The Moosehead loach, Somileptus gongota, is one of the weirdest and trickiest loaches available, says Matt Clarke.
Common name: Gongota loach, Moosehead loach, Mooseface loach
Scientific name: Somileptus gongota (Hamilton, 1822)
Origin: This species was originally described from North East Bengal, Bangladesh, by Hamilton under the name Cobitis gongota. According to museum records, it has subsequently been recorded from the Kushiara river in Bangladesh; the Brahmaputra river drainage, Kalimpong Duars and Silguri Terai in India, and the area surrounding the Koshi barrage in Nepal.
Diet: S. gongota is a burrowing, sand-sifting filter-feeder and eats tiny invertebrates found living in the interstices of sandy substrates. This makes it among the trickiest of all loaches to keep, so it isn't a species to be kept by anyone other than the most skilled fishkeeper. Newly-imported fish can lose weight quickly if they cannot be weaned onto frozen Daphnia and brineshrimp. However, according to reports from long-term owners at Loaches Online, some specimens may even take flakes once fully settled.
Water: A cooler water loach. FishBase reports a water temperature of 18-22C/64-72F. There doesn't seem to be published data on water chemistry but Loaches Online claims it's a softwater species.
Size: FishBase quotes a maximum size of 13cm/5". I haven't seen these for years, but those I did see were imported at about 8cm/3" in length.
Aquarium: This is an exceptionally tricky fish to keep, so please don't buy or import it unless you're capable of meeting its demands. According to Rahman's Freshwater Fishes of Bangladesh, it lives in slow-moving streams with a sand, gravel or mud bottom.
I'd recommend keeping a group of these in a spacious, well-matured aquarium furnished with a soft, silver sand substrate. You can add bogwood and water worn rocks, but it's the bottom area that is most important to this fish, as it spends much of its time submerged, like most sand-dwellers. Ensure that there are a couple of inches of sand present to allow adequate burrowing.
Choose tank mates with care, as you'll need to ensure that the food you add for the S. gongota isn't consumed by other bolder fish. Small, peaceful surface dwelling fish ought to pose few problems, but I'd personally leave other loaches out, particularly while the fish is still being weaned onto aquarium foods.
Notes: This fish was until recently referred to as Somileptes gongota, so you may see it sold under that name. It's one of the most unusual loaches around, both in appearance and behaviour and is currently the only known member of the Somileptus genus.
Availability: These aren't that commonly seen, which may not be such a bad thing, given the challenges they present. They're also difficult to ship and frequently die in transit. These were on sale at Wildwoods in Middlesex.
Price: On sale at £18.95.
This article was first published in the February 2008 issue of Practical Fishkeeping magazine.