Why be Interested in Gobies?
Gobies (suborder Gobioidei) are an extremely diverse group of fish, including approximately 2100 described species. They are found on all the continents except Antarctica, and they are the most common species on many islands. They live in tropical and temperate waters, in coral reefs, tide pools, mangrove swamps, in freshwater streams and lakes, in desert springs, and even on land. Many gobies spend all of their juvenile and adult lives on a single coral, others in the cup of a sponge, and still others in a burrow built by an associated snapping shrimp. Some marine gobies act as cleaner fish, removing the parasites of much larger fish. Most adult gobies have a benthic (bottom dwelling) lifestyle (many lack a swimbladder), but there are others that hover several feet above the bottom and feed on plankton which drift by.
Gobies have a variety of interesting adaptations. Most have fused pelvic fins, which form an effective suction disk allowing them to attach themselves to smooth surfaces. Although some gobies are known for their good eyesight, there are other species that are blind. Many marine gobies are hermaphrodites, and can change sex as needed. Some gobies, especially those that occur on islands, have a lifecycle in which the fish migrate between fresh and salt water. A few gobies are exquisitely beautiful, others are drab, but all are endowed with fascinating behaviour.
Because they are such a broad group of fish, mostly small and of little commercial value, gobies have not been as well studied as they should be, although in recent years an increasing number of ichthyologists have been specializing in them. The sheer number of gobies (many are still not described and new ones are still being discovered), coupled with their diversity, makes it impossible to completely know them even if a lifetime were spent in their study. If an aquarist were to add a different goby species to his or her aquarium every week, it would take over forty years to have one of each species!
Most goby species are ideal aquarium inhabitants, but unfortunately the great majority of them are rarely if ever offered for sale in aquarium stores. Perhaps hobbyists will take the cue from ichthyologists and begin paying more attention to gobies? There is much to be learned, since the biology of many gobies is still not well understood. Ordinary hobbyists can learn many previously unknown things about their behaviour and biology just by observing them in captivity. Unfortunately, many goby species are becoming vulnerable and may become extinct before they are well understood. Here too, is a unique opportunity for the aquarist: to develop techniques of rearing some of the more challenging species. Additionally, if goby awareness is increased among the general public, goby habitats are more likely to be protected.
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