The Golden Headed Sleeper Goby is a beautiful fish that has a short 1 year life span in the wild and around 2 years in captivity.  During that time they do a great job in keeping the sand bed turned over!

The Golden Headed Sleeper Goby has a thick tubular body that can range from a dusky gray (juveniles) to a bright white!  The fins are a lighter version of the body color.  The upper back is slightly darker and they all have yellow on the head that starts at the mouth and can end just behind the eye area or can extend to the gill plates of some specimens. The first part of the front dorsal fin has several elongated spines and the tail fin is longer than the head and is rounded.  These gobies have a very recognizable iridescent blue band on their cheek that runs under their eyes.  Males have an elongated 2nd dorsal spine.  They grow to about 7” as adults and only live around 2 years in captivity.  They are for intermediate aquarists due to their demanding feeding habits.    

Ichthyologists cannot figure out why the Golden Headed Sleeper Goby is monogamous.  The needs of the species of fish that is monogamous are not present in these gobies.  There are several factors that doe not line up, and The Golden Headed Sleeper Goby breaks the mold and throws confusion into the minds of scientists, since others in this genus are not monogamous!  They have such strong fidelity, that they will guard one another against other possible mates that try to impose on their happy life!  No divorce lawyers for this part of the reef!  They are called sand sifting gobies because they take mouthfuls of sand and sift out organisms for nourishment.  The term sleeper gobies?  It is possible that due to the fact that they use a large shell to “close the door” of their burrows at night, they appeared to be “sleeping” or in for the night.  At least that is the best explanation I could come to!  Anyone?  If they are threatened by predators near their burrow, one will make a mad dash to the burrow while the other fish will play decoy to lure the threat away from the burrow, then will hide until the danger has passed. 

These fish are rated as moderate to care for.  The minimum tank size is stated at 55 gallons; however, 75 gallons would be better.  One reason is their “sifting” of sand up to 6” from the bottom causes quite a cloudy mess in a 55 gallon or smaller.  In 75 gallons, it is a little less of an issue.  Even in a 75 gallon tank, the sand bed will be decimated by the Yellow Headed Sleeper Goby’s voracious appetite, and the sand would eventually, “not be alive” anymore, so the goby will need to be fed 4 times a day.  Don’t have that kind of time, try 150 gallons.  The reason for this tank size, is that they occupy a space that is a square meter in the wild, where they feed on lots organisms that live in the sand.   This “floorspace” translates to roughly a 5’ x 2,’ tank, or a 150 gallon tank if you stretch it out.  The tank still needs to have a refugium attached to help supply a constant food source.  Personally, I bought one of these Golden Headed Sleeper Gobies when I had my 150 gallon tank, and I knew going in that I wanted a live sand bed.   I had him for 1.5 years, and he ate prepared food and he was quite large and fat and I only fed the tank twice a day!  My sand bed was 2 to 3” deep depending on how the pumps were moving the water and I had a small refugium connected to the tank as well.  He was always happy to eat rather large pieces of prepared foods!  My loss was due to a “tank sitter” who didn’t bother to top off the tank so by the time I came home a week later my tank had crashed!  Although, he may have not lived much longer due to their short life span. These gobies will eat prepared foods if they are healthy.  Ask the store to show your goby eating mysis or other prepared foods before purchase and buy small individuals or smaller pairs.  Treating them for internal worms is necessary in a quarantine before adding them to the main display.  

The Golden Headed Sleeper Goby is best purchased as a male and female pair or singly if you cannot wait.  Putting two unfamiliar Golden Headed Sleeper Gobies together will not usually result in a pairing.  In fact, many aquarists reported that once one the the mates died, the remaining goby refused to pair up with another Golden Headed Sleeper Goby.  Several different fish were tried without success.  Other than that, they  pretty much get along with all other fish except other sand sifters and sand dwelling gobies.  They ignore most tank inhabitants, but should not be housed with predatorial fish or eels, nor with aggressive fish.  Larger open water swimming fish like very large tangs, very large wrasses, say over 12,” and large angelfish will cause the goby to stay close to the rock work and not venture out.  If however you can get them to eat prepared foods, you may be successful with 2 in a 150 gallon tank.  They will dump sand on anything that is up to 6” from the bottom, including corals and they do not care where your water pump is aiming!  Once they pick a spot, you may need to move your water pump unless you want sand floating all over the tank, and relocate your corals.   

In order to keep your sand ALIVE, provide the Golden Headed Sleeper Goby with a 150 gallon tank.  If you do not have a desire for a live sand bed, then a smaller tank of 75 gallons is acceptable, however, the goby needs to be fed quite often, at least 4 times a day.  Make sure it is eating prepared foods before purchasing and target feed to make sure they are getting enough food.  Keep in mind that they expel a lot of sand through their gills, so a smaller tank could be constantly cloudy, and be warned that they will dump sand on your corals that inhabit the lower 6” of the tank.  Their propensity to burrow means that the aquarist needs make sure that all rocks are sitting on the bottom glass of the aquarium to avoid rock collapses.  Next, provide handfuls of differently sized broken shells for them to build with.  A lid is wise because they will jump when frightened; however, this risk drops with deep tanks and peaceful tank mates.  Temperature should be between 72 and 82˚F (22 – 28˚C).

For more Information on keeping this fish see:
Guide to a Happy, Healthy Marine Aquarium

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Family: Gobiidae
  • Genus: Valenciennea
  • Species: strigata
Golden-headed Sleeper Goby – Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Minimum Tank Size: 75 gal (284 L)
  • Size of fish – inches: 7.0 inches (17.78 cm)
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 82.0° F (22.2 to 27.8&deg C)
  • Range ph: 8.1-8.4
  • Diet Type: Carnivore
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Golden Headed Sleeper Goby, Valenciennea strigata, was first described by Broussonet in 1782. This goby was originally in the Gobius genus, then Eleotriodes, and Gobiomorus genus, until it was finally put into the newest Valenciennea genus.  The most common names are Blue-Streak Goby, Blueband Glider Goby, Blueband Goby, Golden-Head Sleeper-Goby, Pennant Glider, Sleeper Goby, and Blue-Cheek Goby.

Distribution – Habitat:
The Golden Headed Sleeper Goby is widely distributed in the Indo-Pacific from East Africa to the Tuamoto Islands, then north to the Ryukyu Islands, and then south to Sydney, Australia and Lord Howe Island.  They inhabit clear outer lagoons and seaward reef areas, but are generally found along reef crests on sand, rubble or solid substrates.  They hide in caves or burrows which can be insanely huge and complex; although, they do not seem to stress from not having this in captivity.  The depths they are found in are from 3 to 25 feet (1 to 25 m), however they are most commonly found from 3 to 20 feet (1 to 6 m).  They feed on small benthic inverts, small fish, fish larvae and fish eggs that are in the sand that they sift through their gills.

The Golden Headed Sleeper Goby is usually found in male/female pairs.  They even take turns eating, with one foraging, while the other keeps a look out.  They will switch roles back and forth until both have had enough to eat.  They dig down a little more than 1” into the sand with their mouth then expel the sand through their gills and the organisms they dig up are kept in the mouth and eaten.  

They have not been evaluated on the IUCN Red List for endangered species.

  • Scientific Name: Valenciennea strigata
  • Social Grouping: Pairs
  • IUCN Red List: NE – Not Evaluated or not listed – They have not been assessed by the IUCN Red List for endangered species.


The Golden Headed Sleeper Goby has a thick tubular body that can range from a dusky gray to a bright white!  The fins are a lighter version of the body color.  The upper back on all of these colors is slightly darker and they all have yellow on the head that starts at the mouth and can end just behind the eye area or even onto the gill plates in some specimens.  They have a very recognizable iridescent blue band that sort of looks like a shallow upside-down Nike check mark!  It starts at the back of the gill plate and runs horizontally forward and curves down just before it hits the mouth area.  The goby have a few other thinner and less appearance blue lines that curve up from the jaw line, and a blue spot behind each eye.  What separates them from other genus of goby is that they have a single row of teeth in their upper jaw, separated pelvic fins, (instead of the usual goby style connected, cone-like, fused, pelvic fins), and a large fleshy flap at their gill arches.  Juveniles are more dusky than adults and will not form the long dorsal spine until the are almost 2” long.  They can reach 7” (18 cm), and are known to live 1 year in the wild and around 2 years in captivity.

  • Size of fish – inches: 7.0 inches (17.78 cm) – 7” (18 cm)
 Long dorsal spines do not appear until they are 1.77” long (4.5 cm). Obtain the smallest size you can since they do not live for very long.
  • Lifespan: 1 years – Said to live only one year in the wild, however aquarists report 1.5 to 2 years.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

The biggest challenge in keeping the Golden Headed Sleeper Goby is feeding and the fact that a large percentage arrive with internal worms which causes them to starve to death, even though they are eating. They should be automatically treated for at least internal worms right away.  Do this in a separate tank, not the main display.  If they hide, do not disturb them when you first acquire them by lifting rocks and looking around for them.  They are big eaters and need to be eating at the store, before you buy them, however this does not mean they do not have internal worms, but means you can still treat them, and well you should.  If they are very large, they may be at the end of their life cycle which is only around 1.5 to 2 years.  If you have a Golden Headed Sleeper Goby  who will eat mysis and other foods, and are willing to fed them 4 times a day then a 75 gallon tanks should be fine.  If your tank is 150 gallons, has a mature sand bed, refugium and non-aggressive fish, then they will do great!  Most are found in pairs in the wild and that is how they should be purchased, but an individual will also be okay.  In a broken pair, the lone mate rarely bonds with another Golden Headed Sleeper Goby.  A single Golden Headed Sleeper Goby is also acceptable; however, they may not live as long according to some sources, although my experience was the opposite.   

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy – Tend to arrive with internal worms that cause them to waste away. Need to be fed 4 times a day in tanks smaller than 150 gallons.
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate

Foods and Feeding

The Golden Headed Sleeper Goby is a carnivore that eats benthic crustaceans, fish eggs, fish larvae, small fish, worms and any other organisms that live in the sand bed.  Feed them meaty marine foods.  They are big eaters and need to be spot fed mysis, fortified brine shrimp, minced fish and shrimp marine flesh, and freeze dried shrimp that is soaked in Selcon and/or garlic. One suggestion was to soak freeze dried shrimp and Marine Cuisine in garlic and Selcon before feeding.   If your Golden Headed Sleeper Goby is not in a tank that is at least 150 gallons, you will need to supplement their diet since they will quickly run out of foods found in your captive live sand bed.  Feed those above items several times a day in a 150 gallon and 4 times a day in a tank that is smaller.   Be sure they are eating before purchase. 

  • Diet Type: Carnivore
  • Flake Food: Occasionally
  • Tablet / Pellet: Occasionally
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet – Natural foods in the sand will help to supplement their diet.
  • Meaty Food: All of Diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day – Feed 4 times a day or more in tanks under 150 gallons. With tanks that are 150 gallons or more, feed 2ce a day to supplement foods in the sand.

Aquarium Care

Reef tanks:
-Medium sized up to 90 gallons, perform 15% bi-weekly. 
-Large Tanks 100 gallons and over, once water is aged and stable can be changed 10% bi-weekly to 20% monthly, depending on bioload.

Fish only tanks:*
-Medium sized up to 90 gallons, perform 20% to 30% monthly depending on bioload. 
-Large Tanks 100 gallons and over, once water is aged and stable can be changed 20% to 30% every 6 weeks depending on bioload.

For more information on maintaining a saltwater aquarium see: Saltwater Aquarium Basics: Maintenance. A reef tank will require specialized filtration and lighting equipment. Regular water changes done  bi-weekly will help replace the trace elements that the fish and corals use up.  Learn more about reef keeping see: Mini Reef Aquarium Basics.

*Note:  If this is the ONLY fish in the tank, with no corals or other fish you can get away 20% monthly.

  • Water Changes: Bi-weekly

Aquarium Setup

Nano tanks are not suitable for this goby.  Live rock needs to be solidly sitting on the bottom glass of the tank before you add sand, when starting your tank.  Sand is the best substrate since they are extensive burrowers.  Crushed coral is thought to interfere with their sifting ability or can harm them.  Provide them with various sizes of broken shells, and small rocks and chunks of rubble for them to manipulate for their homes.  A flat rock for their “roof” is appreciated as well.  They are not picky about lighting, although the water temperature, pH and specific salt gravity should be stable and within range.  Those parameters are listed below.  Some have spawned in captivity, however there aren’t any currently being raised in captivity.  The Golden-Head Sleeper Goby is a bottom dweller, and any water movement is fine; however, having a pump pointed near their burrow will result in a constant clouding of the tank as they sift the sand all day.  Use a lid, since they will jump when frightened.  It may be a good idea to set up a small and area masked of with a section of egg crate that they cannot dig in, so the sand can be regenerated at least a little.  The use of a refugium is highly recommended and cannot be emphasized enough.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 75 gal (284 L) – Due to their messing “sifting habits,” a smaller tank will stay in a perpetual sand cloud. They also need to be fed 4 times a day or more in this size tank. For a live sand bed, provide them with 150 gallons (567 liters).
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Live Rock Requirement: Typical Amount
  • Substrate Type: Sand – Provide pieces of reef ruffle, small pebbles and variously sized broken shells for building material. Do not use crushed coral since can injure them when they try to sift it.
  • Lighting Needs: Any
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 82.0° F (22.2 to 27.8&deg C) – 72˚F (22˚C) 82˚F (28˚C)
  • Breeding Temperature: – They spawn every 13 days year round, so water temperature may not matter.
  • Specific gravity: 1.023-1.025 SG
  • Range ph: 8.1-8.4
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Any – Make there there is little water movement where they sift sand.
  • Water Region: Bottom – They have been known to jump out of tanks, so provide a lid.

Social Behaviors

Usually found in pairs in the wild, and this would be the preferred captive situation, however they are fine singly as well.  They mate for life, so taking two different single Golden Headed Sleeper Gobies and putting them together will not typically result in a pair.  Even if one dies, the other mate will refuse another mate.  So buy a small juvenile singly, who has probably not bonded, or a known bonded pair.  They are easy to spot, since they will not leave each others sides.  They will not tolerate other pairs  of gobies in the same tank.  They occupy a space of about 2’ x 5’ in the wild and have several burrows that occupy that same space, so sharing is not in their vocabulary! 

The Golden Headed Sleeper Goby will ignore most other fish in the tank.  The best tank mates are peaceful fish and some mid water semi-aggressive smaller fish.  These mates are:  dwarf angelfish, anthias, assessors, basses, batfish, blennies, boxfish, butterflies, cardinals, catfish, peaceful chromis, comets, cowfish, drums, firlefish, goatfish, non-sand dwelling gobies, grammas, hamlets, hawkfish, pineapple fish, rabbitfish/foxface, spinecheeks, tilefish, waspish and wrasses.  The fish that will harass your Golden Headed Sleeper Goby, making them stay close to the rock and not venture out to feed enough are:  damsels, dottybacks, triggerfish, puffers, and sand perches.  Fish that will eat your goby are: eels that are fish eaters, groupers, lionfish, Scorpionfish, squirrelfish, adult sweetlips and toadfish.  Do not house with jawfish or other peaceful sand dwelling gobies, since the Golden Headed Sleeper Goby will attack and harass them.  

Corals that are at the bottom of the tank to about 6 to 8” from the bottom will typically get covered in sand from their sifting habits.  It is best to observe which areas get coated and then place your corals elsewhere.  Some corals will inflate at night to push off all the sand from the day, and since they feed at night it usually isn’t too much of a problem.  Just watch the coral for signs of distress and move if needed.

They will obliterate all live animals in the sand bed in tanks under 150 gallons.  Other inverts will not be bothered.  

  • Venomous: No
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Yes – Male and female pairs only
    • Peaceful fish (gobies, dartfish, assessors, fairy wrasses): Safe – Do not house with jawfish and other sand dwelling gobies. 

    • Semi-Aggressive (anthias, clownfish, dwarf angels): Monitor – Avoid very aggressive clownfish like the maroon.
    • Monitor – Damsels are too aggressive; however peaceful chromis and wrasses may be okay. Dottybacks are too aggressive.
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (tangs, large angels, large wrasses): Monitor – Large angels and large tangs will keep them hidden near the rock and they will not come out into the open and feed very well.
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (lionfish, groupers, soapfish): Threat
    • Threat – The Golden Headed Sleeper Goby is too aggressive for them.
    • Anemones: Safe – Do not place near their burrows where excessive sand is dumped.
    • Mushroom Anemones – Corallimorphs: Safe – Do not place near their burrows where excessive sand is dumped.
    • LPS corals: Safe – Do not place near their burrows where excessive sand is dumped.
    • SPS corals: Safe – Do not place near their burrows where excessive sand is dumped.
    • Gorgonians, Sea Fans: Safe – Do not place near their burrows where excessive sand is dumped.
    • Leather Corals: Safe – Do not place near their burrows where excessive sand is dumped.
    • Soft Corals (xenias, tree corals): Safe – Do not place near their burrows where excessive sand is dumped.
    • Star Polyps, Organ Pipe Coral: Safe – Do not place near their burrows where excessive sand is dumped.
    • Zoanthids – Button Polyps, Sea Mats: Safe – Do not place near their burrows where excessive sand is dumped.
    • Sponges, Tunicates: Safe – Do not place near their burrows where excessive sand is dumped.
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Safe – Do not place near their burrows where excessive sand is dumped.
    • Starfish: Safe – Do not place near their burrows where excessive sand is dumped.
    • Feather Dusters, Bristle Worms, Flatworms: Safe – Do not place near their burrows where excessive sand is dumped.
    • Clams, Scallops, Oysters: Safe – Do not place near their burrows where excessive sand is dumped.
    • Copepods, Amphipods, Mini Brittle Stars: Threat – Any living in the sand will be consumed.

Sex: Sexual differences

Males have a much longer 2nd dorsal spine than the females.

Breeding / Reproduction

Unlike others in this genus, the Yellow Headed Sleeper Goby spawns every 13 days, year round, so water temperature may not be a trigger, however sufficient food will help!  The female will lay 1,000 to 2,000 round eggs on the roof of the burrow and the male will fertilize them.  The female stays in the burrow for 1 to 4 days, while the male guards the cave on the outside, keeping his mate and the eggs safe from danger.  When the eggs do hatch, the male will seal the cave entrance until the evening, then the male will open up the cave and they will both usher the 2 mm fry into the open water (Debelius 1986).  This ensures a better survival rate as they disappear into the darkness of the ocean while most predators are sleeping.   

The Yellow Headed Sleeper Goby has spawned in captivity, however, there are no records of the fry being raised successfully. 

  • Ease of Breeding: Unknown – They do spawn easily in captivity however.

Fish Diseases

One source stated that 75% – 85% of imported Yellow Headed Sleeper Gobies will have intestinal worms, (Bassleer, 1996) which if untreated will kill the goby.  The stress of bad shipping and handling of these fish makes the ailment more pronounced.  Signs are weight loss no mater how much they are eating, scraping against rough surfaces and lastly, a complete loss of appetite just before death.  Only while the Yellow Headed Sleeper Goby is still eating with a good appetite can they be successfully treated for internal worms.  This is done by gut loading live food with foods soaked in the medication, or an easier round is soaking freeze dried shrimp in the medication first.  The best medication to start with is Piperazine, at 250mg per 100g of food each day for a period of 10 days.  Split the 250 mg into 3 separate feedings to keep it in their system, and is best done in a separate tank so other fish will not eat their medicated food.  The other medications that can be tried are Praziquantel or lecamisole can be used as a second choice, with the same dosage and time frame.  Niclosamide can also be used at 500mg per 100g of food for 10 days (Bassleer, 1996).  Typically, the infections are the Metacercaria Infection (Flatworms) and parasitic infections (protozoa, worms, etc).

For more information see Fish diseases.


These fish are easy to find and are not expensive.


Animal-World References: Marine and Reef

Complete Encyclopedia of the SALTWATER AQUARIUM
By Nick Dakin
Foreword by Julian Sprung
Published by Firefly Books Ltd.
Copyright © 2003 Interpet Ltd.

By Scott W. Michael
T.F.H. Publications
Copyright © 2005 by T.F.H. Publications, Inc.

Yellowheaded Sleeper Goby (Valenciennea strigata) Profile Information

Aquarium Fish:  A Look at the Gobies
by James W. Fatherree, M.Sc.
Copyright © 2002-2013 by Pomacanthus Publications, LLC, all rights reserved.

REEFKEEPING An online magazine for the marine aquarist FISH TALES
By Henry C. Shultz III
The Fish of Which Dreams (or Nightmares) Are Made: The Genus Valenciennea
Reefkeeping Magazine™ Reef Central, LLC-Copyright © 2008 All rights reserved

 Valenciennea strigata (Image Credit: Leonard Low, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 2.0 Generic)