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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, Part 1

Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

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

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

Genus Coryphopterus

Genus Coryphopterus: Twenty three species. 

Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

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