazon):

How Often to Feed Dwarf Chain Loach?

In general, Dwarf chain loaches can be fed once a day, using the «five-minute rule».

However, it’s important to consider their small size and the fact that it’s difficult for them to eat enough in one feeding.

Therefore, feeding them multiple times a day (morning and evening) will be more beneficial for their health. This can help also prevent overfeeding and maintain good water quality in the tank.

Some Feeding Tips:

  • They are diurnal animals, thus these fish should be fed during the day.
  • Be prepared to cut in pieces or grind up some flakes.
  • Make sure it is mostly a protein-based diet.
  • Clean up leftover food to avoid fouling the water.


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

Are Dwarf Chain Loach Plants Safe?

Yes, these fish are completely plant safe. They will not eat any healthy plants in the tank. This specie does not eat living plant material.

Keeping and Caring for Dwarf Chain Loach

Although these fish are not super hardy, they are still very adaptable, therefore, can be recommended even for beginners. As aquarists, we should never test the limits of our pets anyway.

If we want them to be healthy and happy, we need to understand their requirements. In other words, we have to mimic their natural habitat. Stress will significantly reduce their lifespan.

Tank size:

Despite their small size, Dwarf chain loaches require a really large tank, they are not suited for nano tank! These fish love to chase each other, and they can swim at a surprisingly high speed.

In small tanks, you will not see their true behavior and expression in such tanks. Therefore, providing a spacious tank is essential for their well-being.

A group of 5 or 6 requires at least a 20-gallon (80-liter) tank. If there is a choice, long tanks are better than tall tanks.

Water Parameters:

Temperature: Dwarf chain loaches prefer water temperatures ranging between 75 to 82°F (24°C to 28°C).

Some aquarists may be misled into thinking that this species may be kept in an unheated tank because some sources provide a larger range of temperatures that are suitable for this kind of fish (68-86°F or 20-30°C).

This is not totally accurate, though. These websites probably referred to night-day time periods when the temperature temporarily drops or increases.

pH: The ideal pH range for Dwarf Chain Loach is 6.5 to 7.5.

Hardness: The recommended general hardness (GH) range for these fish is 3 to 15 dGH. The recommended carbonate hardness (KH) range is 2 to 10 dKH.

Ammonia, Nitrite, Nitrate: It is important to maintain the ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels at 0 ppm, 0 ppm, and below 60 ppm, respectively.


Ideally, Dwarf chain loaches prefer subdued lighting.

However, if you decide to keep these fish in planted tanks, lighting should be adapted to the needs of plants.

Related article:

Water Flow:

In the natural ecosystem, Dwarf chain loaches inhabit shallow streams and rivers where the current is slow or relatively moderate. They do like to swim in it.

Of course, it is absolutely possible to keep these fish in an aquarium without a current, it will not significantly affect them too much. However, it is still advised to create a current if you want to offer the ideal conditions.


Aeration and water flow often go hand in hand.

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 as well. The fish enjoys water with a rich oxygenation

Air stones and other aeration decors can be added to the tank for more oxygenation.

Related article:


Dwarf chain loaches spend lots of time close to the substrate, so it is important to provide them with a substrate that will not harm them (such as sand or smooth gravel).

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

Keep in mind that sometimes Dwarf chain loaches may even burrow in soft substrate.

Decorations and Hiding Places:

Dwarf Chain Loaches favor locations with lots of caverns and driftwood as hiding places.

Ideally, even driftwood should have tunnels and crevices. You will often see them play and chase each other through such tunnels.

Related article:


Before putting Dwarf chain loaches into the tank, you need to at least temperature acclimate them.

Give them time to acclimatize before adding to the tank. Do not rush the process! Sudden changes in habitat can harm them.

Related article:

Breeding Dwarf Chain Loaches

Unfortunately, breeding Ambastaia sidthimunki in home aquariums is almost impossible.

Currently, this species is artificially propagated through hormonal injection to induce ovulation in mature females before insemination.

It is only known that the incubation period for fertilized eggs to hatch is around 14-15 hours at a temperature range of 79-84°F (26-29°C), and the total length of newly hatched larvae is approximately 0.01 inches (2.40 mm).

Some aquarists have also reported signs of probable pre-spawning behavior in established large groups, indicating that this behavior often occurs during a change in atmospheric pressure and large water change. In their normal state, Dwarf chain loaches are colored darker, but during mating, they fade quite a bit, especially the female.

At the moment, only one successful case of breeding fish in a home aquarium has been fairly well-documented by Mark Duffill. This occurred in 2007, and you can read more about it here.


When choosing tankmates for Dwarf chain loaches, it is important to consider their size and behavior, size, and compatibility with other species in the aquarium. For example, if you have territorial fish that like to assert control over the aquarium’s bottom (let’s say Pelvicachromis pulcher), it’s best to avoid keeping Dwarf chain loaches fish with them.


Its tank mates should be all small fish species that are not big enough to eat or harass them such as Pygmy Cory, Boraras, Panda GarraClown Killifish, Least Killifish, Ghost Glass Catfish, Guppies, Peacock Gudgeon, Harlequin Rasboras, Sparkling Gourami, OtocinclusEndlersetc.

At the same time, you need to keep in mind that if kept in large groups, Dwarf chain loaches can become overly boisterous, resulting in some species going hungry.


It is absolutely not advised to keep Dwarf chain loaches with dwarf shrimp since they are quite likely to feed on shrimplets and young shrimp.

Although they typically leave adult shrimp alone, during the molting process, even fully-grown shrimp can be eaten.

In any event, it’s likely that your shrimp population will drastically decrease over time. It is recommended to use larger species, such as Amano shrimp, which are less likely to become prey if you wish to keep these fish with shrimp.


Dwarf chain loaches eat freshwater snails. Just like small crustaceans, snails are also a part of their diet in nature.

Of course, it should not be expected that these small fish will only hunt for snails, but it is still a possibility. Some aquarium enthusiasts have reported from their experience that in some cases, these fish do not bother the snails.

Personally, I believe this is possible, but it is more likely due to their feeding schedule being so good that their fish are always well-fed and content.

It is also important to note that these fish can fit into snail shells almost precisely due to the design of their heads. These fish have even climbed into the shell in some instances but were unable to escape because they needed to turn around because they are unable to move backward.


Related article:

In Conclusion

Overall, Dwarf Chain Loaches are a fascinating species of fish that are well-suited for community tanks. They are peaceful, social, and active fish that enjoy exploring their surroundings and interacting with other fish and their owners.

As long as they are kept in groups and provided with plenty of hiding places, they are relatively easy to care for and can make a great addition to any tank.


  1. MONKOLPRASIT, SUPAP, SUEBSIN SONTIRAT, and PRACHIT WONGRAT. “Additional Descriptive Material on Botia sidthimunki Klausewith, 1959 from Thailand (Pisces, Cobitidae).” Agriculture and Natural Resources7, no. 1 (1973): 30-31.
  2. Panprommin, N. “Extraction of hormones Human Chrorionic Gonadotropin (hCG) stimulates ovulation of the broodstock Clawn loach, Botia sidthimunki Klausewitz (1959).” In Proceedings of the 49th Kasetsart University Annual Conference, Kasetsart University, Thailand, 1-4 February, 2011. Volume 3. Subject: Fisheries, pp. 159-168. Kasetsart University, 2011.
  3. Klausewitz, W. 1959. Botia sidthimunki, eine neue Schmerle aus Thailand (Pisces, Cobitidae). Senckenbergiana Biol., Frankfurt am Main, 40 (1-2): 51-53, figs. 1-3.
  4. Rainboth, W.J., 1996. Fishes of the Cambodian Mekong. FAO species identification field guide for fishery purposes. FAO, Rome, 265 p.
  5. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

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