Please visit our Sponsors

Related FAQs: Fresh and Brackish Gobioids, Marine Gobies & their RelativesMudskippers,

Related Articles: Gobies and Sleepers: The Low-Down On These Quirky Bottom-Dwellers by Neale Monks Gobioids en totoMarine Sleepers/Eleotrids, Brackish Water FishesMudskippers,

/The Conscientious Brackish Water Aquarist

Fresh to Brackish Water Gobioids 


By Bob Fenner


Like the hundreds of species of Gobies and Goby-like fishes found in marine environments, the fresh and brackish gobioids are demersal (bottom dwelling), retiring versus outgoing, generally lack a gas-bladder (no need sitting on the bottom)  sharing other internal structural similarities as adaptations to a mostly sedentary existence. See the above link to the Gobioids en toto for a rundown on this super-groups taxonomy.

Suborder Gobioidei; Eight families, about 268 genera, 2100 species (many more to be described). A listing here just of families with fresh to brackish water members.

Family Eleotridae , Sleepers. Marine, fresh and brackish water species. Have separated pelvic fins (no sucking disc). Mouths never sub-terminal. To two feet in length! Approximately 35 genera, 150 species.

Dormitator maculatus (Bloch 1792), the Fat Sleeper. Found in the Americas, from North Carolina to Southeastern Brazil. Marshes to brackish pools. To more than two feet overall length in the wild. Predatory; best kept with aggressive fishes. Temp. 22-24 C. Aquarium image.  

Hypseleotris compressa (Krefft 1864), the Empire Gudgeon. Australia and South-central New Guinea. To four inches in length. In the wild feeds on larval insects, small crustaceans. Shown: one inch aquarium specimen.

Oxyeleotris lineolatus (Steindachner 1867), the Sleepy Cod. Oceania; Australia and central-south New Guinea. To sixteen inches in length. Temp. 20-28 C. Eats insects, crustaceans, fishes in the wild... most everything, everyone in captivity.


Family Gobiidae; Gobies. Mostly marine, but some fresh, brackish species. Four families, of about 212 genera, 1900 and counting species. 


Awaous flavus (Valenciennes 1837), FW to brackish. S. American. To 8.2 cm. Photo by Neale Monks. http://fishbase.org/Summary/speciesSummary.php?ID=47844&genusname=Awaous&speciesname=flavus


Rhinogobius nagoyae formosanus Oshima 1919, FW, amphidromous. Asia; ROC and China. To 4.9 cm. Photo by Neale Monks.


Stigmatogobius sadanundio (Hamilton 1822), the Knight Goby. Asia: from India, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. To three and three fifths inch in length. Conds.: freshwater to brackish, pH 7-8, dH 9-19. temp. 20-26 C.  http://fishbase.org/Summary/speciesSummary.php?ID=25119&genusname=Stigmatogobius&speciesname=sadanundio

From Neale: "Stiphodon sp. "Gold Spot". Small, algae/aufwuchs-eating freshwater gobies with a marine larval stages. Rheophillic, and short-lived if kept in warm, stagnant conditions. In aquaria they can be difficult to feed, and need green algae plus suitable small invertebrates."

Bigger PIX:
The images in this table are linked to large (desktop size) copies. Click on "framed" images to go to the larger size.

Subfamily Amblyopinae; worldwide assemblage of gobiid fishes found off estuaries and in rivers. For aquarists, includes the "Violet Goby", aka "Dragon Eel", Gobiodies broussoneneti.


Gobioides broussonenti Lacepede 1800, the Dragon Eel/Goby, Violet Goby (3). Western Atlantic, Carolinas to Brazil, Gulf of Mexico. To twenty inches in length (largest Caribbean Goby). A difficult fish to keep due to its feeding strategy of filtering planktonic organisms. 

Subfamily Ocudercinae; Mudskippers. Live in Mangrove swamps, mudflats from Africa east to Samoa. Ten genera (e.g. Apocryptes, Boleophthalmus, Brachamblyopus, Gobioides, Taeniodes, Trypacuchen), about 34 species. 

Subfamily Gobionellinae. 56 genera, many freshwater species. Including amongst the most popular brackish aquarium species, the tiny, gentle Bumblebee Gobies (nine species) of the Genera Brachygobius and Hypogymnobius. A few species are offered as "the" Bumble Bee Goby: B. nunus, amongst the others below.


Brachygobius doriae, (Gunther 1868), Bumble Bee Goby. Southeast Asia; Sarawak and Kapuas, Western Borneo. To one and an eighth inches in length. Water Cond.s: temp. 22-29 C. pH 8-8.2, dH 9-19.   
Hypogymnogobius (Brachygobius) xanthozona (Bleeker 1849), Bumble Bee Fish/Goby. Asia; Java, Sumatra, Borneo distribution. To one and a quarter inch in length. Tropical 25-30 C. Folks have a hard time keeping members of this delightful genus on three counts: Too cold water, not regularly feeding them live foods, and not providing at least a teaspoon of salt per ten gallons of their water.

Excerpted from: Five Almost Perfect Fishes; Great fish for the community aquarium, except for one little thing by Neale Monks   

5                     Bumblebee gobies, Brachygobius spp. 

The good:            A colourful character that does great in hard, alkaline water

The bad:              Live or frozen foods -- it won't eat flake! 

These delightful little gobies are among the nicest fish in the hobby. Good specimens have bright yellow bands set against a black background, and really grab your attention despite their size. They aren't all that active, but they are territorial, so while they don't need a huge amount of space you do need to make sure each fish has its own territory. The easiest way to do this is make sure there are plenty of shells or caves in the tank, and the gobies will do the rest. It's quite good fun to watch these fish go about their business: they might seem a bit sleepy, but they defend their homes with remarkable courage! They tend to ignore other fish, and for the most part other fish ignore them; some people have even suggested that their black-and-yellow colours are a warning that they taste bad or are poisonous. Even so, it wouldn't be wise to rely on this to keep them safe from substantially larger predatory fish. 

Anyway, with bumblebee gobies what you get is a peaceful, strikingly coloured little fish that will work nicely in any aquarium with hard water (and preferably a bit of salt added). Whether or not they are strictly speaking brackish water fish is a debateable point. All three of the species commonly sold in tropical fish stores are know to live and breed in completely fresh water, and there is variation within each species, with populations found in estuaries needing salt and the ones found further upstream doing fine in fresh water. Some populations inhabit soft, acidic waters like those favoured by many other Asian freshwater fish, while others can be adapted to live and breed in full-strength seawater! However, most of the bumblebee gobies traded commercially seem to do best in hard, alkaline water with a little salt added. 

Incidentally, the species sold are Brachygobius doriae, Brachygobius nunus, and Brachygobius sabanus. They are collected indiscriminately, so there's no reason to assume a single batch of fish contains just one species. Identifying the gobies you have to species level is extremely difficult; and for the aquarist it is probably pointless since all three require the same water conditions. Goby experts consider the only sure-fire way to name a bumblebee goby is to examine a dead specimen under a microscope -- something few aquarists are going to want to do. Moreover, almost all photographs published in books and on web sites are incorrectly named, so they aren't much help either. About the only certainty is that one species you won't have is Brachygobius xanthozona -- although the name is widely used in the hobby, this goby is so rare that most museums don't even have specimens of it, let alone tropical fish stores! 

Not that what your bumblebee gobies are actually called matters all that much, as the they all have much the same requirements as far as water conditions and feeding go. Which brings us to the prime flaw of these fine little fishes: they won't eat flake. Aquarists like their fish to eat flake and pellet food; for one thing it's inexpensive and convenient, but more importantly in the long run, good quality flake food is carefully prepared to ensure your fish get all the nutrition they need. However, bumblebee gobies just won't eat flake. They might have a bite, but they'll spit it out, and you'll definitely need to make other plans as far as feeding goes. Frozen foods such as bloodworms, lobster eggs, and mosquito larvae are probably the easiest option to take, though live foods are perhaps best. Even assuming your gobies will eat what you're offering, you need to make sure they get a chance to feed. In many community tanks the other fish will eat up all the food before the gobies get a mouthful, so if you want to mix bumblebees with other kinds of fish, choose fish that eat more slowly or ones that don't take food from the substrate (like halfbeaks).

Family Rhyacichthyidae, the Loach Gobies. Freshwater streams of the Indo-Australian Archipelago, Philippines, China, the Solomons. Have depressed heads, compressed tails, underslung mouths that sport a fleshy upper lip; small eyes, widely separated pelvic fins. Use these traits to cope with fast-movng water, fins, body shape, mouth to hold onto hard surfaces... To nearly thirteen inches in length. One genus, Rhyacichthys, with two species.

There are other families containing freshwater, brackish gobioids.


Bibliography/Further Reading:


Brown, Stanley. 1996. Gobies. V.4, #1 96 The J. of Maquaculture, The Breeder's Registry.

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.


Castro, Alfred D. 98. Knight Goby. How to keep 'em and how to breed 'em. AFM 6/98.

Kurtz, Jeff. 2000. The Knight Goby. A good reason to go brackish. TFH 11/00.

Schofield, Diane. 1965. Busy little bees. TFH 1/65

Tomey, William A. 1969. The Grey Pearl of Siam. The Aquarium. 8/69.


Anon. 1982. A Peacock out of paradise. Aquariums Australia 2:3, 82.

Lange, Gary. 2000. Modern masterpiece- The Peacock Gudgeon. A tiny work of art. AFM 6/00.

Rosler, Hans Jurgen. 1997. The care and breeding of Tateurndina ocellicauda. TFH 2/97.

Schreiber, Roland. 1995. The Fiery Sleeper. TFH 9/95.

Tappin, Adrian R. 1998. The Empire Gudgeon. FAMA 1/98.

Walker, Braz. 1970. The Spotted Sleeper. The Aquarium 4/70.

Loach Gobies:

Dingerkus, Guido and Bernard Seret. 1992. Rhyacichthys guilberti, a new species of Loach Goby from Northeastern New Caledonia (Teleostei: Thyacichthyidae). TFH 7/92.


Hansen, Pamela and Jorgen. 1979. The Mudskipper. TFH 7/79.

Lass, David. 2001. Mudskippers. A fish becoming an amphibian. AFM 2/2001.

Lucanus, Oliver. 1998. A fish out of water- Mudskippers. TFH 3/98.

Mancini, Alessandro. 1991. Mudskippers in nature and captivity. TFH 6/91.

McGregor, Glenn. 1999. Mudskippers: like a fish out of water. FAMA 4/99.

Murdy, Edward O. 1986. Mudskippers of Malaysia. The lords of the mudflat.FAMA 11/86.

Norris, T.L. 1984. A community Mudskipper tank. FAMA 9/84.

Ono, Dana R. and Debra Sponder. 1982. Table-top Mudskippers. FAMA 10/82.

Schwartz, Gerd. 1975. The Mudskipper. Aquarium Digest Intl. 3:4, 75.

Sidley, Rodney. 1984. Keeping Mudskippers. FAMA 12/84.

Taylor, Edward C. 1997. Mudskipper environment. Pet Business 11/97.

Volkart, Bill. 1996. Mudskippers: Demanding by rewarding. TFH 5/96.

Violet Goby, Dragon Eel:

Boruchowitz, David. 2001. A sickly dragon. TFH 2/01.

Harper, Rodney W. 1995. Captive care and maintenance of the Violet Goby,  Gobiodies broussoneneti. TFH 7/95.


Become a Sponsor Features:
Daily FAQs FW Daily FAQs SW Pix of the Day FW Pix of the Day New On WWM
Helpful Links Hobbyist Forum Calendars Admin Index Cover Images
Featured Sponsors: