Raiders of the Lost Shark

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In a globalized society with more information than we could ever need at our fingertips, we often forget there is still majesty and much yet undiscovered within the world around us. For the adventurers who grew up admiring Indiana Jones, you may find kinship among a particular group of fish who are no strangers to climbing waterfalls seeking treasure. Inhabiting remote locations across Southern Asia to Southwest Pacific islands, are 36 identified species of Stiphodon gobies, and many more unbeknownst the ichthyologists who have been seeking them since the 1980’s. Stiphodon gobies inhabit fast-flowing, clear streams in remote locations, often isolated on single islands and even single streams. This isolation had led to several speciation events from a single common ancestor, and many new species are still being categorized. Stiphodon goby species all share several incredible abilities.

Due to their fast-flowing and remote habitats, these gobies have developed interesting morphologies to compensate. They all share strong pelvic fins that allow them to grab onto rocky substrates along stream bottoms. This morphological development allow some species to migrate long distances upstream, and even climb waterfalls when necessary, crawling from rock to rock. What exactly do they seek, you may ask? Stiphodon gobies subsist on a very specialized food source called biofilm, which are buildups of microorganisms inhabiting an extracellular matrix found on aquatic surfaces. These fish have specialized mouths with rows of regenerating teeth perfect for scraping this delicacy off substrate. The ability to consume this food source leaves them free and clear of most competition, since even those who could scrape biofilm free may have trouble with digestion. Stiphodon gobies, however, have elongated digestive tracts that allow for more efficient breakdown. Thus, the characteristic shape of this group of fish is long and squarish, with a maximum of about 2 inches in length.

These gobies are for the most dedicated aquarists, because they require very well oxygenated and clear waters at all times, with plenty of biofilm and algal growth to sustain them. Tank setups should include air stones, sandy and rocky substrate with water worn rocks over the top, and some burrowing refuges. Frequent water changes are required to maintain water quality, and filters along with flow pumps should be used. To provide a steady supply of algae and biofilm, we recommend leaving filter sponges exposed for them to graze off of. They will eat sinking dried pellets and live and frozen meaty goods, though these offering should be second to algal and vegetal diets. Stiphodon gobies can often be found climbing the glass of their captive habitats. Their strong pelvic fins also make these gobies excellent escape artists, and tanks should be fit with tight lids. Waters should be maintained with temperatures between 70 and 82°F, pH of 6.5 to 7.5, and hardness of 36 to 215 ppm. Intensity of care aside, these unique fish are a joy to steward with careful observation of their introverted personalities, social dynamics, and beautiful coloration. Some of our favorites in house right now include Stiphodon annieae, Stiphodon rutilaureus, and Stiphodon pelewensis.

Stiphodon annieae, or simply “Annie’s Goby” is a recent addition to the Stiphodon genus in 2015, when a small population was found in Halmahera Indonesia. Wild habitat was of high-gradient clear streams, and captive care can follow general goby guidelines. Males have beautiful red-blue color patterns, with metallic blue faces, bright red bodies, and shimmering blue scales along their dorsal spines.

Stiphodon rutilaureus, or the “Golden Spot Goby”, males are red-golden in color with turquoise striped faces, with black and white patterned fins. Females are flesh-toned with a dark black horizontal stripe down their backs with extended sail-like fins of black and white. This species has wide distribution through Oceania and Australia, which makes classification and distinguishing closely related species difficult. Stiphodon cf. rutilaureus, for example, is very similar to the “Golden Spot Goby”, and goes by the common name of “Golden Red Goby”. Males of this variety have slightly darker red coloration.

Some Stiphodon species are not brightly colored, though their patterning is can still be quite impressive. Males of S. pelewensis have dark black banding down their shiny silver bodies with metallic blue-tipped noses. Indigenous to Palau islands of Micronesia, this species is found among coastal streams of tropical islands, and is assumed to have distribution across Micronesia.  

All Stiphodon gobies fill a special niche, and with the right care, can be extremely rewarding to keep. Find the right one to match your favorite adventurer!