Take a good look at this creature! It doesn't look like a freshwater fish at all! It looks like a reject from the Star Wars cantina scene! Or maybe it looks like one of those sucker creatures from the classic Star Trek television show! Well, set those phasers to "Stun!" This bizarre looking creature is the freshwater creature known as the Hillstream Loach!
Loaches are probably my personal favorite freshwater critters. Since I first began my interest in the freshwater fish hobby, loaches have always been there. One of the first fish I ever acquired was a dojo loach. From that point on, I was hooked! I actively sought out any and every loach I could find. Amidst all of the cool and comedic loaches, I discovered one of the oddest creatures I had ever seen!
Believe it or not, the first time I ever saw a hillstream loach was in one of those wall to wall discount marts! This odd critter was laying on the bottom of a not so clean tank. In all honesty, it looked like a saltwater sole! It was relatively flat with both of it's eyes on one side. After closer inspection, I noticed another one of these critters stuck on the tank's wall. Then I thought that maybe it wasn't a sole, but instead a type of algae eater. In a way, it was.
The hillstream loach is a small loach that originates in East Malaysia, Borneo and other areas of Asia. This tiny loach lives in very fast moving rivers and swift flowing hill streams, hence the name "hillstream loach." It is because of these swift moving waters that the hillstream loach is often confused with plecos and other "sucker fish." The hillstream loach has just adapted to its environment.
In the swift moving waters the hillstream loach has to be able to "hang on" to rocks or other structures. Unlike the pleco, which developed a sucking mouth to adapt to its habitat, the hillstream loach has transformed its fins into an adhesive organ! Its mouth is located right at the bottom of its body. While the adhesive fins keep the hillstream loach attached to the substrate, its mouth is free for breathing and eating! (Maybe this loach is a science fiction creature after all!)
Another similarity the hillstream loach shares with the pleco is its diet. The hillstream loach is an algae eater. In the wild, the hillstream loach scrapes algae off of the surfaces of rocks and plants. The hillstream loach also dines on tiny invertebrates and other small animals that may get caught in any nooks between the rocks. Usually, the hillstream loach will eat anything it finds it these little nooks.
In the home aquarium, the hillstream loach will also eat the algae off of the tank decorations, including any rocks and plants in the tank. The hillstream loach will also be frequently seen cleaning the aquarium glass. It's during these "cleanings" that you will truly be able to see how weird this loach really is. You will be able to see the loach's underside as it cleans the glass. And, yes, it does resemble one of those sucker creatures from the old Star Trek television show!
If you would like to set up an aquarium for the hillstream loach, you won't need a large tank. Any tank from 10 gallons to 30 gallons would be ideal since this is a tiny loach that only reaches an adult length of 3 to 4 inches. The aquarium will also need a little current, provided by either a power filter or an air stone, which will also give the loach much needed oxygen saturated water. This is so the hillstream loach will feel more at home, and thus be more active. The water should have a neutral pH with a temperature between 66 to 76 degrees. In fact, since the hillstream loach is more or less a cold water fish, it can often live in aquariums without heaters. Some hobbyists even keep the hillstream loach in cool water aquariums and ponds with goldfish!
The hillstream loach is a peaceful fish that shouldn't share a tank with any harassing or aggressive fish. Ideal tank mates can include most other loaches, aside from the harassing skunk loach, red finned cigar sharks, red tail sharks, rainbow sharks, iridescent sharks, goldfish, bettas, barbs and most eels.
In many instances, when you first get your hillstream loach it will be somewhat shy. You can remedy this by purchasing them in groups of three or four. Even after that, the hillstream loach may still prefer to do all of its moving around only after the tank's lights have been turned off or dimmed. However, once the hillstream loach becomes acclimated to its new tank, you should be able to see a lot of this fast swimming critter.
Feeding the hillstream loach is fairly easy. The hillstream loach will readily accept flake foods, sinking wafers, shrimp pellets and blood worms. It's also suggested that to keep the hillstream loach healthy, you should provide some vegetables in its diet. Basically, anything that can sink and settle either onto or between the tank's rocks, the hillstream loach will eat it.
The hillstream loach is not considered to be a good fish for beginners. This is mainly because this loach can often be hard to acclimate to a new tank. This could be because the fish isn't imported as often as other loaches. When they are imported, they may be either ill or stressed out from their trip. In many instances, their acclimation is hindered by the tank itself. Many hobbyists place this loach in a tank that's simply not cool enough. I had two hillstream loaches that I mistakenly purchased at one of those wall to wall discount marts. The loaches were in dirty tanks when I bought them, so they weren't in good health. Needless to say, they died a couple of weeks later. An interesting note about a dead hillstream loach: You will often have to check the hillstream loach very closely to determine if it is still alive. If it is stuck to the aquarium glass and hasn't moved from that spot in a while, it may be dead! When the hillstream loach dies while stuck to the aquarium glass, it will often remain stuck there! You will actually have to pry the fish off of the glass to dispose of it! However, if you can ever get your hillstream loach acclimated to its new tank, the loach will often live for several years.
The hillstream loach is not readily found like most other loaches. In fact, I'm still looking for some more of these creatures! If a pet store has a hillstream loach, you may find it under some different names. The hillstream loach is often called a Butterfly Loach. You may also find this loach listed as the Chinese Butterfly Loach, the Borneo Loach and the name that causes the pleco confusion, the Butterfly Pleco.
While you may find it a little difficult to find this particular loach, this is one freshwater critter that is worth the search! Ask your local pet store if they can order this loach for you. In most instances, they can. And in most cases, the hillstream loach is not very expensive. I have seen this loach for sale anywhere from the unbelievable $1.50 to $6.00. This is a small price to pay for such an odd creature, especially if you are a Trekker or Star Warrior!