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Tigers of Terror......and their Partners in Crime!

by Emma Turner last modified Feb 08, 2008 09:36 PM
An article detailing how to keep some of the more aggressive botiid species.

Tigers of Terror main header pic



            If you fancy some feisty feature fish for a good sized aquarium, then look no further than the pointy-faced Syncrossus group of loaches, often referred to as the ‘Tiger Botia.’

            They are not suitable for housing as part of a typical calm community, yet, kept in the correct set up, these beautiful loaches will have you mesmerised! Interested already? Then read on…


The Aquarium:


            Here at Loaches Online, we affectionately refer to an aquarium housing Tiger Botia and the like as a ‘Grrr Tank.’ These are loaches with attitude! Due to the relatively large adult size Syncrossus loaches attain, coupled with their fast-swimming nature and territorial behaviour, these fish require space. A 5ft x 2ft x 2ft really would be considered as the bare minimum for adult fish – the more room, the better.

            The substrate should consist of soft sand or smooth small-grained gravel in order to protect the delicate sensory barbels of your loaches. In the wild, these fish like to grub through the substrate in their search for food. Naturally, this search continues in the aquarium, so sharp gravel and rocks (such as lava rock) must be avoided to prevent barbel erosion.

            Now for some very important pieces of advice: First off, as with all botiid loach species, members of the genus Syncrossus require company of their own kind. Five or more of each of your chosen individual species should be considered essential. The loaches will form a natural hierarchy with the dominant fish, known as the ‘Alpha,’ obviously in charge of her/his subordinates. A good sized group is not only more natural, but will help to spread the aggression around so that no individual fish takes the continual brunt of another’s belligerence. In between these bouts of aggression, your Tiger Loaches may appear to be living quite harmoniously together, sometimes even resting/sleeping next to/on top of one another. But you can be sure that the next round of arguing will suddenly arise from somewhere.

            The quarrels are not confined to individuals of the same species either. Interspecific aggression is also very pronounced, and for this reason it is wise to take on board this next piece of advice: that of creating plenty of ‘visual barriers’ within the aquarium.


Getting the Aquascaping Right:


            Having already touched upon the importance of an appropriate substrate, the actual choice and layout of the aquarium décor is well worth taking some time over. Distributed across a wide part of Asia by the vast Mekong River, these loaches are found in clear, swiftly-moving waters, often close to the banks where there is much shelter in the form of roots, fallen trees, rocks/boulders, and in parts, aquatic vegetation. The placement of pieces of bogwood, rocks, and plants within the Tiger Loach aquarium must be carefully thought about. The aim is to create a huge network of hidey-holes and crevices, with a large open swimming space along the front of the tank. Ideally, when creating these refuges, the line of sight to the other shelters will be interrupted with a barrier – another piece of décor – which prevents the aggressor from immediately being able to lay its eyes upon the loach she/he had just taken issue with, and which had swum away. Having at least 2 or 3 shelters per fish also helps to prevent your Tigers from becoming over territorial as each individual cannot constantly monitor multiple hiding spots separated by visual barriers.

            It goes without saying that excellent water quality (preferably soft and slightly acidic) with a decent current should be provided at all times for your Tiger Loaches. A mixed diet consisting of sinking dried foods and meaty frozen foods will serve them well. Adhere to these guidelines and you’ve got yourself a very interesting and lively set-up.


            Below are the details of the most commonly encountered Syncrossus species, all of which may be housed together in groups. Suitable tankmates/dither fish would be medium sized robust members of the Puntius (barb) family which are also most attractive, fast-swimming, can usually stand up for themselves, and enjoy similar conditions.


Banded Tiger Botia – Syncrossus helodes:


Syncrossus helodes


This is the largest-growing member of the group, attaining up to 30cm (12”) TL, and is probably the most aggressive. Syncrossus helodes displays stunning sub-adult colouration, which sadly does tend to fade a little with age. This species may be distinguished from the similar looking S. hymenophysa (see picture below) by the lack of a dorsal spot, and the orientation of the body stripes anterior to the dorsal fin. In S. helodes, the bands that start at the dorsal surface come down at a slant and finish further backwards, towards the rear of the fish. They also sport vertically orientated oval markings confined to the area between the pectoral fins and anus. Populations are located in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam.


Green Tiger Botia – Syncrossus hymenophysa:


Syncrossus hymenophysa


Another good sized species, S. hymenophysa, which is distributed through Borneo, Sumatra, and the Malay Peninsula, attains 25cm (10”) TL. The lack of spotted markings on the flanks, a prominent dorsal blotch, and bands anterior of the dorsal fin orientated so that they begin at the dorsal fin and slant forwards, are all indicative of S. hymenophysa.


Peppered Firetail Botia – Syncrossus berdmorei:


Syncrossus berdmorei


To most, S. berdmorei is by far and away the most eye-catching member of the Tiger Loach group. This highly coloured species also attains 25cm (10”) and retains its glorious appearance into adulthood. Found in India, Thailand, and Myanmar, the only species this one is likely to be confused with, if at all, is S. beauforti, which grows nowhere near as large (see below).


Beaufort’s Tiger Botia – Syncrossus beauforti:


Syncrossus beauforti


This beautiful species is found in the waters of Cambodia, Thailand, and Malaysia, and does not normally grow much larger than 18cm (7”). Unfortunately, it does not seem to be exported quite as often as the aforementioned species, so is well worth looking out for. Juveniles may be mistaken for S. berdmorei, but apart from the difference in adult size, there are other telling differences. S. beauforti tends to become a little drabber as it ages, although it is still an exquisite looking loach. The ‘oval’ and ‘dash’ shaped markings at the front end of the fish are much finer on S. beauforti and are aligned in horizontal rows along the flanks posterior of the dorsal surface. 


The remaining member of this genus – S. reversa – is yet to be exported in any great number, but this situation may well change over the coming months (so I’ve been told).


            There are also 3 members of the Yasuhikotakia genus which are more aggressive than most and are also suitable candidates for the ‘Grrr Tank’ and shown below:

    Other botiid loaches suitable for keeping with Tiger Botia


            All these are far too antagonistic for community set-ups and thrive alongside Tiger Loaches.


            I hope that this article has inspired you to try your hand at keeping these fascinating fish, which tend to live life in the fast lane. Once settled, they are relatively long lived (10 years +) and should reward you with years of entertaining antics. And the clicking, I really should mention the clicking. In the average ‘Grrr Tank’, at times the audible clicking sound emanating from these loaches is very much akin to a Gattling gun!


Emma Turner


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