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The Goby Cichlids
by Eric Glab

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.

Jaw Organism Fish Fin Adaptation

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 vegetarians.

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!

Photograph Fish Adaptation Terrestrial animal Composite material

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 fish again.

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.

Fish Fin Tail Electric blue Rectangle

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 chance.

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...
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