Where as some fish are from Lake Tanganyika are overrated, some are
actually not given enough credit. A great example of this would be any of
the Goby cichlids from Lake Tanganyika.
The "Gobies" are typically thought of as being one of five species from
three geneses. The list includes Spathodus marlieri, Spathodus erythrodon,
Eretmodus cyanostictus, Eretmodus "cyanostictus north", and lastly
Tanganicodus irsacae. All of these are mouthbrooders and all of them live
in the shallow water or surge habitat of the lake. Males tend to be larger
than females and may contain a bit more color. Of course, none of the
gobies are particularly striking when it comes to color but they sure make
up for that in their comical personalities. It may be why these fish are
also called "clown" cichlids in Europe. They also appear to be a bit
comical in appearance as well.
All gobies have a somewhat "deflated swim bladder making them look like
they "hop" across the bottom of the aquarium. They also have a snout-like
head and eyes placed high on the head as well. All gobies have a spiny
dorsal fin designed to deter birds. This dorsal fin can also be a bit of a
hassle in an aquarium net.
Except for Spathodus marlieri, all gobies are bi-parental
mouthbrooders. The female holds the eggs for the first ten days or so then
she exchanges the eggs to the male for the next ten days. Pairs of gobies
stay close to one another throughout the aquarium whether breeding or not.
It is quite endearing to see a pair of fish journeying around the tank,
never straying far from its partner. Spawns are usually under 25 fry,
although my experience has shown counts smaller than that.
All gobies graze through the algae layer on the rocks, eating both
algae and the small organisms living among it. In the aquarium I like to
feed them spirulina based flakes and other typical fare. They are not
picky eaters and adapt to any food pretty easily. They are not strictly
I will briefly discuss all five species of gobies but, will concentrate
on the few that I have kept in my aquariums.
Spathodus marlieri is the monster of the group, with females reaching
2.5" and males a whopping 4". It is the least likely to be seen in the
aquarium of hobbyists. Its reputation is one of nastiness and an overall
bad attitude. It is reported to be a maternal mouthbrooder though I cannot
speak from first hand experience with this fish. If anyone reading this
has kept this fish, please let me know!
Spathodus erythrodon is similar to marlieri in teeth only. In fact, it
is hard to distinguish Spathodus erythrodon from Eretmodus cyanostictus
except for the teeth. Both species of Spathodus have long and cylindrical
teeth. Erythrodon is imported to the U.S. on a somewhat regular basis.
Eretmodus cyanostictus and Eretmodus "cyanostictus north" are basically
the same fish except that the northern type has a more underslung mouth. I
really enjoyed keeping this fish. I kept a male of the northern type in a
large Tanganyikan community tank several years ago. He had a strange
nature about him. First, he enjoyed playing hide and seek. Ok, ok, he
never did close his eyes and count but he used to take turns peering
behind a large rock in the center of the aquarium. When you looked at him
on the right side of the rock, he would scoot around it and look at you
from the left side of the rock. When you leaned over to look at him on the
left side of the rock he would go to the right side. It was really crazy.
I have multiple witnesses to this spectacle and people would laugh out
loud at this nutty fish. Of the thousands of fish I kept over the years
this is one of the few that my wife, Brenda, named. His name was Charlie.
You're not going to get me to admit I called him Charlie but my wife did.
Another strange thing was even though I fed (how do I say this?) Charlie,
he was more apt to come to the front of the tank from behind his big rock
when she was there. Talk about weird, it happened every time. Alas,
Charlie is no longer with us and my wife has never attached herself to a
Though this Eretmodus was a great fish, I got lucky enough to receive a
pair that was from Bemba. This pair had some orange between their vertical
stripes and they had some bright blue spots. They were the best looking
gobies I have ever seen and they spawned well for me. The male was about
3.25" and the female a bit smaller then that. They were a wild pair and I
understand why wild gobies are so popular; they are inexpensive for wild
fish and the fry take a long time to grow up. Anyone who had grown up any
Altolamprologus can appreciate the growth rate of this fish. I would dare
to say it is about as slow as any cichlid! The babies I had from this pair
were always in high demand from anyone who saw them.
Lastly there is the smallest of the bunch, Tanganicodus irsacae. A wild
pair I owned consisted of an adult male at 2.5" and a female at 2". They
had nice neon blue dots on them and a pointy mouth. Not quite like the
snout-like mouth of the other gobies. Unfortunately the male never seemed
particularly pleased with the female and he always chased her around the
tank. She died a few months after I got her, probably from the stress of
being chased all the time. I would like to try them again when I get the
Speaking of chances, why not give one of the Tanganyikan gobies a
chance and see why I believe this is one underrated fish.
If you like to see a regular article on New World cichlids similar to
this one, ask Del Calhoun. He promised me two years ago if I took up
writing a regular cichlid article that he would do one as well. If you
don't know who Del is, you can find him hanging out in the hall during
meetings with a Diet Coke attached to his left hand. This leaves his right
hand free for writing. Don't be shy. He thinks people who enjoy South
American cichlids can't read but I don't believe that's really true. But
then again maybe... □