Panda loach, Protomyzon pachychilus

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Not as rare as its bamboo-munching namesake maybe — but as Emma Turner explains, this beautiful little loach from China is a rare enough import to make it a three-figure purchase.

Scientific name: Protomyzon pachychilus (Chen, 1980).

Common name: Panda loach

Origin: Small mountain brooks, up to 885m/2,900’ above sea level, flowing into the Xi Jiang river in the Dayaoshan mountains of Guangxi Province, China.

Size: 6.5cm/2.6”

Diet: In the wild, these bottom dwellers feed mainly on tiny benthic invertebrates. In the aquarium, they will eat most foods offered if of an appropriate small size.

Offer a good variety of fare, such as mini bloodworm, baby brineshrimp and Daphnia, as well as small sinking catfish pellets, crushed flake and even powdered fry foods if your specimens are really tiny.

Water: Freshwater. Hard, alkaline conditions are best; pH 7.2-8.2, with a general hardness of up to 25°DH.

Temperature should be in the sub-tropical range of 18-22°C/64-72°F. Highly oxygenated water is vital.

Aquarium: The tank should be well matured before adding this species of fish.

A river style set-up is essential, along with decent filtration/water movement and a high level of oxygenation.

Use a substrate of sand or very fine smooth gravel, with small, rounded cobbles and pebbles placed in the path of the flow.

Driftwood is not absolutely necessary. Do not add too much bogwood as this will affect water chemistry, rendering it too soft and acidic for these loaches.

Robust, broad-leaved plants, while not strictly necessary, will make the tank more aesthetically pleasing and they will create further resting places for P. pachychilus which will enjoy gently browsing about on the leaves, seemingly ‘surfing’ in the current.

Lighting may be fairly bright to encourage some natural algae growth and to help simulate the shallow stream conditions they experience in the wild.

You may need to find a way to chill the water to a subtropical temperature, however, during unusually hot summer months.

Other fish normally found alongside P. pachychilus in nature include Erromyzon (formerly Protomyzon) sinensis and Vanmanenia pingchowensis.

Behaviour: Panda loaches are peaceful fish, enjoying their own kind and should be kept in groups of five or more.

The larger the group, the better the chances are of obtaining both sexes — which may lead to spawning opportunities.

Any tank mates should be of similar size and temperament, and which also thrive in fast flowing, cool water.

Description: Juvenile P. pachychilus are very eye-catching, sporting bold black blotches on a creamy-white body.

This pattern changes drastically as the fish mature, breaking up and taking on a much less striking, but still attractive mottled brown/cream appearance. A dark band often forms along the lateral line.

Notes: P. pachychilus is listed as of ‘least concern’ on the IUCN red list of endangered species, but ‘rare’ in the China Red Book of Endangered Animals and ‘vulnerable’ on the China species red list.

The main threats come from habitat degradation, including deterioration of water quality due to pollution, construction of hydropower dams, electro-fishing and seasonal changes such as severe desiccation of some of the waterways.

One population that lives in the Buquanhe river remains inside the protected area of the Dayaoshan National Nature Reserve in China, but other populations living outside are at risk.

Availability: The pictured fish were on sale at Maidenhead Aquatics, Crowland.

Price: As a very rare import, this fish is expensive. Expect to pay upwards of £100 for each fish at 2cm/0.8” and bear in mind they should be kept in groups.