By Bob Goemans
Site Supported in Part by:
Ocean Nutrition 

Gobies in My Aquariums

Authored by: Bob Goemans

First printed in TFH, April 2007

The fishes in the Family Gobiidae (gobies) are members of the world’s largest marine fish family, containing 212 genera with almost 2000 species! It’s an unsettled Taxon however that presently contains five subfamilies. The subfamily ‘Oxudercine’ contains mudskippers and other land-dwelling gobies that inhabit mangrove and muddy swamp areas and contains 10 known genera. Another subfamily, ‘Amblyopinae’ generally contains brackish or freshwater species, and also contains 10 genera. A third subfamily, ‘Sicydiinae,’ mainly contains freshwater species, and has 6 genera. ‘Gobionellinae,’ the forth subfamily, is also mainly freshwater and contains the two smallest freshwater fish in the world, Mistichthys luzonensis and Pandaka pygmaea. The fifth subfamily and the most important to marine hobbyists, is ‘Gobiinae,’ containing over 125 genera, and contains the smallest marine fish, Trimmatom nanus, which is only 1 cm in length and inhabits the shallow reefs of the Western Indian Ocean, including the Maldives.

The fishes in these subfamilies occur in both tropical and subtropical zones, with the marine species generally inhabiting shallow coastal waters around and near coral reefs, where they are bottom dwelling creatures feeding on small benthic invertebrates and zooplankton. Almost all in the trade do extremely well in reef aquariums, as they are small, peaceful, and generally feed on a variety of common foodstuffs. And besides being quite inexpensive, they are also quite interesting to watch, however, they are ‘often’ confused with blennies, as they look somewhat similar. So keep in mind that blennies have only one dorsal fin and gobies have two!

If you chose carefully, there are many that will do very well in both fish-only and reef aquariums, and as previously mentioned in preceding articles, I’ve had many different species in many different aquariums. Therefore, I can only mention a few favorites here along with some that should be given some forethought if you’re eyeing them for your aquarium.

Some of my all-time favorites are excellent choices for what are called nano aquariums, which I’ve had several ranging in size from 8 - 30 gallons over the past couple of decades. In fact, some of these aquariums were solely devoted to very small species such as those that fall into the genera Gobiodon and Paragobiodon. These are generally called ‘Coral Gobies’ because they live in and among the branches of different small-polyp-stony (SPS) corals. In fact, their small compressed bodies enable them to fit nicely into the nooks and crannies formed by Acropora or Pocillopora corals.

I’ve often kept the Citron Coral Goby Gobiodon citrinus, which hails from the Indo-West Pacific: Red Sea and southern Japan south to the Great Barrier Reef. It’s generally found on Acropora corals and attains a length of 1.5 inch (3.5 cm). This may seem small, but its actually one of the larger coral gobies! It has a varying body color ranging from light tan to yellow, with blue vertical lines behind the head and horizontally placed along the base of the dorsal and ventral fins.

Another little beauty I’ve had on several occasions is the Yellow Coral Goby G. okinawae, which hails from the Western Pacific: from southern Japan to the Great Barrier Reef and the Marshall Islands in Micronesia. It attains a length of about 1.2 inch (3 cm) and is also found in the shallow reefs among Acropora corals. Another in this genus, the Green Clown/Red Lined/Broad-Barred Coral Goby G. histrio, has also been in many of my reef aquariums, small and large. It hails from the Indo-West Pacific: Red Sea to Samoa, north to southern Japan and south to the Great Barrier Reef. Its also about 1.2 inch (3 cm) and found in the shallow reefs among Acropora corals, and is often misidentified as G. rivulatus, which is similar in looks and size, but its horizontal stripes are squiggly whereas those on the G. histrio are slightly broader and straighter.

Recently, I’ve also had a species in the genus Paragobiodon, P. lacunicolus, the Panda/Black-finned Coral Goby. It hails from the Indo-Pacific: Seychells and Chagos Islands to Line and Tuamoto Islands, north to the Ryukyu and Bonin Islands, and south to Lord Howe Island and throughout Micronesia. It’s also small, 1.2 inch (3 cm) and is only found in the shallow reefs among the branches of Pocillopora damicornis coral. It’s a pretty little fish with a tan body, orange head, and blackish fins, hence the name ‘Panda.”

And only a few weeks before writing this article I’ve added two new species to my nano tank, the Firecracker/Candycane Pygmy Goby, Trimma cana, and the Neon Pygmy Goby Eviota pellucida. The first hails from Western Pacific Ocean: Philippines, Fiji, Marshall Islands, and Palau. It barely reaches an inch (2.5 cm) in the wild and the one I purchased was less than half that size. The second, even smaller in the wild, as it does not reach an inch (2.0 cm), was also quite tiny. Their natural diet consists mainly of zooplankton and both are rarely seen in the trade. For small tanks they make for an interesting addition, but in larger tanks with lots of hiding places, they would rarely be seen! Both appear to be fairing quite well on the supply of small copepods in this aquarium.

All of the above have a temperature range of approximately 70 – 80ºF (21 – 27ºC), require a meaty diet, e.g., finely chopped/grated fish or shrimp flesh, fortified brine shrimp, mysis, black worms and other meaty type frozen foods with two or three feedings per day. And I should note, these small fish are not only ideally suited for nano aquariums, but would also be ‘safe’ (even if not seen too often) in much larger systems as they do not make tasty meals for larger fish as they produce a bad tasting body mucus that turns off most predators. The key work there is ‘most;’ yet I’ve never had one eaten by a larger fish in my bigger reef systems, at least that I know of!

There’s another small, 2 inch (5 cm) goby, Lythrypnus dalli, the Catalina Goby, which I’ve personally collected on trips to Mexico in the cooler winter months in the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California). During summer months, these cool water fish are found in deeper offshore waters, however, during the cooler months they are found quite close to shore, and sometimes in the local tidepools along the shore. It is also found along the central Pacific California coastline where it has a preferred temperature range of 65 - 72ºF (18 – 22ºC). And even though I’ve maintained them in the range of 75 - 78ºF (24 – 26ºC), I’ve found them to become stressed if the temperature exceeded that level and then seek out bottom back areas of the tank. Another collected in this area during all seasons, is the Redheaded Goby Elacatinus puncticulatus, which is quite prolific in this area. In fact, it’s found all the way down to Ecuador. Similar in size, and both of these little gems have a diet no different than those mentioned above.

While I’m on very small gobies that are quite fitting for small environments such as nano aquariums, the Gold Neon Goby Elacatinus evelynae and E. ocaenops, the Blue Neon Goby, are also two of my favorites. Each is no more than a little over an inch (2.5 cm), with the first hailing from Bahamas and the Lesser Antilles to the northern coast of South America, and the second from southern Florida to Texas southward to Belize. Both are ‘cleaners’ as they have well-developed pelvic suckers and are able to hold onto other fish while looking for parasites, which when found are then consumed. In fact, I had a Blue Neon Goby in a fairly large tank that contained a moray eel and it made numerous attempts to clean the eel around the face/mouth areas, however, there may have not been anything tasty there and never stayed too long near its mouth. Besides having the same nutritional needs as those mentioned above, only one species per tank is recommended (unless a very large tank), as are all species mentioned above, as they can be feisty, especially in small aquariums when their companion ‘species’ mate is not of the opposite sex. And one further thing should be mentioned here, as one should not expect to maintain them for many years, as their normal lifespan is quite short, with about two years the average. Therefore, by the time you see them, they are probably halfway through their natural lifespan.

A ‘somewhat’ favorite was the Blackfinned/Blue-spotted Shrimp/Prawn Goby Cryptocentrus pavoninoides, which is found throughout much of the Western Central Pacific. Its a 5.5 inch (14 cm) fish with a large frog-shaped head with a large mouth and is probably often confused with C. cinctus, as it looks quite similar except C. pavoninoides has black spots in the leading dorsal fin. Both are readily available in the trade, and both require a sandy bottom, as they take mouthfuls of sand and filter it through their gill-rakers to extract minute tasty crustaceans. I’ve seen the Prawn Goby in two different color forms, i.e., overall yellow or a brownish-grey color. Its perfectly safe with sessile invertebrates, however, may eat small ornamental shrimp or smaller fish. Requires a meaty diet as noted above.

This species, in fact, became a slight nuisance in my aquarium as its favorite sitting place was under a huge rock arch in the back of my 125-gallon reef aquarium where it would sift through mouthfuls of sand it had gotten from the front of the tank. It became necessary to make a Plexiglas ‘rake’ with a long handle and rake the pile of sand it created every week in the back of the tank, back to various places in the front of the tank. Except for this slight inconvenience, it was an excellent sand shifter, as are both species.

Another favorite sand-sifting goby has been Valenciennea strigata, which is known by several common names, e.g., Yellowheaded Sleeper Goby; Blue Cheek Goby; Blueband Goby; Yellow Faced Glider Goby; and, Pennant Glider. It gets quite large for a goby, e.g., 7 inches (17 cm), and hails from Indo-Pacific Ocean: East Africa to Tuamotu Islands, north to Ryukyu Islands, south to Australia, including Lord Howe Islands, with the more colorful ones coming from Australian waters. They have a temperature range of 72 - 82°F (22 – 28°C) and their natural diet consists mainly of benthic invertebrate. Even though they are a major sand sifter, as is the two above-mentioned species, they will take a wide variety of frozen or flake foods. I’ve found them fairly easy to maintain on small sinking enriched shrimp meal pellets, which, as much as they seemed to like them, did not stop them from sifting sand throughout the aquarium! Unfortunately, no matter how well some are fed, some seem to waste away, which could be a sign of intestinal worms.

Keep in mind these are burrow dwellers and will normally seek protection under low overhanging rocks or burrow underneath rock to form a secure home. In fact, they have actually caused some live rock in my aquariums to tumble, as they were unrelenting when it came to tunneling in a preferred area! Furthermore, they should be housed in aquariums with a sandbed of at least two inches (5 cm) in depth and not housed with aggressive fishes such as groupers, dottybacks, triggerfishes or aggressive angelfishes. Also keep in mind; because of their size and large mouth, they may also eat small fishes such as Neon Gobies!

One other favorite, the Rainford’s Goby Amblygobius rainfordi has been in several of my past aquariums. This very pretty species hails from the Western and Central Pacific and gets to about 2.5 inches (6.5 cm) in the wild. Most specimens are now coming from the Coral Sea, where it’s generally found near the base of corals searching the substrate for tiny tasty crustaceans. It has a very peaceful temperament and is well suited for the reef aquarium, as it will not harm sessile invertebrates. As with the others mentioned above it requires meaty type foods, however, this one should also be offered some ‘greens,’ such as what would be fed herbivores.

In closing, there are ‘many’ different gobies to chose from, and if you desire more information about them, along with their photos, visit my website at and open its Aquarium Library.

Side Bar (Insert)

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Actinopterygii

Order: Perciformes

Subfamiles: Amblyopinae; Gobiindae; Gobionellinae; Oxudercine; and, Sicydiinae

Article List
Site Supported in Part by:
Two Little Fishies