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Caresheet: Bumblebee goby | Brachygobius spp.

Last Updated January 23, 2020
bumblebee goby

Gobies from the Brachygobius genus, better known as bumblebee gobies, are tiny bottom dwelling aquarium fish species featuring a bee-like yellow and black striped pattern. This species is not the best choice for most community aquariums and to make things more difficult, it requires brackish water.

So why keep bumblebee gobies then? As any aquarist who has experience with them will tell you, their fascinating behavior more than makes up for the challenge of setting up a single-species aquarium.

Keep reading for everything you need to know about bumblebee goby care and keeping bumblebee gobies in your own aquarium!

Minimum tank size10 gal/38 L (long)


Brachygobius spp. (xanthozona*/doriae/nunus etc.), bumblebee goby, bumblebee fish

*Most bumblebee gobies in aquarium stores are listed as Brachygobius xanthozona. This is almost always a case of mislabeling. B. xanthozona is unfortunately rarely (if ever) available.

Bumblebee goby natural habitat

Wild bumblebee gobies can be found in Indonesia (Java, Sumatra, Borneo), Thailand and Vietnam. Here, they inhabit shallow habitats in estuaries, rivers and streams.

These waters are usually brackish and sandy. Plenty of hiding places are present in the form of mangrove roots, leaf litter and fallen branches.

Bumblebee goby appearance

Bumblebee gobies are one of the smaller goby species with a maximum size of around 3-4 cm (1.2-1.6 inch). They lend their common name from their yellow and black striped appearance and short body shape, which will definitely remind you of bumblebees.

It’s almost impossible to distinguish between the different members of the Brachygobius genus as they look very similar. The same common name is used for all species in the trade because it’s nearly impossible for aquarium stores to figure out which exact variety they’re dealing with.

Male bumblebee gobies can be told apart from females by their more slender body shape and brighter coloration.

Bumblebee goby requirements

Bumblebee gobies are not the best fish for a community aquarium, as they are easily outcompeted for food by more assertive tankmates. Although they’re are often sold as freshwater fish they actually do best when kept in brackish water with a low salt grade (between 1.002 and 1.006). If you’re not sure how to set up a brackish aquarium, this guide might be helpful. It’s all definitely not as difficult as it might seem.

Because bumblebee gobies stay quite small, a large aquarium setup is not necessary. For a decent-sized group a tank of at least 10 gallons with plenty of floor space should be a good place to start. The aquarium should always be fully cycled but filtration is best kept a bit weak, because these fish naturally occur in calm waters and won’t respond well to a very strong flow.

A heavily decorated setup is appreciated, as bumblebee gobies can be on the timid side and need a place to hide and get away from territorial squabbles. Shrimp tubes and plenty of plants that can tolerate brackish water should work well. You might be surprised to learn that there are actually quite a few plants out there that don’t mind a little bit of 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, bumblebee gobies don’t do well in most community setups. Although they can be kept with some species tolerant to low-grade brackish water as long as there are no other bottom dwellers present, most aquarists prefer to set up a single-species aquarium for them. This makes it easier to keep an eye on how much the gobies are eating and encourages them to spend plenty of time out of hiding.

Bumblebee gobies are group 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 of at least 6-7 fish, preferably even more, if you really want to see the bumblebee gobies’ natural behavior.

Bumblebee goby diet

Their diet is one of the most difficult aspects of bumblebee goby care. These little bottom dwellers are carnivores with a distinct taste for live foods and many fishkeepers report them completely ignoring all types of commercial pellet or flake food. Succes with frozen foods varies as well; it’s a better idea to go for something a little more wiggly to attract the bumblebees’ 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 accepted by your gobies. 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!

Brachygobius cf xanthomelas "ozelot"

Bumblebee goby behavior

Their behavior is what makes bumblebee gobies a favorite among many aquarists. While they can be shy at first, they will quickly come out of hiding if their requirements are met. Their social interactions are fascinating to watch.

Males especially can be quite territorial, which means every male will establish its own area in the tank. This can lead to occasional territorial squabbles and the fish can often be observed chasing and pestering each other. Luckily, though, this never causes serious injury.

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 go.

When ready to breed, females will become noticeably swollen with eggs and males will start to show more intense coloration. Adding some fresh water 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 are 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.

If you have any more questions about bumblebee gobies or want to share your own experiences with this tiny striped fish, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!

Cover photo: Brachygobius doriae in aquarium.jpg by Sven Kullander

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  • Reply dave walker July 7, 2019 at 6:43 pm

    I have one bumblebee goby, it is in a 70 gallon tank, it hides so much I assumed it had died as not seen in 6 months or so,, I now have about 7 tiny baby gobys in the bottom of this tank. the problem is I only had one goby to start with,, has been about 3 years since I bought this goby. There are no other similar goby type fish in the tank,. Can they reproduce asexually?? As this one obviously has. I am reluctant to tear apart all the hiding places to find the adult. But does anyone know if this is possible.

    • Reply Mari July 8, 2019 at 1:51 pm

      Hi! Now that’s odd. Are you sure the babies are gobies? Did you originally buy just one, or was it assumed that the others passed away? It is true that bottom dwellers can be extremely good at hiding, so I wouldn’t bother tearing your tank apart to try and find it.

      As far as I know this is not one of the fish species that reproduces asexually, but I honestly have no idea what happened in this case! Hope the babies make it though 🙂 good luck with them.

  • Reply Claudia July 4, 2019 at 7:32 am

    My male gobi has just turned almost completely grey but is acting normal why has he changed colour ?

    • Reply Mari July 8, 2019 at 1:47 pm

      That’s very hard to say without knowing more details about your aquarium set-up! They do not naturally turn grey so something must be going on. Have you tested your aquarium water using a liquid water test kit to verify the water values are on par with what they’re supposed to be? Are you sure you’re following the guidelines mentioned in this article, like keeping the fish in brackish water?

      Hope you can figure it out!

  • Reply Brian V May 16, 2019 at 6:32 am

    How many bumblebee gobies can I keep in a 10 gallon tank?

    • Reply Mari May 16, 2019 at 3:29 pm

      6-7 is a good number! Just be sure not to overstock, your options for other species are limited since the gobies like to be kept in groups. 🙂

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