Burmese Border Loach – Schistura mahnertiKottelat

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Often confused with Schistura subfusca, which is not found in the same river as S. mahnerti, the Burmese Border Loach has a light gray to silvery background color and up to 17 darker vertical bars, the anterior ones being vertically split.

Scientific Name: Schistura mahnerti Kottellat; Family – Balitoridae (subfamily Nemacheilinae); Order – Cypriniformes
Synonyms: None
Common Names: Burmese Border Loach, Burmese Border Sand Loach, Red-tailed Sand Loach
Region: Southeastern Asia, Salween River basin in Thailand.
Maximum Size: about 6.4cm (2.5 inches).
pH Range and Hardness: tolerant of a wide range of pH and hardness. Typically its home waters are slightly acidic (pH 6 – 6.9) and soft (GH of 2 – 9 dH).
Temperature Range: prefers well-oxygenated water; will do well in water from 76 – 84 degrees F.

Recently described (1990) by Maurice Kottelat, the Burmese Border Loach occasionally appears in pet stores, frequently mixed in with other assorted loaches.

Habitat and Niche

The Salween River, which orginates on the eastern slopes of the Himalayas, forms the border between Thailand and Myanmar ( formerly Burma). It is home to dozens of loach species including S. mahnerti. Habitats range from slow-flowing pools to rapids and the shoreline is frequently heavily vegetated. Substrate ranges from fine sand to water-worn rocks. Numerous species of Cryptocoryne are found growning submersed and emersed throughout this area.

Stomach content analysis of Schistura mahnerti shows that this fish feeds on insect larvae.


Often confused with Schistura subfusca, which is not found in the same river as S. mahnerti, the Burmese Border Loach has a light gray to silvery background color and up to 17 darker vertical bars, the anterior ones being vertically split. The tail is frequently red, especially in adults. Color can vary greatly according to mood.

There are no obvious external differences between male and female Burmese Border Loaches.

Breeding Burmese Border Loaches

At this time there are no records of Schistura mahnerti being bred in captivity.

Personal Experiences With Burmese Border Loaches

I saw my first Schistura mahnerti mixed in with a tank full of Chinese Algae Eaters (Gyrinocheilus aymonieri) at a local pet store. Since it was obviously something ‘different’ and because I immediately recognized that it was some sort of loach, I purchased it. It went into my 26 gallon tank which, at the time, was populated by 3 Blue Gouramis (Trichogaster trichopterus), 6 Tiger Barbs (Capoeta tetrazona) and 3 Yo-Yo Loaches (Botia almorhae).

The Border Loach immediately took over the entire bottom of the tank as its territory. While not actively pursuing any of the other fish, the little loach would chase any fish in its immediate vicinity. He booted the Yo-Yo Loaches out of their cave and took it over, vigorously defending it against all comers. Eventually he became less of a monster and soon could be found chumming along with the Yo-Yo Loaches on occasion. He did not seem to share their susceptibility to ‘Ich’ (Ichthyophthurius multifilis) and survived a bout of that parasite that killed two of the Yo-Yo loaches without ever showing even a spot or doing any ‘flashing’.

My local fish store finally got in a small shipment of Burmese Border Loaches but ALL of them were severely infested with ‘Ich’. Obviously then Schistura mahnerti is susceptible to ‘Ich’ and I can only assume that my fish didn’t exhibit any symptoms because it was in very good condition.

The second shipment of Burmese Border Loaches at the fish store was in much better shape so I purchased the two largest individuals and took them home. It was immediately apparent that, unlike loaches of the Botia genus, Schistura mahnerti is NOT a social fish by any stretch of the imagination. The original loach absolutely terrorized the new additions, chasing them all over the aquarium relentlessly (without, however, doing any physical damage). It took weeks for the three Burmese Border Loaches to straighten out the territorial arrangments and the dominant (original) fish still chases the other two whenever they blunder into his way.

My Schistura mahnerti eat practially anything. Favorites seem to be frozen bloodworms, live brine shrimp, and Hikari algae wafers. They also take flake food, frozen Daphnia, frozen Tubifex worms and frozen brine shrimp. I have even watched them attempt to unsuccessfully snare a ghost shrimp. They are active feeders during the day as well as at night.

The Burmese Border Loach will make a fine, if somewhat pugnacious, addition to any community aquarium as long as space is available for them to set up territories if you get more than one. They are active and interesting fish. I highly recommend them if you can find them.


Kottelat, M., 1990 Indochinese nemacheilines. A revision of nemacheiline loaches (Pisces: Cypriniformes) of Thailand, Burma, Laos, Cambodia and southern Viet Nam. Verlag Dr. Friedrich Pfeil, München, Germany. 262 p.

Chavalit Vidthayanon, 2003. Schistura pridii, a new nemacheiline loach (Teleosei : Balitoridae) from Upper Chao Phraya drainage, northern Thailand. Ichthyol. Explor. Freshwaters, Vol. 14, Number 4, pages 307-310. Available on-line as a pdf file at http://www.pfeil-verlag.de/04biol/pdf/ief14_4_03.pdf

Article on Schistura mahnerti at Fishbase.org. http://www.fishbase.org/Summary/SpeciesSummary.cfm?genusname=Schistura&speciesname=mahnerti

Schistura mahnerti at http://www.loaches.com/species_pages/schistura_mahnerti.html

NOTE: There is a likelihood that the loaches that are coming into the U.S. as Schistura mahnerti are actually a similar loach known as Schistura vinciguerre. Provisionally I will leave this loach profile as it is with the understanding that the scientific name may be more accurately represented as Schistura sp.aff. vinciguerre.

Edited 7/16/04 to reflect possible change in scientific name. See the note above.
Last update: 2006-02-06 10:32
Author: Fruitbat

Filed under Fish Profiles, Freshwater.