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Sorting through the “real” gobies (family Gobiidae), their relations and fishes commonly labeled as gobies for small/er systems should be a breeze; as most are small in size and compatible with other life. However, there are some exceptions, particularly where mixing them with fishes and some invertebrates closely occupying the same niches; particularly in crowded conditions.
Here we’ll obviously skip the too large and agonistic species/groups, as well as the more brackish and totally freshwater gobies. We will include the not-too distantly related Dartfishes (Family Microdesmidae) as they’re often labeled “dart gobies”. Similarly let’s schlep the Mandarin, Psychedelic “Gobies” (Family Callionymidae) along here as well. We will skip a myriad of other goby-such groups as being unsuitable for small volumes. Have no fear however! The “real gobies”, including the delightful shrimp symbionts, Clown/Coral, Neon/Cleaner, Sand-Sifting… gobies and more, are considerable of and by themselves.
Gobiids are found in all aquatic habitats; marine, freshwater, brackish. They comprise the largest family of fishes, with about 212 genera and nearly 2,000 described species, including the world’s smallest fish/invertebrate species. Make no mistake, gobies are an important group worldwide; a dominant element in small-fish bottom fauna on tropical reefs. Laugh if you will at the comical, shy gobies; it is they that will have the last chuckle. Yes, someday (soon) you will plunk down your hard earned cash to buy them.
Most goby species live in, on, or near the bottom and are of small size. One super goby species attains a gargantuan eighteen inches, but almost all his kin are less than four inches in total length maximum. As mentioned, the family Gobiidae contains the world's smallest fishes and vertebrate. Trimmatom nanus of the Indian Ocean females reach a mere 8-10 mm (less than two-fifths of an inch). There are other goby species only slightly larger.
Many of the gobies live in close association with invertebrates such as sponges, shrimps and sea urchins. Regardless of their size, gobies become center pieces of aquariums containing them.
What's A Goby?
The gobies are grouped together on the basis of several hard to discern characters; bones of the head, a family-unique sperm gland... but let me simply state some of the traits that are of use to us as identifiers and keepers of marine life.
Most live in or on the bottom and are aptly adapted for a demersal existence. They are roughly torpedo-cylindrically shaped, and have reduced lateral line systems coupled with enhanced vision. Generally gobies lack swim-bladders and display degrees of fusion of their pelvic fins that are located anteriorly under their pectorals and used as a sort of suction disc to help them stay in place.
In case you're asked, gobies can be readily distinguished from the
numerous fellow bottom-dwelling blennies on the basis of dorsal finnage.
Most gobies have two distinct top fins; Blennioids have a single long
Key Species, Groups of True Gobies, Family Gobiidae:
Genus Coryphopterus: 23 nominal species; sand dwellers and all small system useful
Genus Eviota: Small and often beautiful. Thirty five described species, with many more to go. Used widely in the trade/hobby in W. Europe
Genus Fusigobius: 10 valid species; one found in the trade
Clown or Coral Gobies; Genus Gobiodon. Thirteen species
I must mention these tiny chubsters; they've got to be close to the best fishes for reef and "mixed" aquariums. Though only attaining a miniscule 2 1/2 inches, Gobiodon are huge on color and spunky personality. Due to their noxious body slime no other fish bothers them, and they're happy as proverbial clams with some Acropora or Pocillopora coral to live and feed on or their skeleton and a little live meaty food. Coral gobies should only be housed with non-aggressive feeders such as smaller Cardinals, Seahorses and Pipefishes.
When kept as a small group they readily form pairs and mate. This genus’ members are hermaphrodites, with females turning into males. The female deposits circular bands around a branch of host coral that are immediately fertilized and subsequently guarded by the male. Perhaps owing to their small size, rearing the young has not proved easy.
The Neon or Cleaner Gobies, Genera Gobiosoma (29 species) and Elacatinus (7 species):
Ah, the genera Gobiosoma and Elacatinus, mainly of the western Atlantic. These sparkling black, white, and blue or gold jewels should be as common in marine aquariums as Corydoras catfishes in freshwater tanks; no, more so. Many species are available year round as captive produced and reared; highly preferable over wild-collected specimens.
These slivers of happiness are extremely hardy and of great utility; ideal first fish for the new marine hobbyists as they will pick off parasites and dead tissue from your other fishes.
More Commonly Encountered Cleaner Gobies:
Genus Trimma: More than a hundred described and yet to be scientifically named species
Sifter/Sleeper Gobies, Genus Valenciennea: Fifteen species.
Sand Sifter, aka Sleeper Gobies eagerly accept all kinds of foods and have proven to be quite disease resistant; their only possible downside is their prodigious digging behavior. I specifically have left them out of our consideration here as even the smaller species are too active, need more food than a forty (or less) gallon system can really supply; or put another way, having them calls for more filtration than I think is reasonable in such small volumes. You can/could bury foods… or train your Valenciennea to accept sinking pellets or such; but instead I encourage you to try some of the other genera listed above for this sand-sifting niche if you’re so inclined, and leave this genus for when you have more room.
Shrimp-Goby Symbionts: Some suitable for 20 gal.s… but better in larger; especially with tankmates
Pistol, aka Snapping Shrimps, genus Alpheus, family Alpheidae, really "live-together" with some fishes. Gobies in the genera Amblyeleotris, Cryptocentrus, Ctenogobiops, Istigobius, Stonogobiops and more form mutualistic symbiotic relationships with these crustaceans; the shrimp digging their shared burrow home, the goby keeping a sharp vigil against predators. The shrimps are virtually blind and use their antennae for partner goby communication at all times at the surface.
Partner gobies eat micro-fauna they find near the bottom, the shrimps feed mainly on what they find in their burrowing.
These partner, prawn, shrimp or watchman goby fish/shrimp associations make for fascinating presentations. Successful habitats call for broken rubble and coarse sand of two or more inches depth, or an artificial PVC pipe burrow (See Michael), a single or pair of gobies matched with an appropriate Alpheid. See Fishbase.org re likely matching/naturally symbiont species; though there are many records of “odd-couples” matching up in captivity. Here, due to space, and likely level of interest, we’ll just highlight a smattering of the goby species involved; some of those you’re most likely to find offered singly or paired, with or without their Alpheid symbiont.
Genus Amblyeleotris: twenty three described species.
Genus Cryptocentrus: Twenty two species.
Genus Ctenogobiops: Six species.
Genus Stonogobiops: Five species; more and more common in the pet-fish trade; all gorgeous
Firefishes, Dartfishes, Family Microdesmidae, Subfamily Ptereleotrinae: Not really "True" Gobies, but called Dart Gobies by some.
These fishes are amongst the most distinctive and desired gobies, with their characteristic body shape, bright colors and flicking dorsal fins. There are two top fins, the first sporting six spines, the second with one spiny ray and four or five soft rays. There are four genera of about thirty described species.
Genus Nemateleotris contains the most popular species; unmistakable with their elongated anterior dorsal fin spines and perpetual body angle orientation.
Genus Ptereleotris; the species P. zebra and P. evides are offered worldwide. Live in groups, 40 gal. plus
Often called gobies, the Dragonets are actually part of an adjacent Suborder (the Callionymoidei). The eighteen genera and about 130 species are typified by small gill openings, having broad, depressed heads, scaleless bodies and two dorsal fins... Living on the bottom with a characteristic "scooting" type of locomotion, these fishes can live in ten to tens of gallons depending on the species selected.
Some of the Few Dragonets Seen in the Trade:
Genus Synchiropus: There are others… some beautifully red and black patterned; others blue…
1) Because of their diminutive stature and bottom orientation you have to look closely at these animals before purchasing. They really come in two qualities; sterlingly fit, and dismally doomed.
2) The most common cause of loss of Amblygobius (with jumping out a distant second!) is starvation. Get these fishes in a good "index condition" (round, not sunken in) and feed them continuously. Best with large, established reef systems, a refugium, and plenty of small living items to choose from.
3) Examine the stock carefully for bloody or white markings; tanks with bloodied or dead individuals should be passed on.
4) Check their breathing, it should be regular and not labored; for most species kept 60-90 gill beats per minute.
5) Is the fish looking around, aware of its environment and you? Gobies are heavily predated on; they are never "asleep at the wheel". If the specimens aren't alert, leave them.
Territoriality can be a big problem with some species, individuals. Make and use clear, seal-able containers if you don't have extra tank space to move bullies, bullied.
Predator/prey relations; oh yes, except for the species that have natural bad-tasting slime immunity (a term I just made up), like the coral, clown gobies, this group is like bite-size candy bars; prey for most anything with a big enough mouth will suck them down.
Acclimation; maybe just a general note to place all the "colony" type species individuals all at once to reduce the likelihood and intensity of aggression.
Gobioids for the most part are relatively disease resistant, with the exception of common starvation and one general class of disease, environmental. Though they have cycloid or ctenoid scales, they have about the same intolerance of harsh chemical treatments as "naked" fishes. Many more are bumped off from copper, malachite and formalin- containing medicants than from the infectious diseases they're used against.
Gobies In General:
Baensch, Hans A. & Helmut Debelius. 1994. Marine Atlas, vol.1. MERGUS, Germany.
Brown, Stanley. 1996. Gobies. V.4, #1 96 The J. of Maquaculture, The Breeder's Registry.
Burgess, Warren E. 1975. Salts from the seven seas; gobies. TFH 2/75.
Burgess, Warren E., Herbert R. Axelrod & Raymond E. Hunziker. 1990. Atlas of Aquarium Fishes, vol. 1, Marine Fishes. T.F.H. Publ., NJ.
Colin, Patrick. 1975. The green band goby (Gobiosoma). Aquarium Digest International 3:3, 75.
Damian, Sorin. 1993. Breeding behavior of the sand goby, Pomatoschistus (Bubyr) caucasius. FAMA 2/93. Cold water example.
Delbeek, Charles & Scott W. Michael. 1993. The substrate sifting Gobies: Fishes that earn their keep. AFM 5/93.
Fenner, Bob. 1999. Gobies. Notes for the new saltwater hobbyist. FAMA 9/99.
Hunziker, Raymond E. 1985. Gobies for freshwater and brackish aquaria. TFH 12/85.
Nelson, Joseph S. 1994. fishes of the World, 3rd ed. John Wiley& Sons, NY. For systematic reviews.
Coral Gobies, Genus Gobiodon
Debelius, Helmut. 1986. Gobies in the marine aquarium, pt. 3: Coral gobies. Today's Aquarium 1/86.
Esterhaus, Hans. 1995. The citron goby, Gobiodon citrinus. TFH 12/95.
Dart- Firefishes, Subfamily Ptereleotrinae
Burgess, Warren E. 1980. The genus Nemateleotris. TFH 6/80.
Carlson, Bruce A. 1982. Nemateleotris magnifica Fowler 1938. FAMA 1/82.
Debelius, Helmut. 1986. Gobies in the marine aquarium, pt 2.: Fire gobies. Today's Aquarium 3/86.
Pyle, Richard L. 1989. Helfrich's Dartfish, Nemateleotris helfrichi Randall & Allen.
Algosaibi, Farouk A. 1983. Spawning mandarin fish, Synchiropus splendidus (Herre). FAMA 5/83.
Bartelme, Terry D. 2001. Caring for a Mandarin. FAMA 6 & 11/01.
Carlson, Bruce A. 1983. The mandarin fish Synchiropus splendidus (Herre). FAMA 2/83.
Cuttriss, Alastair M. 2001. The Mandarin dragonet. FAMA 4/01.
Debelius, Helmut. 1987. Mandarin dragonets in the marine aquarium; spawning at night. Today's Aquarium-Aquarium Heute 1/87.
Delbeek, J. Charles. 1989. The mandarin fish: Synchiropus spendidus (Herre). SeaScope Fall 89.
Kurtz, Jeff. 2000. Synchiropus: Dragonets with style. FAMA 5/00.
Lang, Tom. 1998. Care and feeding of the Mandarinfish (Synchiropus splendidus). Aquarium Frontiers 1/98.
Mayland, Hans J. 1975. The Mandarin. Marine Aquarist 6:3/75.
Michael, Scott W. 2000. The dragonets. Beautiful, but not for everyone. AFM 9/00.
Michael, Scott W. 2001. The very common problem of feeding mandarin dragonets. AFM 11/01.
Sprung, Julian. 1994. "Reef Notes". FAMA 8/94.
Stratton, Richard F. 1998. Secrets of the exotic mandarinfish. TFH 3/98.