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Related FAQs: Dartfishes, Dartfish 2, Dartfish Identification, Dartfish Behavior, Dartfish Compatibility, Dartfish Selection, Dartfish Systems, Dartfish Feeding, Dartfish Disease, Dartfish Reproduction,

Related Articles: CA: Family Microdesmidae, the Worm- and Dartfishes by Robert Fenner and Anthony Calfo, Gobioids in General

/The Conscientious Marine Aquarist

Firefishes, Dartfishes, Wormfishes, Family Microdesmidae, Subfamily Ptereleotrinae

 Bob Fenner

Nemateleotris magnicifica, Fiji

Nemateleotris decora

Ptereleotris evides

Nemateleotris magnicifica

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 Gunnellichthys: Wormfishes

Gunnellichthys curiosus C.E. Dawson 1968. The Curious Wormfish. Indo-Mid-Pacific. To 12 cm., 4.7 inches in length. Bali 2014

The genus Nemateleotris contains the most popular species, the orange-red N. magnifica is "the" Firefish to many. Two other deeper water congeners are seen occasionally, the lilac and red N. decora, and yellow-faced N. helfrichi. Nemateleotris are unmistakable with their elongated anterior dorsal fin spines and perpetual body angle orientation.

Nemateleotris decora Randall & Allen 1973, the Elegant Firefish. Indo-Pacific in distribution, Mauritius to Micronesia. To three and  a half inches in length. Aquarium.


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Nemateleotris helfrichi Randall & Allen 1973, Helfrich's Dartfish. Western Pacific to the Tuamotus. To three and a half inches in length. Anthony Calfo & RMF aquarium pix.


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Nemateleotris magnifica Fowler 1938, the Fire Goby. Indo-Pacific, eastern African coast to Hawai'i. To three and a half inches long. The most popular aquarium species. One in a typical pose in the Maldives... ready to dart back into its hole in the substrate, another single shot (almost always found in pairs) and a couple together in S. Sulawesi. http://fishbase.sinica.edu.tw/Summary/speciesSummary.php?ID=6629&genusname =Nemateleotris& speciesname=magnifica
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Closely related (in the same subfamily) are the gudgeons and gobies of the genus Ptereleotris; the species P. zebra and P. evides are offered worldwide.

Ptereleotris evides Jordan & Hubbs 1925, the Blackfin Dartfish. Indo-Pacific, Red Sea, eastern African coast to the Society Islands. To nearly six inches in length. Unusual for tending to swim away from divers rather than dart into burrows. One photographed in the Red Sea, another in N. Sulawesi.

Ptereleotris hannae (Jordan & Snyder 1901), the Blue Hana Goby. Central Western Pacific; Philippines to Australia. To 12 cm. Aquarium photo. 

Ptereleotris heteroptera (Bleeker 1855), the Blacktail Goby. Indo-Pacific, Red Sea to Marquesas. To five and a half inches in length. Rarely seen in the pet-fish trade, but wanted to add as a place marker to mention there are many other possibilities in this family (49 described species). An individual in S. Sulawesi and a pair in the Maldives. http://fishbase.sinica.edu.tw/Summary/species Summary.php?ID=4378&genusname= Ptereleotris&speciesname=heteroptera


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Ptereleotris zebra (Fowler 1938), the Chinese Zebra Goby. Indo-Pacific, Red Sea to Marquesas. To a bit over four inches in length. Found in groups in the wild. Below two in captivity, and a small group in Nuka Hiva, Marquesas, Polynesia, about to dive into their rocky cave abode. 
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Important notes regarding the Fire- or Dartfishes include provision of a sand and rubble patch for their burrowing, and a decent current in which they like to orient themselves. Though some folks keep them as individuals, and I have seen them as solitary around the Indo-Pacific, most should be kept in pairs to small aggregation (a few to a dozen) if put into a large enough system (twenty gallons per) all at once, and watched.

In the wild these fishes feed throughout the day on planktonic crustaceans mainly copepods. In captivity they eagerly accept all kinds of foods.

The subfamily's members make excellent aquarium inhabitants for reef and peaceful all-fish set-ups.

Bibliography/Further Reading:

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.

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