Common name: Clingfishes and shore eels



Mostly small cyptic, dorso-ventrally flattened fishes with a sucking disc on the underside. Most gobiesocids live in shallow seagrass and reef habitats, clinging to rocks, seagrass leaves, algae and sessile invertebrates. Some species live amongst the spines of sea urchins and crinoids, and a few act as cleaner fishes and cling to the bodies of larger fishes. Comprised of two groups with very different body forms: the clingfishes and the shore eels.

Clingfishes have a large, broad, flattened head, tapering to long, slender compressed body, and small dorsal and anal fins positioned far back near the tail. They lack scales and a swim bladder, but possess fin spines, and have pelvic fins modified into an obvious sucking disc on the underside of the body.

Shore eels are elongate, moderately-compressed, eel-like fishes with long-based dorsal and anal fins united with the tail, and a gill slit on the underside. They lack fin spines, pectoral fins, scales and a swim bladder, and their pelvic fins are either minute or absent. Shore-eels are only found in southern Australia and Norfolk Island.

Found worldwide in tropical and temperate waters. Most species live in shallow marine coastal waters where they cling to algae, seagrasses or invertebrates, or shelter under rocks and in crevices. A few species occur in freshwater. Some live below 200 m. Two Australian species act as cleaner fish, removing parasites from larger fishes.

Cite this page as:
Dianne J. Bray, Clingfishes, GOBIESOCIDAE in Fishes of Australia, accessed 20 Jul 2024,

More Info

Family Taxonomy

Family with more than 160 species in two subfamilies. The Gobiesocinae contains most species, while the endemic Australian Cheilobranchinae contains 11 species, all in the genus Alabes. In Australia, 29 species in 11 genera are known. A number of species are yet to be described, including a one collected in 400 m off north Western Australia.

Family Distribution

Found worldwide in tropical and temperate marine environments, although more species live in temperate waters. Gobiesocids commonly inhabit seagrass, coral and rocky reef environments, from intertidal depths to 400 m. Some tropical species live on crinoids or amongst sea urchin spines. Shore eels are endemic to mainland Australia and Norfolk Island.

Family Description

Characterised by the sucking disc on the chest formed from the united pelvic fins and supported by highly modified pectoral and pelvic bones. The sucking disc is rudimentary or absent in Alabes.

Family Size

Small marine fishes, ranging in length from 1.5 to 30 cm. The largest Australian species reaches about 11 cm.

Family Colour

Well-camouflaged cryptic fishes, with colour patterns matching their surroundings.

Family Feeding

Gobiesocids are omnivores and feed on tiny benthic invertebrates, zooplanton and algae. Two Australian species act as cleaner fish, removing parasites from larger fishes.

Family Reproduction

The sexes are separate, fertilisation is external, and females lay demersal eggs that are attached to the substrate. At hatching, the larvae are well-developed and range in size from 2.4 to 6.8 mm. They have a small yolk sac, functional jaws, fully pigmented eyes and body pigmentation similar to that of post yolk-sac larvae (Leis & Rennis, 2000).

Family Commercial

A few species are traded in the aquarium industry.

Family Conservation

No Australian species are listed on the IUCN Red List.


Dianne J. Bray


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