Gobies from the Brachygobius genus, better known as bumblebee gobies, are small bottom-dwelling fish featuring bee-like black and yellow stripes. Despite its cute appearance, unfortunately, this species is not an ideal community fish as it requires a brackish water setup that many potential tank mates can’t thrive in.
So, why keep bumblebee gobies then? As anyone in the aquarium hobby who has experience with this fish species will tell you, their fascinating behavior more than makes up for the challenge of building a species-specific set-up.
Keep reading for everything you need to know about bumblebee goby care and keeping bumblebee gobies in your own tank!
|Minimum tank size
|10 gal/38 L (long)
The common name ‘bumblebee gobies’ or ‘bumblebee fish’ often refers to one of Brachygobius sp. (B. xanthozona*, B. doriae, B. nunus ,etc.).
*Most bumblebee gobies in fish stores are listed as Brachygobius xanthozona. This is almost always a case of mislabeling; B. xanthozona is unfortunately rarely (if ever) available.
Wild bumblebee gobies can be found throughout Indonesia (Java, Sumatra, Borneo), Thailand, and Vietnam. Here, they reside in shallow habitats in estuaries, rivers, streams, and mangrove swamps. These waters are usually brackish and have a muddy, sandy, or chunky substrate with a healthy covering of organic detritus and plenty of hiding places present in the form of mangrove roots, leaf litter, and fallen branches.
Bumblebee gobies are one of the smaller goby species with a maximum size of around 1.2-1.6 inches (3-4 cm). They get their common name from their physical appearance: black bands, yellow stripes, and a short body shape which resemble a bumblebee!
It is difficult to distinguish between the different species of the Brachygobius genus as they all look similar; the same common name is used for all species in the aquarium industry because it’s nearly impossible for fish stores to figure out which exact one they’re dealing with.
It is possible to tell the male from the female fish though — males fish have a more slender body shape and brighter coloration than their female counterparts.
Bumblebee goby lifespan
Bumblebee gobies generally live for around three years if kept in the correct conditions and fed a high-quality diet.
That’s largely because of the fish’s specific care requirements in captivity. However, these gobies can survive for longer, and some hobbyists report that their fish have lived for up to four years or even more.
Bumblebee goby requirements
Bumblebee gobies are timid, peaceful fish, but because of this, more dominant fish species can easily outcompete them for food. This is part of the reason bumblebee gobies don’t do well in a community aquarium.
Although they’re often sold as freshwater fish, they actually do best when kept in a brackish tank with slightly salty water with a low salt grade (an ideal salinity between 1.002 and 1.006). If you’re not sure how to set up a brackish tank, this guide might be helpful. It’s definitely not as difficult as it may initially seem!
Because these fish stay quite small, a larger tank is not necessary. For a decent-sized group, you only need a 10-gallon tank (38 L) with plenty of floor space to start. As for water requirements, the aquarium should always be fully cycled but water filtration is best if kept a bit weak; these fish naturally live in calm water and may not respond well to very strong water flow.
The gobies will appreciate a heavily decorated tank, as their timid nature means they need a place to hide and get away from territorial squabbles.
An efficient filtration system is essential for every fish tank, no matter what you keep in it. Without proper filtration, the water in the aquarium will quickly become polluted with nitrates, poisoning your fish.
Set up your tank with the filtration system running, and make sure that the aquarium is fully cycled before adding your fish. Then you can make any minor adjustments to the water quality if required.
So, what kind of filtration system works best for Bumblebee gobies? Well, these attractive fish are not the strongest of swimmers, and they don’t appreciate strong currents in the tank. You need an efficient filtration system that does the job without buffeting your gobies all over.
We recommend a standard sponge filter that you can fit inside or outside the tank. The flow from a standard filtration system should circulate the water adequately around the tank without making life difficult for the gobies.
Bumblebee goby tank decoration
Bumblebee gobies love digging! For this reason, we recommend you opt for a sandy substrate rather than gravel to avoid any injuries to these bottom-feeder fish. Plus, sand more accurately mimics the substrate of their natural habitat.
These gobies are very shy and timid, so even if you’re keeping a single-species aquarium, you want to provide lots of hiding places for them. Rocks, caves, ceramic ornaments, large pieces of driftwood, and twisted roots not only make the tank look interesting and attractive, but these features also give the gobies plenty of scope for hiding places.
If you don’t fancy the challenge of keeping living plants in a brackish environment, you could use plastic or silk ones instead. These days, you can buy long-lasting fake plants that will tolerate any kind of water conditions, don’t fade, and are safe to use in your tank.
Shrimp tubes and plenty of plant species that can tolerate brackish water should work well. You may be surprised to learn that there are actually quite a few plants out there that don’t mind a low level of marine salt.
Check out the list of brackish aquarium plants here if you’re in need of some hardy greenery.
Bumblebee goby tankmates
As discussed earlier, these cute fish don’t do well in most community tank setups. Although there are some compatible tank mates — mostly other brackish water fish tolerant to low-grade brackish water habitats — most aquarium keepers prefer to set up a single-species aquarium for them. This makes it easier to keep an eye on how much the fish is actually eating and encourages them to spend plenty of time out of hiding.
Bumblebee gobies are grouping, social fish. If you keep them in smaller numbers, the weaker fish might get picked on relentlessly, and the group as a whole will be much more shy and withdrawn. Go for a group size of at least 6-7 fish, preferably even more if you really want to see their natural behavior.
Can Bumblebee gobies live with Pea puffers?
Pea puffers are exclusively freshwater fish, and they can’t survive in brackish conditions. However, if you have a freshwater Bumblebee goby group, in theory, you could keep a Pea puffer too.
That said, despite their diminutive size, Pea puffers are highly territorial and have a reputation as aggressive fish. So, it’s likely that even one Pea puffer would harass and bully the peaceful Bumblebee goby. For that reason, we don’t recommend that you keep these two species together.
Can the Bumblebee goby live with guppies?
Guppies can live in freshwater or slightly brackish conditions. So, you could keep Bumblebee gobies with guppies in a brackish community tank or in a freshwater setup with gobies acclimated to living in that environment.
However, even though they are generally low-maintenance and easygoing fish, Bumblebee gobies can be rather nippy and might be tempted by the guppies full, flowing tails. Nippiness could cause injuries to your guppies, and the stress on both species could result in outbreaks of disease.
*Note: for tips on dealing with infected fish, check out our guide here!
Bumblebee goby diet
Their diet is one of the most difficult aspects of keeping this beautiful fish. These picky eaters are carnivores with a distinct taste for live foods such as blood worms and tubifex worms, and many fish keepers report them completely ignoring all types of commercial fish food pellets and flakes. Success with frozen foods varies as well; it’s a better idea to go for something a little more wiggly and lively to attract their attention.
If you want to keep your bumblebee gobies well-fed without too many issues, it might be a good idea to take the time to set up a live food culture. Batches of brine shrimp can easily be hatched at home and make a great nutritious option that should be readily accepted by your fish. Another easy option would be a grindal worm culture for a steady supply.
Live food cultures are not difficult to maintain at all, and your gobies will love to eat fresh worms and other critters! Just make sure that whatever you feed is an appropriate size for your goby.
Bumblebee goby behavior
Their behavior is what makes these attractive fish a favorite among many aquarists. While they can be shy at first, they quickly come out of hiding and swim in open water if their requirements are met. Their social interactions are especially fascinating to watch. For such a small fish, their curious and playful personality definitely makes up for what they lack in size.
Males especially can be quite territorial, which means boisterous males will establish their own areas in the tank. This can lead to occasional territorial squabbles, and many people report observing them chase and pester each other. Luckily though, this never tends to lead to serious injury.
Bumblebee goby health and diseases
Unfortunately, Bumblebee gobies are quite susceptible to diseases, but that’s usually down to poor water conditions and stress.
Ich or White Spot Disease is a common problem with these fish, especially if they become stressed because the salinity levels in the water are incorrect. Although Bumblebee gobies can live in fresh water, they will be shocked if moved from a brackish environment into a tank that doesn’t contain any salt. The resulting shock compromises the fish’s immune system, leaving the animal vulnerable to attack by parasites and bacteria.
Water quality is paramount!
The correct water quality has to be correct for this fish species. So, you must keep your gobies tank conditions at optimum levels if they are to remain healthy and thriving.
Although rare, freshwater Bumblebee gobies do exist. If you don’t want the hassle of maintaining a brackish tank, double-check with your supplier that the fish they’re selling have been raised in freshwater before you make your purchase.
Once you get your Bumblebee gobies home, you must regularly monitor the water conditions in the tank. That applies to both freshwater and brackish tanks. Carry out regular water changes and test the salinity levels in the tank if you didn’t buy your fish from a specialty freshwater breeder. Make sure that you use a good quality aquarium water testing kit.
As a general rule of thumb, you can use just one teaspoon of salt per gallon of water, but test the water regularly to make sure that the parameters are suitable for your Bumblebee gobies.
Ich is a free-swimming parasite that’s present in most fish tanks, only attacking fish that are already sick or weakened by stress. It’s relatively easy to treat White Spot disease, as long as you recognize and catch it quickly.
Affected fish flash or flick against the substrate and other solid surfaces within the aquarium in response to the skin irritation caused by the parasites. As the disease progresses, a rash of tiny white spots like grains of salt appears on the fish’s body, fins, and gills.
It’s generally best to treat the whole tank for Ich rather than just placing one affected fish in a quarantine tank. Raise the tank temperature to 82°F for a few days, and treat the water with an over-the-counter White Spot disease treatment that you’ll find in your local fish or pet store. The fish should recover pretty quickly unless there’s some other underlying condition affecting it.
As previously mentioned, the best way to keep your fish healthy and to prevent outbreaks of disease is to monitor the water conditions carefully and keep up to speed with partial water changes.
Breeding bumblebee goby
Although these are not the easiest fish to breed, bumblebee gobies will produce offspring under the right circumstances. Eggs will be laid in small nooks and crannies, so adding some ceramic tubes or coconut hides to the tank is definitely a must if you’d like to give breeding a try.
When ready to breed, female fish will become noticeably swollen with eggs and males will start to show more intense black and yellow colorings. Adding some freshwater to the tank can help start the breeding process. Males will court the females and guard the eggs.
To ensure maximum fry survival, you can move the eggs and male to a separate container until the hatching process has finished. The male can then be removed as well to prevent him from eating the fry himself, although this is not necessary if you don’t mind losing some of the young.
Because the fry is extremely small, it’s a good idea to make sure you have an infusoria culture ready to go. Almost all other foods will be too large for them to consume at first.
Bumblebee goby availability
Bumblebee gobies are generally widely available from fish stores and online. Prices vary but you can usually pick up one of these fish for around $5.
Tips for buying Bumblebee gobies
When shopping for Bumblebee gobies, take care that you end up buying the right species! It can be challenging to distinguish between fish of the Brachygobius family, as they do all look pretty similar.
Also, if you want to keep the fish in a freshwater aquarium, you’ll need to make sure that the fish have been born and raised in such an environment. Gobies that are accustomed to living in brackish water will not transfer well to a freshwater tank, and the shock will probably kill the fish.
Why is it recommended to buy Bumblebee gobies?
Bumblebee gobies can make a wonderful addition to your tank. These fish are very peaceful and can make a good fit for a community of non-aggressive brackish species. You can also keep a group of up to ten Bumblebee gobies in a single-species tank, which can make a lovely display.
This is one of the most attractive species of gobies, having beautiful coloration of vibrant black and gold stripes that run from the fish’s head to its tail. Bumblebee gobies are very active and entertaining fish to watch, as they flit around the tank, darting in and out of your decorations and plants.
Even though these fish are carnivores, they usually get along fine with invertebrates, including snails are larger species of shrimp.
If you have any more questions about bumblebee gobies or want to share your own experiences with this tiny striped fish, make sure to leave a comment below!