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Beautiful, Hardy In the Right Setting, But Subtropical, The Catalina Goby, Lythrypnus dalli

Bob Fenner


Yet another really cool to coldwater species too-often misplaced in tropical aquariums, the Catalina Goby... yes, as in off Southern California... that Catalina Island of Wrigley family, Cubs fame... is almost always bumped off prematurely by being put in too-warm settings. There are but a few other "rules" for keeping this Gobiid healthy... as you will see... But unless you live either in a consistently cold place and/or are willing to provide chilled water, this species is best left in the wild.

    Yes... I'm aware that there are retailers, e-tailers who sell Lythrypnus dalli as a tropical, or who claim that it can/will live in lower tropical temperatures... This can be "sort of" possible, starting with animals that have been collected, acclimated during the warmer weather times of year (all are wild-collected)... but do note that the natural temperature range of this species given by fishbase.org ( http://fishbase.org/Summary/speciesSummary.php?ID=3885&genusname=Lythrypnus&speciesname=dalli) is 22 C (71.6 F.)... this is the maximum... Note that the minimum is given as 18 C., 64.4 F... and I will attest that the ones I've long since dived with, and collected years back were found in much cooler (Brrrrrrr!) water at times. Can, will you provide environmental temperatures within this range? If not, try other livestock.

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 F. 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. Here at a L.A. wholesaler's.

Verticals (Full/Cover Page Sizes Available)

Lythrypnus zebra (Gilbert 1890), the Zebra Goby. Much less often seen... Coldwater as well. Eastern Pacific: Carmel Bay in central California, USA to Clarión Island, Mexico. To 5.7 cm. SIO pic. http://www.fishbase.org/summary/


    Due to small size and largely sedentary life habits (along with the slowed metabolism, higher gas solubility of cool/ed water), the Catalina Goby can be kept in small quarters... as little as ten or so gallons. However, for the usual reasons of stability, dilution... and the margins of "error" larger volumes provide, along with the territoriality this species shows towards its conspecifics, a bigger sized aquarium is strongly advised (at least twenty gallons). For a trio or more of Lythrypnus... let me goose you just one more time... and suggest at least a forty... unless you'd like to consider mixing in some other cool/coldwater organisms that require more space....

    What sort of physical environment to provide? Like their wild environs... a vertical rocky wall with lots of nooks and crannies. The best would be if you had access to the types of rock along with some of the still-live local biota that are found on and in it. Perhaps a California collection company can be found that will supply your dealer with this. If this is unavailable, base rock can be found, stacked... and this will in time become coated with an assortment of algae.


    Don't live on the North America continent's southern west coast? Not to overly-worry, there are an assortment of other cool/coldwater species variously mis-offered in the trade as tropicals as well... Look for anemones of the genera Tealia, Metridium (and sometimes Anthopleura), perhaps the coldwater Corallimorph genus Corynactis (want pix?)... various snails like Bubble and Moon... and macrophytes... brown and red kelps that I've seen about... being offered... blindly often... as warm water stock. Otherwise... references abound for searching out the range, tolerance thermal and otherwise of available livestock. Assuredly, warmer water to tropical species will not mix well or long with Lythrypnus dalli.

About Chilling/Chilled Water:

    There are commercial in-line and drop-in chillers to consider of quite a few makes and models... including, thankfully some really neat newer-technology types that don't cost as much as "standard" compression types to purchase or operate (Look up the word "Peltier", thermoelectric coolers)... these last are very appropriate tech. for small marine (or other aquatic) systems.

About Selecting Specimens:

    As you will appreciate, ideally the individual Catalina Gobies that you pick out should be kept in proper circumstances prior to your purchase. If this is not possible/probable, you are encouraged to buy them as "fresh" as possible... talk with your supplier... If they have no capacity for housing cool water organisms for you, arrange to have them order for you and pick them up as new arrivals.

About Other Lythrypnus Species... Some More Tropical:

    There are other members of this genus with similar toughness... and beauty! In particular, from the Eastern Pacific, L. gilberti is often enough offered to make a mention here... and a pic!

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.

Verticals (Full/Cover Page Sizes Available

Other species of Lythrypnus may be previewed on fishbase.org here:
http://fishbase.org/NomenClature/ScientificNameSearchList.php?crit1_fieldname=SYNONYMS.SynGenus&crit1_fieldtype=CHAR&crit1_operator= EQUAL&crit1_value=Lythrypnus&crit2_fieldname=SYNONYMS.
SynSpecies&crit2_fieldtype=CHAR&crit2_ operator=contains&crit2_value=&group=summary&backstep=-2\   
including some that hail from the tropical West Atlantic.

About Tank-Bred/Reared Stock:

    Mmm, both L. dalli and L. gilberti have been aquacultured... but they have yet to become "popular enough" to be steady offerings. If/when these do appear, you are strongly encouraged to buy them as such... They will be smaller in size... but have so much else going for them... tank suitability, disease resistance/absence... that their advantages will be obvious.


    Folks seem to have awareness of what they know much more than are aware of what they don't know... Put another way, there are always subjective elements to/in our understanding... In the case of pet-fishing, many hobbyists consider that their aquatic livestock is akin to tetrapod companion animals... Warm-blooded physiology allows for adaptation to a wider range of environments, tolerance (at costs), that is in many ways subtly different than our aquatic charges... Cold water animals may "look" fine being kept for a time in tropical settings... they are not. Such forays, even temporary, have deleterious effects on their metabolisms... at least shortening their lifespans in the shorter term. Extended exposure results in even further foreshortened lives. The bottom line here, as always, is that the onus is upon you to investigate the needs, tolerances of your livestock... and provide for them.

Bibliography/Further Reading:


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.

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.

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