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Related FAQs: True Gobies Gobies 2Goby Identification, Goby Behavior, Goby Selection, Goby Compatibility, Goby Feeding, Goby Systems, Goby Disease, Goby Reproduction, Amblygobius Gobies, Clown GobiesNeon GobiesGenus Coryphopterus Gobies, Catalina Gobies, Mudskippers, Shrimp Gobies, Sifter Gobies

Related Articles: Amblygobius Gobies, Genus Gobiodon Gobies, Genus Coryphopterus Neon/Cleaner GobiesShrimp/Watchman Gobies, Sifter/Sleeper Gobies/ValencienneaSleeper Gobies/Eleotridae, Mudskippers, Dartfishes (family Microdesmidae, subfamily Ptereleotrinae), Fresh to Brackish Water Gobioids, Gobioids,  and the similar-appearing Blennioids

"True" or Combtooth Gobies, the Family Gobiidae

By Bob Fenner

Amblygobius rainfordi, Gobiosoma evelynae

     Gobies are the largest group of marine fishes, and fresh, brackish and salt combined; and the 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 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. The family contains the world's smallest fishes and vertebrate. Trimmatom nanus of the Indian Ocean females reach a mere 8-10 mm. 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 goby size, they become the center pieces of an aquarium when maintained with them.


Take ten big breaths Dear Reader; if the sheer diversity and size of such families as the Butterflyfishes, Cichlids or Damsels was impressive, "you ain't seen nothing yet".

In recent times the Suborder Gobioidei has been divided into as many as six separate families. "Clarity is pleasurable", and for simplicity's sake we will stick with the historical two, the freshwater loach gobies, family Rhyacichthyidae of the Indo-Australian archipelago, & the humungous family Gobiidae. Alternatively you may find numerous families and subfamilies of "true" and fancifully named gobies in the literature and real life; the Odontobutidae, the sleeper gobies, family Eleotridae, sand fishes or sand gobies, family Kraemeridae, the obscure Xeristhmidae, worm- or Dartfishes, family Microdesmidae, and the family Schindleriidae. You'll forgive me if we don't list all the subfamilies.

All told the gobies number some 267 genera and 2,100 described species with many more to come. All but about 200 are marine; mostly tropical and subtropical reef.

We will definitely be highlighting just the most common and available types of interest to marine aquarists here, but I trust the above gives you pause to consider just how vast your possibilities are.

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 one.

Selection: General

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.

Examine the stock carefully for bloody or white markings; tanks with bloodied or dead individuals should be passed on.

Check their breathing, it should be regular and not labored; for most species kept 60-90 gill beats per minute.

Is the fish looking around, aware of it's 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. Triggers, large angels, basses... 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 one type 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.

Key Species, Groups:

Genus Amblygobius, the Hover Gobies : 

Genus Brachygobius: 

Genus Brachygobius, Bumble Bee Gobies, follow this link to the brackish and freshwater Gobioids.

Genus Bryaninops: Whip and Coral Gobies; most often found on Black Corals and Gorgonians. 

Bryaninops amplus Larson 1985, the Large Whip Goby. Indo-Pacific; Madagascar, Seychelles to Hawai'i. To 6 cm. This one off of Queensland, Australia. 

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Bryaninops loki Larson 1985, the Loki Whip Goby. Tropical Indo-Pacific; Australia, Japan, Indonesia, Philippines. To a measly 30 mm. in length. Found in silty areas on Gorgonians and Sea Whips. N. Sulawesi pix, an adult and a juvenile (transparent) with parasitic copepods dorsally.  

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Verticals (Full/Cover Page Sizes Available
Bryaninops natans Redeye Hovering Goby. Translucent body; blue head, yellow belly, pink-ringed eye. To 2.5 cm./1 in. Indo-West Pacific. Here in Fiji 2017

Bryaninops yongei (Davis & Cohen 1968), the Whip Goby. West to Mid-Pacific; Australia to Rapa, Hawai'i. To four cm. This one off of Mabul, Malaysia. Here in a typical pose where a pair will reside, the antipatharian Cirripathes anguina. Look for them when underwater (found 3-45 m depth). Below, in Hawai'i with eggs, Mabul, Malaysia and Nuka Hiva, Marquesas, Polynesia pix. 

Verticals (Full/Cover Page Sizes Available
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Genus Coryphopterus

Genus Coryphopterus: Twenty three species. 

Genus Exyrias:

Exyrias puntang (Bleeker 1851), the Puntang Goby. Western Pacific; Andaman Sea, Japan, Australia, Fiji. To 14 cm. Spotted first dorsal fin is indicative. Found in freshwater run-off, tide-pools. N. Sulawesi image. 

Genus Eviota: Small and often beautiful. Thirty five described species, with many more to go.

Eviota guttata Lachner & Katella 1978. 2.5 cm. Western Pacific and Indian Ocean, including the Red Sea. This one with a copepod parasite in Raja Ampat. http://fishbase.org/Summary/speciesSummary.php?ID=25452&genusname=Eviota&speciesname=guttata

Evitota nigriventris. S. Sulawesi pix.

Eviota pellucida Larson 1976, Neon Pygmy Goby. Eastern Indian Ocean and Western Pacific. To 3 cm. Raja Ampat pic. http://fishbase.org/Summary/speciesSummary.php?ID=7269&genusname=Eviota&speciesname=pellucida

Eviota prasites Jordan & Seale 1906, the Prasites Goby. West Pacific; Moluccas to Samoa. To less than an inch in length. This one photographed off of Queensland, Australia. 

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Eviota sebreei Jordan & Seale 1906, Sebree's Pygmy Goby. Indo-Pacific; Red Sea to Samoa, to the northern GBR, Micronesians. To less than an inch in total length. This one perched on a Porites coral in Pulau Redang, Malaysia. 

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Genus Fusigobius:

Fusigobius signipinnis Hoese & Obika 1988, the Signalfin Goby. Western Pacific; Japan, Australia, Tonga. To  4.9 cm. S. Sulawesi image.  http://fishbase.sinica.edu.tw/Summary/speciesSummary.php?ID=7513&genusname=Fusigobius&speciesname=signipinnis

Genus Gnatholepis: Seven species of great sand sifters.

Gnatholepis cauerensis Bleeker 1853, the Eyebar Goby, for distinctive vertical band through the eye. Indo-Pacific; South Africa to Hawai'i. To three inches in length. This one in the Maldives in the Indian Ocean. 

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Gnatholepis thompsoni Jordan 1904, the Goldspot Goby. Tropical Atlantic; Bermuda to Venezuela, Ascension, St. Helena Islands. This one in the Bahamas. To about three inches in length. A sand-sifter. 


Clown Gobies, Genus Gobiodon:

Neon Gobies, Genera Elacatinus Gobiosoma:

Genus Hazeus: Two species

Hazeus nephodes E.K. Jordan 1925. Stout spine at anterior of both dorsal fins. To two inches in length. Found only in Hawai'i and Marshall Islands on the sand. Kona pic. 

Genus Istigobius: Good looking reef sand-dwelling fishes. The genus comprises eleven species.

The Decorated Goby, Istigobius decoratus (Herre 1927) in the Red Sea  Honeycombed pattern on upper body, with two horizontal rows of black spots below. Dorsal fin heavily spotted. To about five inches in length and found from the Red Sea to Micronesia. 

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The Ornate Goby, Istigobius ornatus (Rupell 1830) in an aquarium, Fiji and N. Sulawesi. To about five inches in length and found from the Red Sea to Micronesia
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Istigobius rigilius (Herre 1953), the Orange-Spotted Goby. Molucca, Philippine Islands to Australia, over to Fiji and Marshall Islands. To four inches in length. Here in Queensland, Australia and S. Sulawesi. 

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Genus Lythrypnus; pretty, but most cool to cold water: Eighteen species

Lythrypnus dalli (Gilbert 1860), The Blue-Banded or Catalina Goby: This brilliant red and blue beauty is from off the two California's Pacific coasts. It is not tropical, and will only live a short while in water in the upper seventies, eighties. It should not be sold as a warm-water organism. Why do I, should I mention this? It is an embarrassing sham in the trade, and a waste of resources. This one at a L.A. wholesaler's.

Lythrypnus gilberti (Heller & Snodgrass 1803), The Galapagos Blue-Banded or Goby: Endemic. To 4.5 cm. (about 1.75 in.) in length. Feeds on small crustaceans. Feisty, territorial with its own kind. Galapagos pic.

Genus Pleurosicya: Tiny host gobies

Pleurosicya micheli Formanoir 1971, Michel's Host Goby. A transparent species with an internal red striped on top of its vertebral column. To one inch in length. Indo-Pacific. This one in Hawai'i perched on a Porites Coral. 

Pleurosicya mossambica Smith 1959, the Toothy, Many or Mozambique Host Goby. Indo-West Pacific; Red Sea, East Africa to Marshall Islands. To 3 cm. in length. Lives amongst soft corals, giant clams, sponges and seagrasses. At right: in S. Sulawesi. Below: in the Red Sea on a coral, N. Sulawesi on a cuke, and in Nuka Hiva, Marquesas on a Cone Snail shell.  http://fishbase.sinica.edu.tw/Country/CountrySpeciesSummary.cfm?Country=Indonesia&Genus=Pleurosicya&Species=mossambica

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Pleurosicya spongicola Larson 1990. Western Pacific; Indonesia. Found associate with, on sponges. N. Sulawesi pix. 

Pleurosicya sp. Found associate with, on sponges. S. Sulawesi pix. 

Genus Signigobius:

Signigobius biocellatus Hoese & Allen 1977, Twinspot, Crab-eye Goby. To 10 cm. W. Pacific.  S. Leyte, P.I.

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Genus Stonogobiops:

Stonogobiops yasha Yoshino & Shimada, 2001, Yasha Goby. Western Pacific. To 4.7 cm. House of Fins, CT 2012

Genus Trimma:

Trimma canna Winterbottom 2004. Candycane Pygmy Goby. To one inch in length. Western Pacific: Philippines, Caroline Is., Fiji, Marshall Is., and Palau. Here in an aquarium. http://fishbase.org/summary/SpeciesSummary.php?id=62051

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Trimma taylori Lobel 1979, Yellow Cave Goby. Indo-Pacific; Chagos, Hawaii, Guam, Indonesia, Red Sea. Found in caves, often upside down. Feed on harpacticoid copepods principally. To 3.5 cm. Males with longer first dorsal finnage, and yellow spotting on fins. S. Sulawesi pix of a male and female.   http://fishbase.sinica.edu.tw/Country/CountrySpeciesSummary.cfm?Country=Indonesia&Genus=Trimma&Species=taylori

Trimma sp.. S. Sulawesi pix.

Trimma sp.. S. Sulawesi pix.

Other Goby Genera/Groups:

Shrimp-Goby Symbionts: Gobies in the genera Amblyeleotris, Cryptocentrus, Ctenogobiops, Istigobius, Stonogobiops and more.

Signogobius ocellatus Hoese & Allen 1977, the Twinspot or Crab-Eye Goby. Indo-Australian; Philippines, Micronesia, GBR. To less than three inches in length. Always found in pairs in the wild, rarely lives in captivity. This one in a wholesaler's cubicle. Feeds on interstitial fauna by sifting sand through its mouth.

Sifter/Sleeper Gobies, Genus Valenciennea:  

Other Gobies?:

You betcha. This is a mere smattering of the industry's currently most often varieties. Baensch and Debelius (1994) have almost 100 pages dedicated to this group. WEB, HRA & REH (1990) 41 goby pages in their tome.

Heck, we didn't even mention the "land" Gobies called Mudskippers that spend more time out of the water on mud flats than in.

Mandarin or Psychedelic "Gobies", aka Dragonets:

I'd like to mention the family Callionymidae (18 genera, about 40 species) here though they're not true or real gobies at all (they're members of a different suborder altogether), for two reasons: One, because of their link by common name with the Gobioids; and two, as a convenient place to state my opinions re their unsuitability for marine aquariums. Please follow the link above.

Foods, Feeding, Nutrition:

A primary concern and source of mortality of this groups members is outright starvation. Many eat a considerable amount of small food organisms... throughout the day. Be aware and on guard re nutritional deficiency. Here's a starving Amblygobius sphynx at a retailers.

Bibliography/Further Reading: (See sub-groups pages for their bibliographies)

Goby Groups 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.

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