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Chlamydogobius eremius (Family Gobiidae)

Desert Goby


The Desert Goby is mostly found in springs around Lake Eyre in the northern desert of South Australia (SA).


The Desert Goby is a small stocky fish that grows to 60 mm. Adult males can be brightly coloured and are more intensively so during the breeding season. They have a brownish to yellow body and blue, yellow, white and black fins. Females and juveniles are typically brownish with clear fins. They have a surprisingly large mouth for their size. Gobies can be distinguished from most other fishes by their fused pelvic fins. The various Chlamydogobius species are never found together, but are otherwise difficult to distinguish.

Ecology/Way of Life:

Many of the springs inhabited by the Desert Goby are shallow (less than 15 cm) with small outflows (about 1 litre per second), and are typically overgrown with short dense sedges and grasses. Desert Goby will eat just about anything, including algae, small invertebrates and insects and even each other! They typically breed over the warmer months, from November through March. Males guard a small territory, usually under a ledge or in a small hole/cave. They attract females to their territory with bright, flashy displays. Females lay up to two hundred eggs on the roof of the cave. Males will also breed with additional females while they already have existing eggs in their cave. Males vigorously guard their eggs, which take 10 days to hatch. Offspring mature in 3–6 months. Apparently they have the potential to migrate over surprising distances during major flooding as they may be found in new habitats such as flowing bores, fairly quickly after their formation, and in temporary waterholes that were previously dry. Desert Goby have broad physiological tolerances; they will survive in temperatures from 4–41°C and salinities up to 60 parts per thousand or nearly twice the salt concentration of seawater.

Interaction with Humans/Threats:

This species is a popular aquarium fish around the world. They are not formally listed as threatened, although their habitats are vulnerable due to groundwater removal, which may reduce or dry springs. They are also threatened by the gradual spread of the introduced Gambusia holbrooki (Damnbusia), which preys upon desert goby as well as competing for resources. Stock grazing can also be a problem due to trampling of the springs by cattle and livestock becoming trapped in the mud and dying in the springs.

Other Comments:

Chlamydogobius eremius was described by Zietz in 1896. The name is based on Greek, chlamydo menaing cloaked, gobius meaning goby and eremius menaing desert or wilderness.

Further Reading:

Allen, G. R., Midgley, S. H. & Allen, M. (2002). Field Guide to the Freshwater Fishes of Australia. Western Australian Museum. Perth. 394pp.

Leggett, R. & Merrick, J. R. (1987). Australian Native Fishes for Aquariums. J. R. Merrick Publications. Sydney. 245pp.

Merrick, J. R. & Schmida, G. E. (1984). Australian Freshwater Fishes: Biology and Management. Griffith Press Ltd. 409pp.

Unmack, P. J. (2003). Australian Desert Fishes.

Wager, R. & Unmack, P. J. (2000). Fishes of the Lake Eyre Catchment of Central Australia. Queensland Department of Primary Industries, Brisbane. 90pp.


Text: Peter J. Unmack & Rob Wager. Distribution map: Peter J. Unmack. Photographer: Gunther Schmida.

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