Caring for the Brackish Bumblebee Goby

Caring for the Brackish Bumblebee Goby

The Bumblebee Goby is a small (1.5" or 4 cm maximum) member of the Brachygobius genus. A total of nine species are included within the genus, and they all share a similar appearance - so much so that, at times, the only way to tell the difference between species is counting the amount of scales on their body or dissecting dead specimens - far too much trouble for the average home hobbyist to go through. Unfortunately, there are several species all sold under the generic name of "Bumblebee Goby", some of which are true freshwater species, and others that need Brackish water to survive any length of time. Luckily, nearly all of the commonly-traded Bumblebee Gobies fall within the Brachygobius Doriae subgroup (which includes Brachygobius Doriae, Brachygobius Sabanus, and Brachygobius Xanthomelas), meaning that ideal care for the three common species is essentially the same. These species will be the focus of this guide.

A Bumblebee Goby in my 20 gallon long

Quick Facts:

Maximum Average Size: 1.5" or 4 cm
Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons preferred, although a small group may be maintained in a 5.5 gallon
Distribution: Various waters throughout Southeast Asia, such as Indonesia and Thailand
Diet: Requires live foods, although it is possible to wean them onto a frozen, meaty diet
Temperature: 72-82F, or 22-28C
Specific Gravity/Salinity: 1.004 or 5 PPT is ideal, although full freshwater to 1.010/13 PPT will be tolerated for short periods of time
PH and Water Hardness: Adaptable - a PH of 6.5-8.4 should be a good range, and moderately soft to very hard water will be acceptable.
Lifespan: 3-5 years under ideal care
Compatibility - not shy, but should be kept with peaceful fish who are too small to eat them

General Care:

The Bumblebee Goby is brightly colored, and is a popular oddity in aquarium stores around the world. They are often sold as freshwater fish, which is untrue for the vast majority of Bumblebee Gobies in the trade. Over time, the lack of salt content and minerals in freshwater will erode the fish's immune system, opening the door for various parasitic, bacterial, or fungal infections. Barring an infection, it's likely that kidney disease will kill the fish before it's lived a full lifespan. For that reason, it is strongly recommended to keep Bumblebee Gobies at a specific gravity of 1.004. Some variation in salt levels will not bother the fish, as most Brackish species have evolved in areas that receive large swings in salinity naturally, but a low level of salt should be provided at all times to ensure the long-term health of the animal. Since most brackish fish come from bodies of water that receive seasonal swings in salinity, they're also adapted to handle large swings in temperature, PH, and hardness. This makes Bumblebee Gobies some of the hardiest fish around, provided some level of salinity is provided.

Tank Size:

A tank of at least 10 gallons is recommended, since this is a social species that will do best in numbers of 5-6 or more. Due to their small size, a small group of 4-5 could be maintained in a well-maintenanced 5.5 gallon aquarium, but this would likely not be an ideal long-term solution.

A Bumblebee Goby perched on the glass in my 20 gallon long


Tankmates are a possibility, however, great care should be taken to ensure that no fish are added with mouths large enough to eat the gobies. Bumblebee Gobies are often not considered aggressive eaters, so it may be best to mix them with equally slow fish, or fish that refuse to eat from the bottom of the tank. Possible tankmates include:
Figure 8 Puffers are a popular tankmate (I personally have a Figure 8 Puffer with my group of gobies), however the temperament of individual puffers varies widely. Mine happens to be very tame, but some may be more aggressive. The same goes for Killifish - some species have large mouths, and will likely attempt to eat the gobies. Some popular recommendations for tankmates that should be avoided include:

  • Green Spotted Puffers - They're aggressive, grow large, and will need higher levels of salt content than the Bumblebee Gobies
  • Large Killifish - Risk of Predation
  • Red Claw Crabs/Fiddler Crabs - Risk of Predation/Beaching on the provided land area

A Bumblebee Goby with a piece of frozen shrimp in my 20 gallon long

Bumblebee Gobies are often wild-caught, and will be used to eating live food only. Unfortunately, this will be the situation for the majority of Bumblebee Gobies that you see at a store, and they likely will not have been offered live foods since they've been caught - several weeks, in most cases. As such, it's common for them to be emaciated at the time of purchase, and some are simply too far gone to be saved. Care should be taken to only purchase gobies that don't have sunken bellies.

The best live food I've found is baby brine shrimp. The gobies take them well, and due to the brackish water, large amounts can be left in the tank for many, many hours of time without polluting the water, assuming sponge filters are used (since brine shrimp will survive longer in a brackish environment than a pure freshwater one). This would be a fantastic food to have access to when you first purchase your gobies - it's important to get them eating as quickly as possible for the first week or so. After that, weaning them onto frozen meaty foods will be feasible. Mine take frozen bloodworms, frozen daphnia, frozen brine shrimp, and frozen mysis shrimp without hesitation. Mixing the live baby brine with a frozen diet is a good way to transition them to dead foods. One can even freeze the live baby brine into ice cubes and feed those, as a stepping stone between frozen and live. I've never seen a Bumblebee Goby happily eat a flake or pellet, so it's extremely doubtful that these animals will adapt to that diet.

Tank Setup:

Bumblebee Gobies are not shy fish - they will be out and about all day, as soon as they're comfortable in the tank. Mine will even land on my hand or siphon tube, provided they're left still long enough. However, they are cave-dwelling fish by nature, and some caves of some sort should be provided. Some people use extremely small terracotta pots - I've chosen to simply layer some dragon stone so that there are several caves between the rocks that larger fish can't get into.

Don't use filters that have a large enough intake to suck up your gobies. I prefer sponge filters with mine, since they don't handle high flow well. A Matten filter would also be a great choice.

The tank should have a hood or a lowered water level, since like all fish, Bumblebee Gobies can jump.

Any substrate can be used. If your tap water is naturally very soft, a substrate consisting of crushed coral will help buffer it, along with the addition of your marine salt. I've used everything from play sand to regular aquarium gravel with mine, and they've done well.

Live plants rarely flourish in brackish environments, unfortunately. I have found that Cryptocorynes seem to be adapted to handle some salinity, but they grow very slowly, if at all. Jungle Val is also touted a brackish-tolerant plant, and so is Anacharis - but they both slowly rotted away in my tanks. I use quality silk plants in my brackish tanks, and have found that to be the best solution so far. Bumblebee Gobies will land on the leaves of broad-leaved plants, so some fake Anubias or similar plants is a great addition to the tank. Red Mangroves can be added to the tank as well, and the gobies will hang out among the roots as they extend down to the substrate.



Some Bumblebee Gobies hanging out among some Pothos roots in my 20 gallon long

Bumblebee Gobies are an amazing fish that I fell in love with as a kid. Unfortunately, they're also probably one of the more mistreated fish in hobby, as most are subjected to freshwater environments for prolonged lengths of time. When cared for properly, they're extremely rewarding pets that have are endlessly unique in behavior and appearance. For the beginner brackish aquarist with a nano tank, there is no better option.
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