The Neon Goby is the best addition to most tanks!  They can eat the crypt parasite while it is still near the surface of the skin, and help alleviate the symptoms during an outbreak!

The Neon Goby is a very small, thin, tubular shaped fish with clear fins.   They have 3 black horizontal stripes and 2 pale blue to bright electric blue horizontal stripes.  Running along the top of the body is one black stripe that reaches the tail area and on either side of that black stripe are the 2 blue stripes.  These stripes connect at the nose area, forming a “U” shape, then they runs over the top of each eye and then down to the tail fin.  Under the blue stripes are 2 more black stripes which extend from the middle of the eyes to the tail,  and then envelop the entire body at the anal area.  Just under the lower black stripes is silver to white coloring (with the exception of the pinkish hue at the gill covering area) that runs from the mouth and chin area and belly, then slowly tapers off as the 2 mid-body black stripes take over.  This little guy only grows up to 2-3” inches (5-7.5 cm), and it is great for beginner aquarists.

These fish are monogamous and have been tank-raised.  In my experience, they are great when they are wild-caught.  They go right to cleaning fish and eating food you offer.  Any of the tank-bred Neon Gobies I purchased would not clean my fish, but at least would eat the food I put in the tank.  When I saw ONE cleaning a specific species of clownfish at a chain store, I bought it; however, it wouldn’t clean the species of clownfish I had, nor any other fish.  Until captive-bred Neon Gobies are taught to clean a wide variety of fish by learning off of a wild-caught specimen or something to teach them, I will not buy a captive bred Neon Goby just to be a cleaner but only as a wonderful colorful addition to the tank!  Aside from that, they are great in a nano tank.  A pair however, will not even tolerate other neon gobies in a tank that is 100 gallons, unless there are 6 to 8 Neon Gobies to dispel aggression, s one breeder noted.

These fish are easy to care for, eating not only parasites and dead scales from fish mate’s bodies, gills and fins, but also eating any meaty foods that are shrimp-based.  When it comes to keeping them save, I found that the captive-bred Neon Gobies are adventurous and tend to end up in the overflow or other inconvenient areas of the tank.  I guess this happens because they are not busying themselves with cleaning their tank mates!  It’s as if they never learned what their job was, always being surrounded by other Neon Gobies.  Make sure even the smallest return holes are completely covered up or buy a wild caught Neon Goby as none of those ever went into our returns.  Who knows, maybe the ones I got were just slow learners?  No matter where they come from, do not house with overly aggressive and large predatorial fish.  The Sharknose Goby is best for these fish, since in the wild they tend to larger fish where the Neon Goby are happier to clean smaller and more peaceful fish.  

The Neon Goby gets along with everything and everyone and most fish get along with them.  They will end up being attacked and eaten by Pistol Shrimp. The large eels are known to eat cleaner fish and shrimp in captivity and should be avoided.  Other fish recognize the markings of this cleaner fish and will not harass it, even if they tend to harass other small fish.  Males and females can be housed together and have been known to spawn in captivity and have been breed as well.  They will get along with others in their genus and have been known to cross breed with the Yellow Neon Goby (C. figaro), as ORA has advertised.  

Provide them with a tank that is at least 10 gallons with live rock and any substrate desired. They enjoy small holes within the live rock or small crevices to hide and sleep in and they are not picky about any meaty foods in any form that you may have to offer.  Any water movement is fine; however, do not have a heavy flow where they have set up their cleaning stations.  They are just as comfy in a fish only as a reef, so lighting not an issue.  Normal temperatures and pH for marine fish should be steady and their salinity should be 1.023 to 1.026 to match the levels found in the ocean.   A pair will defend a 100 gallon tank, however 6 to 8 Neon Gobies in the same tank tend to disperse aggression.

Scientific Classification


Neon Goby – Quick Aquarium Care

Aquarist Experience Level:Beginner
Aquarium Hardiness:Very Hardy
Minimum Tank Size:10 gal (38 L)
Size of fish – inches2.0 inches (5.08 cm)
Temperature:70.0 to 82.0° F (21.1 to 27.8&deg C)
Range ph:8.1-8.4
Diet Type:Carnivore

Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Neon Goby is found in the Western Central Atlantic from south Florida to Texas, USA; then south to Belize.  They are typically found perched on corals out in plain sight of fish looking to relieve themselves of ectoparasites on their skin and fins of smaller fish, as well as the insides of the mouths and gills of larger fish like groupers.  They are found from 3 to 147 feet (1 to 45m), however they are usually found only as deep as 131 feet (40 m) and they feed on benthic crustaceans such as copepods, isopods and other benthic inverts, as well as tiny reef worms.  They may possibly help rid fish of the viral infection called Lymphocytes which are larger white spots found on the fins of fish.

Species Variations and Similar Species:

  • ORA Hybrid Cleaner Goby (E. oceanops x E. figaro) – ORA has produced a hybrid that has a combination of blue and gold striping or even greenish blue striping in-between their normal black stripes and pale bellies.  They can be easily confused with the Sharknose Goby, which makes you wonder if that is actually what that fish is! 
  • Sharknose Goby (G. evelynae) — This goby is the same size and has the same black and neon blue markings, however, it has yellow instead of blue at the head area.  They also tend to prefer to clean large predatory fish over peaceful fish.
  • Scientific Name: Elacatinus oceanops
  • Social Grouping: Pairs – They form monogamous pairs in the wild, and the males rear the egg clutches.
  • IUCN Red List: NE – Not Evaluated or not listed


The Neon Goby is a very small, thin tubular fish with black and electric blue stripes that run the length of the fish.  They have one black stripe on their back that runs from the top of the head to the tail fin area.  Next there is a blue to bright blue stripe on each side of the fish that runs under the top black stripe.  These blue stripes are narrow at the tip of the nose and join, forming a “U” shape, then they run over the top of each eye and extend to the tail fin area.  Just under each of these blue stripes are another black stripe that runs down each side of the fish, enveloping the belly area half way to the tail fin.  Just under those black stripes, under the eye area from the mouth and chin area, down to the belly and ending half way down the body it is white to silver white; with the exception of a pinkish coloring on the gill plates.  They lack a swim bladder like all gobies, but make due by resting on corals and the fish they clean.  The fins are clear and this little guy only grows up to 2” (5 cm).  They only live a few years in the wild, however they can live much longer un captivity, with some living over 5 and up to 10 years!

  • Size of fish – inches: 2.0 inches (5.08 cm) – At 1.81” (3 cm), they are old enough to start spawning, however they are still not full grown until 10 months and can grow to 2 to 3” (5 to 7.5 cm).
  • Lifespan: 5 years – They live 2 years in the wild and much longer in captivity. Some aquarists have stated 5 to 10 years.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

The Neon Goby is very easy to keep from a nano, up to hundreds of gallons!  In a nano tank they can be housed with a few other peaceful small fish or as a mated pair.  Mated pairs will attack any and all other Neon Gobies!  To minimize this, a group of 6 to 8 somehow works, according to one aquarist who breeds them.  They do better in a tank with a live sand bed and with that set up, they only need to be fed once a day.  Bare bottom tanks can be used, however they would need to be fed several times a day.  If housed with large groupers, fish who eat small fish and eels, they may not live as long since they are known to be “accidentally” eaten by such creatures.  This may account for the “2 year” life span.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner

Foods and Feeding

The Neon Goby is a carnivore, eating benthic crustaceans and worms in the wild, along with parasites and other yummies hanging off the local fish.  Feed them any foods for carnivores such as cyclopeeze, finely minced shrimp, fortified brine shrimp and mysis shrimp.  These can be freeze dried, frozen/thawed, tiny pellets or slightly ground flake for carnivores with a shrimp base.  The key is to feed them a variety of foods to keep them healthy, like any marine fish.   Feed once a day in tanks with live sand and several times a day if the tank is bare bottomed.  

  • Diet Type: Carnivore – Shrimp based
  • Flake Food: Yes – Feed slightly ground flake with the main food being shrimp, but this should not be the main food.
  • Tablet / Pellet: Yes – Feed very small pellets with the main food being shrimp, but this should not be the main food.

  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet – Not totally necessary, however live copepods in the sand will help supplement their diet.
  • Meaty Food: All of Diet – Mainly crustacean/shrimp based.
  • Feeding Frequency: Daily – Feed several times daily if tank lacks live sand with edible residents.

Aquarium Care

Reef tanks:
-Nano/Small tanks up to 40 gallons, perform 5% water changes weekly.
-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:*
Small tanks up to 40 gallons, perform 15% water changes bi-weekly.
-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 – Weekly in nano tanks.

Aquarium Setup

Provide your Neon Goby with a minimum tank size of 10 gallons (38 gallons).  They do well in a nano tank of at least this size or any larger in a fish only or reef system.  A pair will do well in a 10 gallon; however, a mated pair will attack any other Neon Gobies in any tank, all the way up to 100 gallons.  To deter this behavior, one breeder suggested 6 to 8 individuals added at the same time in this sized tank.  Live rock that naturally have formed bolt holes for them to hid in, if frightened are appreciated.  They will more than likely be out in the open perched on a coral or rock, waiting for clientele!  Live sand is best to provide them with extra munchies between meals.  Tanks with a bare bottom would require the aquarist to feed them 3 times a day.    Any lighting is acceptable and they can be in a stable temperature that can range from 70 to 82˚F, stable salinity of 1.023 to 1.026 and a stable pH of 8.1 to 8.4.   Any water movement is acceptable; however, once your Neon Goby sets up a “cleaning station” for the other fish, do not aim a strong current in that direction since they lack a swim bladder and will have a hard time keeping stable and cleaning.  They inhabit the middle areas of the tank, however they can be found at many levels.  

  • Minimum Tank Size: 10 gal (38 L) – 10 gallons (38 liters) – If keeping more than a pair, the number should be from 6 to 8, and tank should be at least 100 gallons.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: Yes – Singly or as a male/female pair.
  • Live Rock Requirement: Typical Amount – Provide small crevices or bolt holes for them to retreat to when threatened or at night.
  • Substrate Type: Any – Live sand is preferable.
  • Lighting Needs: Any
  • Temperature: 70.0 to 82.0° F (21.1 to 27.8&deg C) – 70˚F (21˚C) 82˚F (28˚C)
  • Breeding Temperature: 79.0° F – 79˚F (26˚C) – Temperature between can range from 75 to 81˚F, and hatching will occur 6 to 8 days after fertilization
  • Specific gravity: 1.023-1.026 SG
  • Range ph: 8.1-8.4
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Any – Once they establish a cleaning station, do not aim pumps in that direction.
  • Water Region: Middle – Can be found at all levels, but typically the are in the middle areas.

Social Behaviors

Neon Gobies are great alone, as pairs, or in a group of 6 to 8.  Alone or in male/female pairs, they can be housed in tanks as small as 10 gallons, but a pair will hunt down and kill any other gobies if the numbers are less than 6, even in a tank that is 100 gallons!  In that size tank, 6 to 8 Neon Gobies will coexist with only a few squabbles.  They will interbreed with others from their genus.  ORA actually has a hybrid of the Neon Goby and the Yellowlined Goby.  

These peaceful little workers will get along with all other fish. Usually it is the Neon Goby who is in danger!  They will perch on a coral or rock right out in the open and wait for a fish who wants to be cleaned.  Fish will stop dead in the water and either position themselves head down or sideways to let the Neon Goby know they want a cleaning.  Some fish like the Achilles Tang will actually lighten the color of their bodies to make finding parasites and dead scales easier to pick off!  It is quite interesting to watch how the client fish will just twitch their fin, indicating they are done and signaling the Neon Goby to stop!  Neon Gobies do prefer cleaning smaller fish, but the Sharknose Goby seems to be braver, preferring large eels and very large groupers.  The Neon Goby is a little more fearful of very large predatorial fish compared the brave Sharknose!  Like the the Sharknose, the Neon is at risk of being eaten by fish eating fish and eels, however it is usually accidental or those large predators are not being well fed.  They will get along with all other gobies and will perform them a service of picking off parasites and dead skin too!

The Neon Goby is completely safe with corals.

Although they may eat some copepods, they will not decimate the population.  Pistol Shrimp and of course Mantis Shrimp will make a quick meal of your little Neon Goby.

  • Venomous: No
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Yes – Pairs or groups of 6 to 8 in tank that is 100 gallons or more.
    • Peaceful fish (gobies, dartfish, assessors, fairy wrasses): Safe
    • Semi-Aggressive (anthias, clownfish, dwarf angels): Safe
    • Safe
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (tangs, large angels, large wrasses): Safe
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (lionfish, groupers, soapfish): Monitor – Large eels or groups will eventually eat them.
    • Safe
    • Anemones: Safe
    • Mushroom Anemones – Corallimorphs: Safe
    • LPS corals: Safe
    • SPS corals: Safe
    • Gorgonians, Sea Fans: Safe
    • Soft Corals (xenias, tree corals): Safe
    • Star Polyps, Organ Pipe Coral: Unknown
    • Zoanthids – Button Polyps, Sea Mats: Safe
    • Sponges, Tunicates: Safe
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Monitor – While the Neon Goby is not the problem, Pistol Shrimp will attack and kill them.
    • Starfish: Safe
    • Feather Dusters, Bristle Worms, Flatworms: Safe
    • Clams, Scallops, Oysters: Safe
    • Copepods, Amphipods, Mini Brittle Stars: Safe – While they do eat copepods, they will not decimate the population.

Sexual differences

Males may be larger by 1/4.”  When spawning, the female has a larger distended belly full of eggs and males have darker pigmentation on their bellies.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Neon Goby spawns just before sunrise, every 10 to 12 days in the wild.  This occurs between the months of February and April, in areas around the southern tip of Florida.  In captivity, spawning can happen in the afternoon or evening.  The male meticulously cleans the nest site surface by picking off all lose particles with his mouth and by rubbing his pelvic fins to smooth it out.   The female enters the shell or PVC (used in captivity) and both demonstrate secretive courtship where the female and male quiver next to each other, which lasts from a 1/2 hour to 1 hour.  The female then deposits demersal eggs on the cleaned “ceiling” of the shell or PVC and the male follows her, making contact with the eggs as he fertilizes them.  The eggs are clear and are 2 mm in length, 1 mm in diameter, and can number between 250 to 600 eggs, depending on the size of the female.  The eggs are laid in a random pattern that covers about 2” of space.  The male will guard and aerate the eggs while the female typically stays away from the site, only visiting once in a while, but does not interact with the eggs.   As the eyes develop, the clutch develops a silver appearance. The male will leave the clutch to feed but returns quickly, comically hanging upside down over the eggs which are on the ceiling still!   Without the male, the eggs can take 12 hours longer to mature, and the hatch rate is much lower, unless there is a fine stream of air bubble aimed just over the eggs.  That fine stream of air bubbles will keep them clean and will result in proper development and hatching.  At temperatures between 75 and 81˚F, the eggs will tank about 6 to 8 days to hatch.  It is stated that there is an enzyme in the gut of the embryo that helps break down the egg capsule, when it is time for them to hatch.  When they emerge as larvae, they are only 4 mm long and each have a yolk sac which is used up within 12 hours.   In captivity, this would be the time to start feeding them small species of rotifers 3 to 4 times a day.  The larval stages lasts from 16 to 20 days, (though ORA states 25 to 28 days, possibly due to cooler water).  Basically, as soon as the adult coloring starts to develop, shortly after that they start to settle to the bottom as developed fish.  At 3 months, they can be paired up, and by the time they are 3cm (around 5 to 6 months), they are ready to breed themselves, however clutches will be small.  At 10 months they are full grown.

In captivity, the male and female pair can be kept in a smaller tank that is 5 to 10 gallons (with weekly water changes); however transferred eggs and/or larvae should be kept in a 20 long that has frequent water changes.

  • Ease of Breeding: Moderate

Fish Diseases

Neon Gobies are tough little fish, however they themselves can be infected with Crypt if the tank is infected.  If using them to help with the crypt parasite, make sure to raise the water temperature to 82˚F (28˚C), to make the parasite unable to complete it’s cycle.  It is thought they will eat them out of the sand or free swimming as well.

Like all marine fish, if water quality is low, they will succumb to typical marine illnesses. 

For more information see Fish diseases.


These fish are easy to find on line, at stores and from local breeders!  In the summer, wild caught are typically more available.



Featured Image Credit: Oltre Lo Specchio, Shutterstock