The Blue Goby Cichlid is one of the most attractive goby species from Lake Tanganyika!

The Blue Goby Cichlid Spathodus erythrodon is a fascinating fish in color, body form, and behavior. This is a small cichlid, reaching just over 3” (8.5 cm) in length. It has a very pretty body, a brownish gray background adorned rows of spots, which are designed to help camouflage it in nature.The blue and gold spots are eye-catching by themselves but when you add in its blue lips this fish is extraordinary. These distinctive color marks have led to it also being called the Blue-Spotted Goby Cichlid and Blue Lips Goby Cichlid.

These fish are comical in both appearance and personality. They will perch on the bottom of the aquarium and swim with a ‘hopping’ motion, and are said to play ‘hide and seek’ with their keepers. They make a great choice for any cichlid enthusiast who has limited space and cannot provide a large aquarium. As long as their needs are met, they are easy to moderate to care for.

The Blue Goby Cichlids are fascinating too keep and a colorful addition to the aquarium. Provide stacked rocks with lots of caves and crevices for hiding and flat stones in the front for perching. Some natural sunlight will help algae growth on the stones which the gobies relish. Adding a wave-making box, similar to those used in aquariums, will simulate the water surge of their natural environment and be extra enjoyment for these fish.

These cichlids can be kept alone or in pairs but are generally not tolerant of their own species or other Goby Cichlids. They primarily inhabit the bottom of the tank so can be housed with some other mid-water cichlids. Avoid other cichlids that are too large or boisterous, like the Mbuna from Lake Malawi. Good tankmates are species that inhabit the upper and middle areas of the aquarium rather than the lower substrate areas of these fish.

About the Lake Tanganyika Goby Cichlids

The Goby cichlids from Lake Tanganyika are an intriguing and attractive group of fish.
Goby Cichlids are members of the Eretmodini tribe belonging to the Pseudocrenilabrinae subfamily under the Cichlidae family. Currently there are five recognized species of Eretmodines placed in three genera: Plain Goby Cichlid Spathodus marlieri, Blue Goby Cichlid Spathodus erythrodon, Spotfin Goby Cichlid Tanganicodus irsacae, Tanganykan Goby Cichlid Eretmodus cyanostictus which has two variants, the other being Eretmodus cyanostictus (north), and Eretmodus marksmithi which is a very recent discovery, described by Burgess in 2012.

These fish are unique in the natural environment where they are found and in body shape.
Scientists speculate that their body shape is most likely an adaptation to their environment. They are small fish, give or take around 3″ in length. They live close to the shore in shallow waters, usually less than 3 feet (1 m) and never more than 10 feet (3 m). The sandy substrate is strewn with rocks and pebbles. These are fast moving waters subject to ‘surge’, where the shoreline is continuously washed with wind driven waves.

This ‘surge zone’ habitat creates some unique situations for Goby cichlids.
  • The shallow waters get good sunlight penetration and have relatively clear visibility, but the Goby cichlids are difficult to see. Their interesting color patterns that can readily be seen in the aquarium create a camouflage in the wild.
  • The rocky rubble substrate has plenty of healthy algae growth which houses small crustaceans and insect larvae. This provides a diverse diet for this bottom dwelling cichlid.
  • There are few aquatic predators in such shallow water, but these areas are preyed upon by birds. The Goby cichlids forage the substrate with their snout like mouths while with their eyes, mounted high on the head, and their heavily spined dorsal fin help them evade airborne predators.  
Body Shape:
The rugged water movement of the ‘surge zone’ requires special adaptations so that these shallow dwelling fish do not get picked up and dashed into the rocks.
  • Their swim bladder is greatly reduced giving them little buoyancy. This keeps them close to the bottom and makes for a rather comical hopping motion when they swim.
  • Their pelvic fins are positioned downward and have stiff heavy spines. Perching on their pelvic fins helps them cling to the substrate and maintain their position in the fast moving waters.

For Information on keeping freshwater fish, see:
Freshwater Aquarium Guide: Aquarium Setup and Care

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Family: Cichlidae
  • Genus: Spathodus
  • Species: erythrodon
Blue Goby Cichlid – Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Size of fish – inches: 3.0 inches (7.62 cm)
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gal (114 L)
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Temperature: 75.0 to 81.0° F (23.9 to 27.2&deg C)
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Blue Goby Cichlid Spathodus erythrodon was described by Boulenger in 1900. These fish are endemic to all but the southern end of Lake Tanganyika, Africa. This species is listed on the IUCN Red list of Threatened Species as Least Concern (LC) as they are sufficiently widespread throughout their range. Other common names they are known by are Blue-Spotted Goby Cichlid and Blue Lips Goby Cichlid.

This species prefers the top part of the water column, not often venturing below 1 foot (.3 m). They are found along the rubble or pebble edges of the shoreline called surge zones. This area is continually washed by waves that are driven by the wind. This water has a pH of over 9 due to the releases of oxygen at the shore called “faunal exhaust.”

In the wild they may be found in pairs, but they are the least tolerant of other goby cichlids. They are biparental mouthbrooders where the female holds the fertilized eggs in her mouth for about 10 days. As soon as they hatch she releases the fry the male takes over and mouthbroods the young for about another 10 days. They feed by picking algae and micro-organisms living in the algae from the rocks.

  • Scientific Name: Spathodus erythrodon
  • Social Grouping: Pairs – They usually occur in pairs.
  • IUCN Red List: LC – Least Concern


The Blue Goby Cichlid is a small, moderately elongated fish. They reach just over 3 inches (8.5 cm) in length. Their average life span is said to be approximately 3-5 years, though like other African Cichlids they may live longer when well maintained and provided proper diet and care.

The body is a brownish gray color with several rows of light blue spots all over interspersed with a couple rows of gold spots closer to the belly area. The belly is lighter and there are hints of blue in the dorsal, tail, and anal fins. Both the top lip and the bottom lip are blue in color.

They have a uniquely shaped mouth with their top lip almost looking like an “overbite”. Their eyes are located toward the top of their head. These cichlids have one row of teeth on each side of their jaw that are long and curved with tips that are blunt, used for eating algae off of rocks. All cichlids share a common feature that some saltwater fish such as wrasses and parrotfish have and that is a well-developed pharyngeal set of teeth that are in the throat, along with their regular teeth.

With the name goby, one would rightly picture a hopping motion that these fish use due to the absence of a swim bladder. Their pectoral fins are heavy, sharp and located lower than other cichlids. They use these fins in an almost “foot” like application by pointing them straight down and digging into the rock or rubble to keep from being thrown around by waves.

All cichlids have spiny rays in the back parts of the anal, dorsal, pectoral, and pelvic fins to help discourage predators. The front part of these fins are soft and perfect for precise positions and effortless movements in the water as opposed to fast swimming. Cichlids have one nostril on each side while other fish have 2 sets. To sense “smells” in the water, they suck water in and expel the water right back out after being “sampled” for a short or longer time, depending on how much the cichlid needs to “smell” the water. This feature is also shared by saltwater damselfish and cichlids are thought to be closely related.

  • Size of fish – inches: 3.0 inches (7.62 cm) – This is a small species reaching a length of 3 inches.
  • Lifespan: 3 years – Their lifespan is said to be 3 – 5 years, but as with other African cichlids, they may live longer with proper care.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

The Blue Goby Cichlids are suggested for the intermediate aquarists due to their sensitivity and specific requirements. They are easy to moderate to care for, but they are aggressive and they require top-notch water conditions. Diligent attention must be given to their requirements of diet and habitat. The aquarists must also be willing to do frequent water changes and provide appropriate tank mates.

The Lake Tanganyikan Goby species are rather expensive fish that have rather specific, though uncomplicated needs. They are fine in an aquarium of 30 gallons or more and can be kept in a cichlid community. But their tank needs to have good filtration with highly oxygenated water, and their diet must consist of a variety of quality foods.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate – These fish must have appropriate tankmates and require attention to diet and tank care.

Foods and Feeding

The Blue Goby Cichlid is an omnivore. In the wild they pick algae and microorganisms from the rock biocover. In the aquarium they can be fed nutritious live foods, tablets, and some will accept frozen or flake. Flakes are often accepted by captive bred fish though captive caught fish are less enthusiastic. A varied died is important however, as a diet consisting of just flakes has been said to contribute to bloat.

Provide a diet of high quality spirulina or vegetables such as blanched chopped peas, broccoli or lettuce. Also feed crustaceans, Cyclops, brine shrimp, glassworms, or other special foods for Lake Tanganyika cichlids. On rare occasions you can feed bloodworms, but high protein foods such as shellfish, meat (especially animal meat) and other worms should be avoided. All fish benefit from vitamins and supplements added to their foods. Feed smaller amounts of 2 to 5 small pinches of food several times a day instead of a large quantity once a day.

  • Diet Type: Omnivore
  • Flake Food: Yes
  • Tablet / Pellet: Yes
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet
  • Vegetable Food: Some of Diet
  • Meaty Food: Some of Diet – Avoid high protein foods such as shellfish, animal meat, and worms.
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day – Generally feed 2-3 small feedings a day rather than a single large feeding for better water quality.

Aquarium Care

The Blue Goby Cichlid needs diligent maintenance for good water quality. Regular partial water changes are very important and removing any uneaten foods will help prevent disease. Do water changes of 10% to 15% a week, or more frequent changes depending on the nitrite/ammonia levels and stocking numbers.

The Lake Tanganyika cichlids cannot handle large water changes very well unless the new water chemistry closely matches the water they are in. If a large water change is needed, changing 15% every couple of days should bring water back to normal. This inability to tolerate large water changes is due to Lake Tanganyika being very deep and the water tends to stay stable.

  • Water Changes: Weekly – Water changes of 10% to 15% a week are recommended.

Aquarium Setup

The Blue Goby Cichlids will swim mostly on the bottom and occasionally in the middle areas of the tank. Though they are a smaller cichlid they are shy and need a minimum 30 gallon aquarium. A tank that is 4 foot long, 75 gallon or more, is better for long term maintenance and if you wish to keep a cichlid community. They need good water movement along with very strong and efficient filtration. Extra aeration is suggested for the aquarium to provide optimal oxygen levels. Lake Tanganyika is a very oxygen rich lake, and in nature these cichlids occur in the “surge” zones near the shore where the water is always high in oxygen.

With a fine sand substrate, undergravel filtration is very difficult to implement. An external canister filter or hang on tank filter can be used as long as the flow rate is higher than required for your particular tank because of the oxygenation that is required. Make sure the intakes are well above the sand and have a protective cover to prevent sand from entering the filter, or the impeller will wear out quickly.

For Lake Tanganyika cichlids the water needs to be well buffered and maintained with small, regular water changes. They do fine in either freshwater or brackish freshwater. The surge zone areas of Lake Tanganyika have a pH of over 9. This is due to the releases of oxygen at the shore called ‘faunal exhaust’. Keep an eye on pH parameters for the Goby Cichlids. A higher pH means that ammonia is more lethal, so water changes are a must for these fish. In addition keep an eye on total hardness and carbonate hardness. Avoid overfeeding and overstocking.

The best set up is a system of caves that reach almost to the water surface, formed by rocks or flowerpots. Though they primarily inhabit the bottom parts of the tank, this provides a higher refuge for the female when the male gets aggressive. Laying stones at the bottom and front of the tank for perching and growing the algae the gobies relish is also suggested. Positioning the tank near natural sunlight will encourage growing this beneficial algae.

A sandy substrate is needed as it is thought to aid in the Goby cichlid’s digestion. It is helpful to use sand that is designed for marine aquariums which will help keep the pH high. Salt is sometimes used as a buffering agent to increase the water’s carbonate hardness. An alternative buffering approach is to use a chemical filtration method, where the water passes through layers of crushed coral or coral sand.

Although rift lake cichlids need hard alkaline water they are not found in brackish waters. This cichlid has some salt tolerance so can be kept in slightly brackish water conditions. However it not suited to a full brackish water tank. Salinity must be less than about 10% of a normal saltwater tank, a specific gravity of less than 1.0002.

For freshwater an optional practice is to add 1 heaping teaspoon of salt per 11 gallons of water. This is considered to be a simple and natural remedy for wounds, minor fungal infections and film over the eyes of fish in transit. Tanganyika cichlids also need iodine for the thyroid to function properly to regulate growth and development, and which can be achieved by adding iodized table salt to the water. Be very careful to not add too much salt as this may cause bloat. Using a marine salt (used for salt water fish) will add some trace elements.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gal (114 L) – The minimum size for a pair of these cichlids is 30 gallons but a 4 foot long, 75+ gallon tank will be needed to keep a cichlid community.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Substrate Type: Sand
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate – normal lighting – Normal lighting is okay, but stronger lighting will help with algae growth.
  • Temperature: 75.0 to 81.0° F (23.9 to 27.2&deg C)
  • Range ph: 8.1-8.6
  • Hardness Range: 8 – 9 dGH
  • Brackish: Sometimes – Can tolerate a low salinity, but must be less than 10% of a normal saltwater tank, a specific gravity of less than 1.0002.
  • Water Movement: Moderate
  • Water Region: Bottom – These fish will swim in the bottom and occasionally middle areas of the aquarium.

Social Behaviors

The Blue Goby Cichlid is a community cichlid that can be kept with smaller mid-water swimming cichlids. They can be kept alone or in pairs, but are generally not tolerant of their own species when not paired up. In the wild they are the more tolerant of other goby species, but in the aquarium it is a gamble. They do best in a species specific tank if you want to see much of them or breed them.

They can be kept with some other cichlids, but will feel threatened and hide if the other fish swim in the lower regions or compete for the same foods. They will stay hidden in the rockwork but won’t get hurt. Housing with mid-water fish gives them more “room” and allows them to come out of hiding. Avoid other cichlids that are too large or boisterous, like the Mbuna from Lake Malawi. Good tankmates are species that inhabit the upper and middle areas of the aquarium rather than the lower substrate areas of these fish.

  • Venomous: No
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive – Is generally compatible with mid-water cichlids of similar size but not with the same species.
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Sometimes – Intolerant of their own species, but can be kept as a pair.
    • Peaceful fish (): Safe
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
    • Monitor
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Safe – not aggressive
    • Plants: Safe

Sex: Sexual differences

When adults, the males seem to have larger heads and more coloring. It is possible to sex as juveniles when “venting” the fish, have a magnifying glass handy.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Blue Goby Cichlid has been bred in captivity. They are biparental mouthbrooders. A strong bond between the male and female is established by buying around 6 juvenile Goby Cichlids and waiting for them to pair. Once they pair, remove the other fish. Just buying a male and female that are not paired will end in the female being harassed to death.

The female will clear a flat spot in the tank and display to attract the male. She will lay only 1 or 2 eggs and then immediately pick them up in her mouth. The male then swims over and the female nuzzles his vent until he releases sperm, which she takes into her mouth to fertilize the eggs. She will do this over and over until 10 to 30 orange/yellow eggs are produced. The number is dependant on her age and nutritional levels.

The female carries the eggs until they hatch and then spits out 1 or 2 fry at a time on the original spawning site. The male then takes the fry into his mouth for another 9 to 16 days. If he is in a community cichlid tank, he should be removed. In a species specific tank both parents can be left in with the fry. The male releases the fry at night, only letting out a few at a time in different areas, with the male waiting until they find a hiding place. If a fry does not seek shelter, the male pulls it back into his mouth before he moves on. If there is a need to remove the 10 mm (.3”) long fry, wait until the male is done releasing the fry so as not to disturb him.

In the case of a male being too aggressive toward the female, she can be separated. The female can care for the brood for the duration that the male would have, but this taxes her strength and she will not be ready to breed again as soon as females who share with the males.

Provide small shells and piles of small stones for the fry to hide in after they are released. Be sure to cover intakes with screen. Feed the fry Artemia nauplii and powdered spirulina flake, and within a few weeks they will graze on algae. They double their size in 6 weeks. In 4 to 5 months, they will reach .9” to 1.1” (2.5 – 3 cm) and are sexually mature between the 10th and 14th month after the male releases them. See more information on breeding cichlids in Breeding Freshwater Fish: Cichlids.

  • Ease of Breeding: Easy

Fish Diseases

The Goby Cichlids are relatively hardy as long as diligent attention is paid to maintaining their environment and diet. These fish are susceptible to typical fish ailments, especially if water is stale and of poor quality and has low oxygenation. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Water changes, not overfeeding or overcrowding, and observation along with feeding your fish the proper foods (thawing frozen food and adding vitamins) will keep them in optimum health. For freshwater an optional practice is to add 1 heaping teaspoon of salt per 11 gallons of water. This is considered to be a simple and natural remedy for wounds, minor fungal infections and film over the eyes of fish in transit.

One common problem is Ich. It can be treated with the elevation of the tank temperature to 86° F (30° C) for 3 days. If that does not cure the Ich, then the fish needs to be treated with copper (remove any water conditioners). Several copper based fish medications are available for Ich. Copper use must be kept within the proper levels, so be sure to follow the manufacturers suggestions. You can also combine increasing the temperature with an Ich medication treatment. A copper test also can be used to keep the proper levels.

As with most fish they are susceptible to skin flukes and other parasitic infestations (protozoa, worms, etc.), fungal infections, and bacterial infections. It is recommended to read up on the common tank diseases. Knowing the signs and catching and treating them early makes a huge difference. For information about fish diseases and illnesses, see Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments.


The Blue Goby Cichlid is rather rare online or in fish stores. They can be special ordered if you are willing to wait. These cichlids are relatively costly, it varies depending on age and size.