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Leptobotia elongata (BLEEKER, 1870)

Imperial Flower Loach

SynonymsTop ↑

Botia elongata Bleeker, 1870; Cobitis variegata Dabry de Thiersant, 1872; Botia citrauratea Nichols, 1925


Order: Cypriniformes Family: Botiidae


Described from and native to middle and upper sections of the Yangtze River (aka Chiang Jiang), China with a similar but unidentified fish being recorded from the Lo River drainage, northern Vietnam by Kottelat (2001).

In the Yangtze its numbers have declined drastically in recent years due to pollution and habitat degradation and it’s been on the China Species Red List since 1998.


Predominantly a riverine loach favouring clear, well-oxygenated, running water with substrates of rocks and gravel. Often present in bedrock and boulder-filled headwater streams but also found in larger, turbid river channels.

As a result of damming and other human interferences it may now inhabit some lakes and reservoirs though is unlikely to be breeding in such environments.

Wild stocks are understood to have declined drastically in recent years due to the aforementioned damming activity plus soil and water erosion, pollution, overfishing, degradation of spawning grounds and blocking of traditional migratory paths.

Though previously considered quite common across its range it’s now rare though there exists no formal legislation for its protection. Myxocyprinus asiaticus inhabits many of the same waters and while wild populations have suffered in a similar way it’s widely farmed for the aquaculture and aquarium industries so is considered less at risk.

Maximum Standard Length

400 – 500 mm.

Aquarium SizeTop ↑

Suitable only for public installations or the very largest private aquaria with minimum base dimensions in excess of 360 ∗ 90 cm. Considering its migratory life history even this may prove insufficient long-term, however.


Should ideally be kept in a set-up designed to resemble a flowing stream with a substrate of variably-sized rocks, gravel and some water-worn boulders.

The tank can be further furnished with driftwood roots and branches arranged to form some shaded spots whilst lengths of PVC piping or similar can be used to provide additional cover.

While the vast majority of plant species will fail to thrive in such surroundings hardy types such as Microsorum, Bolbitis or Anubias spp. can be grown attached to the decor and bright lighting will promote the growth of aufwuchs.

Like many fishes that naturally inhabit running waters it’s intolerant to the accumulation of organic wastes and requires spotless water at all times in order to thrive.

It also does best if there is a high level of dissolved oxygen and a decent level of water movement in the tank so external filters, powerheads, etc., should be employed in order to obtain the desired effect.

As stable water conditions are obligatory for its well-being this fish should never be added to biologically-immature aquaria.

Water Conditions

Temperature: This species is subject to seasonal temperature fluctuations in nature and is active over the range 40 – 84°F/4.4 – 28.9°C, although prolonged exposure to conditions towards the upper or lower extremes is not recommended. Try to maintain a value between 15.5 – 21 °C for long-term care and be aware that in warmer climates a means of chilling the water may be necessary during the summer months.

pH6.5 – 7.5

Hardness90 – 357 ppm


Primarily a benthic predator hunting insects, crustaceans and smaller fishes. Smaller specimens should be offered a varied diet comprising live or frozen bloodworm, Tubifex, chopped shellfish, earthworms and good quality, sinking dried foods.

Larger individuals will take whole prawn/shrimp, mussels, earthworms and chunks of fish such as trout or salmon.

There’s no benefit in feeding live fishes as if bought from an aquarium shop they bring with them the risk of disease and are unlikely to be of any great nutritional value.

Much better would be a home-made, gel-based recipe containing a mixture of fish, shellfish, fresh fruit, vegetables and dried foods. It’s said that a diet high in carotenoids will assist in intensifying the body colouration.

Behaviour and CompatibilityTop ↑

Not outwardly aggressive towards fishes too small too swallow but its predatory nature and adult size naturally restrict the choice of suitable companions.

It’s also a sociable animal forming apparently complex social hierarchies meaning 3-4 specimens should be the minimum purchase which with fish of this size further limits the potential for tankmates.

In enormous aquaria larger, riverine cyprinids such as Balantiocheilos melanopterus, Barbonymus, Hampala, Luciosoma and Tor spp. may be possibilities but we know of few private aquarists possessing the facilities required for such a community.

Sexual Dimorphism

Unknown but presumably females will be heavier-bodied once sexually mature.


Has not been accomplished in aquaria but there is at least one Chinese farm producing it via the use of hormones. It’s a migratory, seasonal spawner in nature, behaviour which has been heavily disrupted by dam construction.

NotesTop ↑

This species is rare in the aquarium trade, increasingly so in nature and as a result prohibitively expensive when available.

Given its adult size and probable longevity this is therefore a species for the specialist possessing the necessary time, money and dedication to house it long term.

It’s also known as the ‘royal clown’ loach and this name has subsequently been applied to L. pellegrini, arguably a more suitable aquarium resident with an adult size of 150 – 200 mm. L. pellegrini is also a comparatively slender fish and the head darker in colour than in its relative.

L. elongata is the type species of the genus but according to current thinking there exist 13 members in total, all of which are endemic to China and northern Vietnam. They’re diagnosable by the following shared characters: possession of a simple (non-bifurcated), short sub-ocular spine not extending beyond the posterior edge of the eye; a laterally-compressed body; relatively deep caudal peduncle; pelvic fins reaching origin of anal-fin; anus below base of dorsal-fin and equidistant between pelvic and anal-fin origins.

Modern studies have resulted in various changes to the taxonomy of both the family Botiidae and its constituent genera although Leptobotia has been mostly unaffected.

Botiidae has been widely considered a genetically distinct grouping since Nalbant (2002), having previously been considered a subfamily (Botiinae) of the family Cobitidae. Nalbant also moved some previous members of Botia into the new genus Yasuhikotakia based on a number of morphological characters.

Later Kottelat (2004) made further modifications to the taxonomy, raising Chromobotia for B. macracanthus and confirming that species previously included in the genus Hymenophysa should instead be referred to Syncrossus.

The former alteration was based on colour pattern plus some morphological characters and the latter because Hymenophysa not only represents a spelling mistake (McClelland’s original spelling was Hymenphysa) but is a junior synonym of Botia.

More recently Kottelat (2012) erected the genus Ambastaia to accommodate A.nigrolineata and A. sidthimunki, two former members of both  Botia and Yasuhikotakia.

As a result of these works the family Botiidae is thus divided into two tribes within which Botia appears to be the most basal lineage:

Tribe Leptobotiini – LeptobotiaParabotiaSinibotia.
Tribe Botiini – AmbastaiaBotiaChromobotiaSyncrossusYasuhikotakia.

Phylogenetic studies by Tang et al. (2005) and Šlechtová et al. (2006) have largely confirmed this system to be correct although the latter disagreed with the placement of Sinibotia, finding it to be more closely related to the tribe Botiini.

Ambastaia nigrolineata and A. sidthimunki were found to be more closely-related to both Sinibotia and Syncrossus than Yasuhikotakia, despite being considered members of the latter at the time. Šlechtová et al. also proposed the use of subfamily names under the following system:

Subfamily Leptobotiinae – LeptobotiaParabotia.
Subfamily Botiinae – BotiaChromobotiaSinibotiaSyncrossusYasuhikotakia.

Within these Botia appears to be the basal, i.e., most ancient, lineage and in a more-detailed phylogenetic analysis Šlechtová et al. (2007) confirmed the validity of the family Botiidae with the genera listed above as members rather then being grouped into subfamilies. This more recent, simpler system is the one we currently follow here on SF.

Leptobotia spp. also possess sharp, motile, sub-ocular spines which are normally concealed within a pouch of skin but erected when an individual is stressed, e.g., if removed from the water. Care is therefore necessary as these can become entangled in aquarium nets and those of larger specimens can break human skin.

Botiids are also susceptible to a condition commonly referred to as ‘skinny disease’ and characterised by a loss of weight. This is especially common in newly-imported specimens and is thought to be caused by a species of the flagellate genus Spironucleus.

It’s treatable although the recommended medication varies depending on country. Hobbyists in the UK tend to use the antibiotic Levamisole and those in the United States Fenbendazole (aka Panacur).


  1. Kottelat, M., 2012 - Raffles Bulletin of Zoology Supplement 26: 1-199
    Conspectus cobitidum: an inventory of the loaches of the world (Teleostei: Cypriniformes: Cobitoidei).
  2. Kottelat, M., 2004 - Zootaxa 401: 1-18
    Botia kubotai, a new species of loach (Teleostei: Cobitidae) from the ataran River basin (Myanmar), with comments on botiinae nomenclature and diagnosis of a new genus.
  3. Liang, H., X. Zhang and Y. Liang, 2009 - Environmental Biology of Fishes 85(4): 287-288
    Threatened fishes of the world: Leptobotia elongata (Bleeker, 1870) (Botiidae).
  4. Nalbant, T. T., 2002 - Travaux du Museum d'Histoire Naturelle 'Grigore Antipa' 44: 309-333
    Sixty million years of evolution. Part one: family Botiidae (Pisces: Ostariophysi: Cobitoidea).
  5. Nalbant, T. T., 2004 - Travaux du Museum d'Histoire Naturelle 'Grigore Antipa' 47: 269-277.
    Hymenphysa, Hymenophysa, Syncrossus, Chromobotia and other problems in the systematics of Botiidae. A reply to Maurice Kottelat.
  6. Tang, Q., B. Xiong, X. Yang and H. Liu, 2005 - Hydrobiologia 544(1): 249-258
    Phylogeny of the East Asian botiine loaches (Cypriniformes, Botiidae) inferred from mitochondrial cytochrome b gene sequences.
  7. Šlechtová, V., J. Bohlen, J. Freyhof and P. Ráb, 2006 - Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 39(2): 529-541
    Molecular phylogeny of the Southeast Asian freshwater fish family Botiidae (Teleostei: Cobitoidea) and the origin of polyploidy in their evolution.

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