You are interested in gobies? Did you know that they are able to climb, to build their own pools, to swim upsidedown, to change their sex, to predate in complete darkness, to live parasitic, to spend most of their life time on land and much much more? Some gobies migrate upstreams and have to overcome waterfalls 100 m high (record: a 300 m free falling waterfall), others live in sponges and some are blind. There are gobies which are looking for a mate before maturity and others which change their sex: too much males, males become females and too much females, females turn to males. Some gobies live on cave ceilings swimming upsidedown, others have become vertebrate ectoparasites feeding on the tube feet of sea urchins and again others are cleaners. And gobies may be really tiny - less then 0.9 cm; the smallest vertebrate of the world is a goby, the smallest freshwater vertebrate is a(n other) goby and the vertebrate smallest in weigth is a third goby species.

Some links you might find useful!

The Gobioid Research Institute: great site with lot of informations, pictures, links etc.

CAS: best place on earth

Monterey Bay Aquarium: another best place on earth

LOVE LAB: cool page/hot stuff

Bobby Patzner: mediterranean gobies

SIO: investigate the oceans

many tiny gobies

Are you still interested?

Join "The Goby Company“!

Gobies are my passion, one of my hobbies but not my profession. I spend my free time with research and to pass on my knowledge (and my passion) to all which are interested in these diverse group of small fishes and which like to join me and my way with gobies. What you need to participate in “The Goby Company“ is interest and readiness for collaboration.

In a period of several weeks preferably during the summer holidays you will have the possibility to find out if you really like the work at the microscope with preserved fishes, with goby literature and (maybe most important) with me.

You want to participate in our research?

If so, check carefully!

To start with gobies join the Anatomy and Ecomorphology of Fishes (Anatomie und Ökomorphologie der Fische) (VO+UE: LV.Nr. 859168):

The AEF (AÖF) is held every second summer semester. You will learn how to preparate the skeleton of tiny specimens (ever tried to dissect a specimen not larger then 30 mm?) to study e.g. the pharyngeal jaws and their dentition. You will learn how to find the sensory papillae of the lateral line system on the head of such small fish (and there are many), to understand their arrangement and that alpha, beta and gamma are not only important in mathematics but may be essential for the surviving of a gobiid fish too.

The ecology of these small fish is (very!) interesting but believe it or not - to find out about their anatomical features which are the requirements for their success is interesting and fun.

Fig. 1: VO+UE+EX: Anatomy and Ecomorphology of Fishes 1999/USA, San Francisco: many thanks to our host - the Ichthyology Department, California Academy of Sciences.

Foto: K. Ahnelt

Fig. 2: VO+UE+EX: Anatomy and Ecomorphology of Fishes 1999/USA, San Francisco: kayaking in Monterey.

Foto: H. Ahnelt

Fig. 3: San Francisco and the Golden Gate.

Foto: H. Ahnelt

Fig. 4: Didogobius splechtnai AHNELT & PATZNER, 1995; head lateral, cleared and stained specimen; scale = 2 mm.

Foto and drawing: S. Scsepka


In the following I summarize some interesting facts concerning gobies and some literature you might find helpful. Check the quotations in this literature to find out more. These chapters will be updated and continued.


#1 ... the most specious group of fishes ...

Gobies, precisely Gobioidei, are a very specious group of fishes, comprising more then 2200 species or approximately ten percent of the total number of teleost fishes. Gobies are distributed throughout most of the tropical, subtropical and temperate regions of the world, occurring in a variety of habitats in fresh, brackish, and coastal marine waters to depths of about 200 meters. Most species are benthic, some are pelagic, many are burrowers, and many live in burrows constructed by other animals.


AKIHITO Prince, HAYASHI M. & T. YOSHINO, 1984. - Suborder Gobioidei. In: The fishes of the Japanese Archipelago (Masuda H., Amaoka K., Araga C. & T. Uyeno (eds.), pp. 236-289. Tokai Univ. Press, Tokyo.

MILLER P.J., 1986. - Gobiidae.. In: Fishes of the North-eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean, Vol. III (Whitehead P.J.P., Bauchot M.-L., Hureau J.-C., Nielsen J. & E. Tortonese, eds.), pp. 1019-1085. Paris: UNESCO.

Fig. 5: Sand gobies

top - Knipowitschia punctatissima (CANESTRINI, 1861), fresh waters; Italy.

bottom - Pomatoschistus marmoratus (RISSO, 1810), marine, Mediterranean. Fotos: H. Ahnelt


#2 ... how did gobies get into the Mediterranean Sea ...

You were snorkeling or Scuba diving in the Mediterranean Sea? Or did you just walk along the sandy beaches of the Northern Adriatic Sea? You have seen some gobies there?

With more than 50 species gobies are by far the most specious fish family in the Mediterranean Sea and much more specious then in the North-eastern Atlantic. But how did gobies get into the Mediterranean Sea and why are they so specious and successful?

The Mediterranean Sea is geologically young, approximately 4.5 million years old. About 5.5 million years ago the Mediterranean Sea passed through a salinity crisis during which its basins dessicated. The marine gobies which have lived in this sea prior to this drastic geological event vanished. With the opening of the Strait of Gibraltar (approximately 5 mio. y. ago) and the subsequent flooding of the Mediterranean basins, gobies invaded the newly formed Mediterranean Sea from the Atlantic and found a sea free of gobiid competitors. Adaptation to new ecotopes and free ecological niches lead to a radiation and to new species from which many are endemic to the Mediterranean Sea.


AHNELT H., BIANCO, P.G. & H. SCHWAMMER, 1995. - Systematics and zoogeography of
Knipowitschia caucasica (Teleostei: Gobiidae) based on new records from the Aegean Anatolian area. Ichthyol. Explor. Freshwaters, 6: 49-60.

ECONOMIDIS P.S. & P.J. MILLER, 1990. - Systematics of freshwater gobies from Greece (Teleostei: Gobiidae). J. Zool., London, 221: 125-170.

RÖGL F. & F.F. STEININGER, 1983. - Vom Zerfall der Tethys zu Mediterran und Paratethys. Ann. Naturhist. Mus. Wien, 85A: 135-163.

Fig. 6: Isolated basins of the Eastern Paratethys (green) and evaporitic realms (red) of the dessicated Mediterranean basins during the Messinian event (Late Miocene, 6.0 - 5.5 million years ago); blue = marine realms. Mediterranean disconnected from the Atlantic. From RÖGL & STEININGER, 1983.

#3 ... a ponto-caspian invader reached the upper Danube ...

Gobies may establish freshwater populations hundreds or thousands of kilometers upstream in large rivers, their tributaries and lakes. They may belong to the native fishfauna (autochthonous species), but may also have occurred there recently most likely by introduction or translocation. Gobies (german: Meergrundeln) are exotic for the upper Danube region and especially for an alpine country like Austria. Nevertheless, Proterorhinus marmoratus (tubenose goby, Marmorierte Grundel) is native to eastern Austria whereas Neogobius kessleri (bighead goby, Kessler Grundel) is an example of a ponto-caspian invader which may have reached the upper Danube by passive dispersal.


AHNELT H., BANARESCU P., SPOLWIND R., HARKA A. & H. WAIDBACHER, 1998. - Occurrence and distribution of three gobiid species (Pisces, Gobiidae) in the middle and upper Danube region - examples of different dispersal patterns? Biologia, Bratislava, 53 (5): 665-678.

BALON E.K., 1968. - Urgeschichte der Donau-Ichthyofauna (vor dem Einfluss seitens des Menschen). Arch. Hydrobiol., Suppl. 34 (3): 204-227.

Fig. 7: top - Neogobius kessleri (GÜNTHER, 1861), 49.5 mm SL

bottom - Proterorhinus marmoratus (PALLAS, 1814), 58 mm SL (bottom). Fotos: M. Duchkowitsch


#4 ... gobies love Austria ...

Todate four gobiid species (Gobiidae) are known from the Danube in Austria. Only one, Proterorhinus marmoratus, is native in eastern Austria. The three others, also of Ponto-caspian origin, belong to the genus Neogobius. They appeared in the upper Danube between 1995 and 1999. These three gobies have been (very likely) introduced by ships. They are in Austria of allochthonous origin and represent neozoans or aliens. All three of them are benthic fishes, about twice the size of the native Cottus gobio with which they may compete for food, space and spawning grounds or even predate on it. Usually such invaders are not able to establish themselves in an intact biocenosis. But during the last decades the Danube has been changed by men dramatically. This changes had and still have their influence on the biocenosis of this river.

The first 1000 km of the Danube are dammed up by 58 power plants. As a consequence, from its origin to Hungary only three significant free-flowing stretches remain. Ships sail along the Danube since centuries. Are man made changes, besides physical also chemical properties of the water changed, the reason why gobiid invaders are now able to establish themselves in Austria and not 30, 50 or 100 years earlier?

In the mean time also Proterorhinus marmoratus, native for eastern Austria, became an alien in the Danube. This goby reached the Bavarian Danube 1985, and it passed the Rhine-Main-Danube-canal 2000 and invaded tributaries of the Rhine. The Neogobius species will follow. By the way - with the help of men Proterorhinus marmoratus and Neogobius melanostomus “made it“ over the Atlantic and are now spreading in the Great Lakes.

Gobies have been introduced accidentely in the upper Danube. They obviousely established large and fertile populations. Can we get rid of them or at least can we avoid that they continue to migrate? I don’t think so. Not in a large river like the Danube. But how to cope with the problem? Shall we panic and stigmatise these fishes - “killer gobies are on their way“? Isn’t such a point of view destructive?

Let me know your opinion, ideas and suggestions how one can handle this “alien“ problem - by scientific and technical managemant.

Please send an email to: harald.ahnelt@univie.ac.at!


AHNELT H., BANARESCU P., SPOLWIND R., HARKA A. & H. WAIDBACHER, 1998. - Occurrence and distribution of three gobiid species (Pisces, Gobiidae) in the middle and upper Danube region - examples of different dispersal patterns? Biologia, Bratislava, 53 (5): 665-678.


#5 ... foraging in complete darkness ...

Gobies have a highly specialized lateral line sensory system which allows many species to be successful predators even in complete darkness. But a series of pored scales along the midline of the body, the lateral line as we know it for the vast majority of teleost fishes, are lacking (exceptions!). Canals if at all are only developed on the head with the suborbital canal and the mandibular section of the preopercular-mandibular canal usually lacking. In general the lateral line sense is understood as touch at a distance ("Ferntastsinn") and is specialized for the detection of water disturbances. It’s capabilities are best seen in studies of orientation and predator-prey interactions. As a rule this sense is effective in a distance of a body length of the fish. This seems not to be sufficient, but predator-prey distances at the time of strike initiation are commonly less than one body length, so lay within the effective range of the lateral line system.


Neogobius melanostomus (Pallas), a review of European and North American literature. - INHS Special Publication, 20: 1-76.

MONTOGOMERY J., COOMBS S. & M. HALSTEAD, 1995. - Biology of the mechanosensory lateral line in fishes. Rv. Fish Biol. Fisheries, 5: 399-416.


#6 ... lateral line sensory papillae (neuromasts) ...

Typically we distinguish between sensory papillae (neuromasts) which are enclosed in canals (canal neuromasts) and such which lay superficially (free neuromasts). Sensory papillae are developed in characteristic patterns which are of systematic value. Depending on the arrangement of the suborbital sensory papillae series we differ between two basic types, “longitudinal“ and “transverse“. Reductions in the lateral line system of gobies are seen as specializations and adaptations to varying habitats. Such reductions (e.g. loss of the head canals, loss of sensory papillae series, low numbers of sensory papillae in certain neuromast rows etc.) often occur together with reduction in body size and/ or in combination with other morphological modifications e.g. with the loss of scale ctenii, reduction in squamation etc.


WONGRAT P. and P.J. MILLER, 1991. - The innervation of head neuromast rows in eleotridine gobies (Teleostei: Gobioidei). J. Zool., London, 225: 27-42.

SCSEPKA S. & H. AHNELT, 1999. - Wiederbeschreibung von
Gammogobius steinitzi BATH 1971 sowie ein Erstnachweis von Corcyrogobius liechtensteini (KOLOMBATOVIC 1891) für Frankreich. Senckenbergiana biol., 79 (1): 71-81.

Fig. 8: Gammogobius steinitzi BATH, 1971; head dorsolateral; cephalic lateral line system: open circles = pores of head canals, dots = rows of sensory papillae; scale = 3 mm.
Drawing: S. Scsepka


#7… a blind goby …

The California blind goby Typhlogobius californiensis is the only known blind fish with a reduced lateral line system. The reduced pattern of this sensory system (head canals and free neuromasts) is closely related with the life style of this small gobiid which lives in the burrows of a shrimp.


AHNELT H. & G. SCATTOLIN, 2003. - The lateral line system of a blind goby,
Typhlogobius californiensis, Steindachner 1879 (Teleostei: Gobiidae). Ann. Naturhist. Mus. Wien, 104 B: 11-25.



Fig. 9: Typhlogobius californiensis (STEINDACHNER, 1879); head (A) lateral and (B) dorsal; otherwise as in fig. 8; scale = 5 mm. Drawing: G. Scattolin


#8: … from LA to Baja California …

Quietula guaymasiae and Quietula y-cauda: synonym or valid? The topography of the lateral line system and the number of free neuromasts clearly separates both species.


AHNELT H. & J. GÖSCHL, 2003. - Morphological differences between the eastern Pacific gobiid fishes Quietula guaymasiae and Quietula y-cauda (Teleostei: Gobiidae) with emphasis on the topography of the lateral line system. Cybium, 27: 185-197.

Fig. 10: A plot of total number of free head neuromasts against standard length for Quietula guaymasiae and Quietula y-cauda with regression lines.