10 Things to Know About Gobies: Bumblebee Gobies
Brachygobius xanthozona and Brachygobius nunus
by Peter McKane
of England. From his website www.helpthefish.org
Gobies come in a huge range of shapes, sizes and suitability for certain setups. The
goby species is a group of fish that live in the full range of possible environments, from
tropical to full marine, with a good handful of brackish variants thrown in for good
measure. For now the main focus will be on the Bumblebee Goby. As strongly suggested, its
coloration is one of black and yellow vertical stripes, and it has a temperament very
similar to your average bumblebee too. It's fine if you leave it alone; just don't annoy
it when its sitting in its flower, or in the case of the goby, in its cave or pot.
The First Thing
Bumblebee gobies come in two distinct species. Both of these species are really best
suited for brackish water, but one type can survive quite well in fresh water. For those
of you who want to know the precise difference, here it is:
The Second Thing
The Brachygobius xanthozona has perfect unbroken black stripes and is best suited
for brackish, but will tolerate fresh water much better than the other type.
The Brachygobius nunus has less well banded stripes, and occasionally black
spots or broken stripes. It is not very tolerant of a fresh water environment. Technically
its common name is the Golden Banded Goby, although I have not once seen these two species
clearly distinguished when on sale in fish stores.
The Third Thing
Bumblebee gobies are grumpy. They will not school with other species of fish easily, if
ever. Their faces seem to give them away, with their permanent frown and drooping corners
to their mouths.
The Fourth Thing
If bumblebee gobies were homeowners, they would be the type that cut only their side of
the hedge, and would daily measure their borders just to make sure that their land stayed
their own. They are highly territorial, but are prone to frequently move house too, never
really approving of their neighbors. If you keep bumblebee gobies and see them randomly
fighting, they are attempting to set up borders of a territory, and it's little to worry
about; damage is very seldom done if they are not overstocked.
The Fifth Thing
Feeding can be quite a chore. Because they are ambush predators, preferring the "wait
until it floats right past" method of hunting, they can be difficult to feed with
frozen foods, and practically impossible to feed with dried or flake foods. Try to have a
current circulating over the bottom of the tank when you feed them, so that the food will
keep moving, whether it's thawed or living.
The Sixth Thing
Gobies tend to breed in typhoon season, so if you want to trigger spawning then you should
lower the level of water in the tank and add at least fifty percent fresh, chemically
unconditioned cool water (around eighteen to twenty degrees Celsius) to their environment.
This is usually not likely to work the first time you try, but persevere and success will
be achieved eventually.
The Seventh Thing
Gobies in general can be kept with more aggressive fish, despite their small size. I
personally keep five bumblebee gobies with a figure eight puffer and there are no
problems. Keeping such a puffer with practically any other type of fish would eventually
result in fierce fighting and probably the death of either the figure eight puffer or its
tankmates. Apparently, the yellow and black warning of danger is universal. No one likes
to get in the way of something small and aggressive when provoked that is striped yellow
The Eighth Thing
Gobies kept in community tanks will tend to fin nip, even if unprovoked. Their hunting
instinct is to take a snap at anything that floats by, and as long as even a piece of it
will fit in the goby's mouth, it is going to have a try. Keeping these fish in with bettas
is out of the question.
The Ninth Thing
Ideally the environment in which you keep your gobies should have a plentiful supply of
rocky caves or small pots. Tiny terracotta plant pots work perfectly and will typically
not mind being submerged for long periods of time in brackish water. The gobies will use
these as hiding holes. The perfect setup is one in which each goby will have at least one
pot or piece of wood to claim as its own, and around this area is a current strong enough
to keep small foods moving around, but not strong enough to make the tiny gobies hit the
sides of the tank.
The Tenth Thing
Gobies are excellent to watch. Their frequent border disputes and arguments over the best
pot are hilarious. They make a great addition to any brackish setup. The true bumblebee
goby will also be accepted into a community setup. However, due to the feeding habits of
the bumblebee goby there is a chance that they will not manage to catch enough food if
their tankmates are "aggressive feeders" - i.e. fish that go for anything
floating or moving as soon as they see it. Black neons and similar fish qualify as
aggressive feeders. Even though their grumpiness will usually result in a small fight, I
am yet to see any of my gobies hurt from these battles. They are among my favorite fish
because of this.
In the case of the bumblebee goby, there is little more to say. They are excellent
hunters of small foods like bloodworms or Artemia, but are fairly easy to train onto
frozen foods with the right conditions. Their attitudes are hilarious to watch when they
are active, but do be prepared to watch a single goby sit motionless for extended periods
of time, presumably keeping an eye on its borders for any encroachment from its goby
neighbors. They require little food because of their size, so keeping a species only tank
can be quite difficult to feed properly. In a brackish setup this will result, as it did
with mine, in a large population of Malaysian trumpet snails, which will at least keep
their own population under control through cannibalism if surplus food is not enough for
them. All in all, these fish are lovely, but slightly misunderstood. If you do buy a
golden banded goby instead of a true bumblebee goby, please try to find it a brackish
home. It will more than likely not last long in fresh water.