Desert Goby, Chlamydogobius eremius (Zietz 1896)

Other Names: Central Australian Goby

A male Desert Goby, Chlamydogobius eremius, courting a female. Source: T. K. Lehtonen. License: CC by Attribution


A small sexually dimorphic goby found in the Lake Eyre catchment in South Australia. Desert gobies are greyish-brown with 7-8 darker saddles along the back, and marbled brown markings on the upper sides. The first dorsal fin has a bright blue median band and a yellow submarginal band, and the underside of the head is yellow.

The brightly-coloured breeding males have vivid yellow and blue markings on the first dorsal fin, and white margins on the second dorsal, anal  and caudal fins.

These little gobies are remarkably well adapted to life in the desert. They occur in a wide range of habitats – from permanent desert springs to ephemeral rivers and streams where water temperatures and dissolved oxygen levels fluctuate greatly. When oxygen levels in the water are low, they survive by gulping air at the water surface.

Desert Gobies in their natural habitat at Coward Springs, South Australia, April 2016

YouTube video of male and female Desert Gobies in an aquarium.

Desert Gobies in an aquarium.

Cite this page as:
Gomon, M.F. & Bray, D.J. 2023, Chlamydogobius eremius in Fishes of Australia, accessed 25 May 2024,

Desert Goby, Chlamydogobius eremius (Zietz 1896)

More Info


Endemic to the western and southern parts of the Lake Eyre drainage basin, South Australia, from north of the Flinders Ranges to the Neales River.

Desert gobies inhabit both permanent and ephemeral water bodies, including spring-fed pools and bores, and desert streams. They live on the bottom, preferring shaded areas around plants or rocks. During the day, they mostly shelter under rocks and in crevices.

Individuals can tolerate extreme variations in temperature (5-41°C), pH, salinity and dissolved oxygen levels.


Dorsal fin IV-VI +  I, 6-8; Anal fin I, 5-8; Pectoral fin 12-15; Caudal fin (segmented rays) 16-17 (branched rays) 14-16; Pelvic fin I, 5; Vertebrae 10-11 + 16-18 = 27-29; Gill rakers 2-3 +5-10 = 7-13; Horizontal scale rows 13-19; midlateral scales 32-57 (usually 40-51).

Body cylindrical anteriorly, compressed posteriorly. Head short, somewhat rounded, length 2.8-3.5 in SL. Snout rounded to rather flattened. Anterior nostril in short tube, placed on edge of preorbital, tube oriented down and forward, preorbital sometimes curved forward slightly to accommodate nostril. Posterior nostril small, oval, placed halfway between front centre margin of eye and edge of preorbital.

Eyes lateral, high on head, top usually part of dorsal profile, 2.6-5.6 in HL. Interorbital broad, flat to very slightly convex; top of head, from rear of interorbital space up to snout tip, with scattering of very fine villi. 
Lips usually fleshy, smooth, lower lip free at sides, fused across front.

Mouth terminal to subterminal, slightly oblique, upper jaw slightly overhanging lower jaw; generally reaching to below mid-eye in males and front half of eye in females; teeth of upper jaw in 4-6 rows, outermost usually larger than others, stout and curved or almost upright, others slightly smaller; teeth of lower jaw in 5-6 rows; teeth not differing much between males and females; tongue thick and fleshy, usually blunt to rounded. Gill opening restricted to pectoral base; inner edge of shoulder girdle either smooth and fleshy, or hard-edged.

Ctenoid scales on side of body at least as scattered scales on caudal peduncle and patch behind pectoral fin. Predorsal scales usually absent, when present, midline of nape naked with scales extending forward at sides to above opercle, or 0-10 small scales immediately before first dorsal fin or scattered unevenly over nape; operculum generally naked, occasionally a few dorsally; cheek naked; pectoral fin base naked; prepelvic area usually naked; belly sometimes with naked mid-line, otherwise covered with cycloid scales and isolated patch under pelvics of weakly ctenoid scales.  Lateral line absent; lateral scale series 33-57. Head pores absent.

Two dorsal fins, first low, rounded, spines not reaching second dorsal when depressed; second dorsal and anal fins low, last rays barely reaching caudal fin in largest males. Pectoral fin broad, rounded. Pelvic fins united into complete disc, small, rounded to oval, occasionally reaching half distance to anus. Caudal fin oval to rounded or nearly truncate.


To around 6 cm SL.


Head and body greyish-brown with 7-8 brown clearly defined square saddles or highly marbled patches across the back, saddles not extending past the mid-side, replaced below by marbled blotches, square blotches or irregular spots merging ventrally with background; caudal fin base with 1-3 dark brown to greyish brown spots, sometimes forming Y-shape or vertical bar, with yellowish brown background surrounding spots; silvery white peritoneum usually evident through body wall.

Top and sides of head marbled and spotted with brown, sometimes 1-2 dark brown bars from eye to upper lip; lips bluish grey; iris deep golden, with dark brown margin.

First dorsal fin greyish brown with deep yellowish submarginal band, above narrow blue line that widens posteriorly to form bright blue spot; second dorsal fin with pale greyish brown membrane, dark brown fin rays and darker brown blotches along base.

Caudal fin pale greyish brown with irregular, vertically oriented rows of fine brown spots. Pectoral fin pale greyish brown to hyaline, fin base with brown blotch on upper half.

Breeding males with diffuse markings; first dorsal fin very dark grey, with vivid yellow and blue; second dorsal and anal fins dark grey to blackish with broad bright white margin; fins speckled basally with blue; caudal fin dark grey with narrow dull whitish fin margin.


Desert gobies are omnivores and feed on insect larvae, crustaceans, fish eggs, algae and detritus. Larvae consume zooplankton.


The territorial males establish nests beneath rocky crevices, and attract females with conspicuous courtship displays. During the breeding season from November to March,  females lay 150-300 demersal eggs onto the underside of the rock in the nest. Males aggressively guard and constantly fan the eggs until they hatch after 10-17 days.
The larvae measure 5.7 mm TL at hatching, and settle directly onto the bottom with no pelagic larval phase. 


Desert gobies are popular aquarium fishes.


  • EPBC Act 1999 : Not listed
  • IUCN Red List : Not Evaluated
  • Remarks

    A number of behavioural studies on desert gobies have been undertaken in recent years - see References below.

    Similar Species

    The Desert Goby differs from all other Chlamydogobius species in lacking scales on the head a breast.

    Species Citation

    Gobius eremius Zietz, A.H.C. (1896). Pisces. pp. 176–180 pl. 16 in Spencer, B. (ed.) Report on the Work of the Horn Scientific Expedition to Central Australia. Part 2. Zoology. London [180, pl. 16(5)]. Central Australia.


    Gomon, M.F. & Bray, D.J. 2023


    Atlas of Living Australia

    Australian Faunal Directory

    Desert Goby, Chlamydogobius eremius (Zietz 1896)


    Allen, G.R. 1989. Freshwater Fishes of Australia. Neptune, New Jersey : T.F.H. Publications 240 pp., 63 pls.

    Allen, G.R., Midgley, S.H. & Allen, M. 2002. Field Guide to the Freshwater Fishes of Australia. Perth : Western Australian Museum 394 pp.

    Glover, C.J.M. 1971. The taxonomy and biology of Chlamydogobius eremius (Zietz, 1896): Masters Thesis, Department of Zoology, University of Adelaide.

    Glover, C.J.M. 1973. Adaptations of a central Australian gobiid fish. Bulletin of the Australian Society for Limnology 5: 8-10

    Hammer, M. 2019. Chlamydogobius japalpa. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019: e.T122914080A123382416. Accessed on 03 April 2023.

    Hammer, M.P. & Walker, K.F. 2004. A catalogue of South Australian freshwater fishes, including new records, range extensions and translocations. Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia 128(2): 85-97

    Larson, H.K. 1995. A review of the Australian endemic gobiid fish genus Chlamydogobius with descriptions of five new species. The Beagle, Records of the Museums and Art Galleries of the Northern Territory 12: 19-51 figs 1-14 pls 1-2 See ref at BHL

    Larson, H.K. 2001. A revision of the gobiid fish genus Mugilogobius (Teleostei: Gobioidei), and its systematic placement. Records of the Western Australian Museum, Supplement 62: 1-233.

    Lehtonen, T.K., Svensson, P.A. & Wong, B.B.M. 2011. Both male and female identity influence variation in male signalling effort. BMC Evolutionary Biology 11: 233.

    Lehtonen, T.K., Svensson, P.A. & Wong, B.B.M. 2016. The influence of recent social experience and physical environment on courtship and male aggression. BMC Evolutionary Biology 16(1): 1-10.

    Merrick, J.R. & Schmida, G.E. 1984. Australian Freshwater Fishes Biology and Management. Sydney : J.R. Merrick 409 pp. figs 280 col. figs.

    Michelangeli, M., Tuomainen, U., Candolin, U. & Wong, B.B.M. 2015. Habitat alteration influences male signalling effort in the Australian desert goby. Behavioral Ecology 26(4): 1164-1169.

    Michelangeli, M. & Wong, B.B.M. 2014. A recent predatory encounter influences male courtship in a desert-dwelling fish. Behavioral Ecology 25(4): 928-932.

    Miller, P.J. 1987. Affinities, origin and adaptive features of the Australian Desert Goby Chlamydogobius eremius (Zietz, 1896) (Teleostei: Gobiidae). Journal of Natural History 21(3): 687-705.  

    Mossop, K.D., Adams, M., Unmack, P.J., Smith-Date, K.L., Wong, B.B.M. & Chapple, D.G. 2015. Dispersal in the desert: ephemeral water drives connectivity and phylogeography of an arid-adapted fish. Journal of Biogeography.

    Mossop, K.D., Lemmon, A.R., Lemmon, E.M., Eytan,R., et al. 2023. Phylogenomics and biogeography of arid-adapted Chlamydogobius goby fishes. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 182: 107757,

    Scott, T.D., Glover, C.J.M. & Southcott, R.V. 1974. The Marine and Freshwater Fishes of South Australia. Adelaide : Government Printer 392 pp. figs.

    Svensson, P.A., Lehtonen, T.K. & Wong, B.B.M. 2010. The interval between sexual encounters affects male courtship tactics in a desert-dwelling fish. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 64: 1967-1970.

    Svensson, P., Lehtonen, T.K. & Wong, B.B.M. 2010. The interval between sexual encounters affects male courtship tactics in a desert-dwelling fish. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 64(12): 1967-1970.

    Svensson, P.A., Lehtonen, T.K., Wong, B.B.M. 2012. A high aggression strategy for smaller males. PLoS ONE 7(8): e43121.

    Symons, N., Svensson, P.A. & Wong, B.B.M. 2011. Do male desert gobies compromise offspring care to attract additional mating opportunities? PLoS ONE 6(6): e20576.

    Wong, B.B.M. & Svensson, P.A. 2009. Strategic male signalling effort in a desert-dwelling fish. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 63: 543–549.

    Unmack, P.J. 2001. Biogeography of Australian freshwater fishes. Journal of Biogeography 28: 1053-1089.

    van Lieshout, E., Svensson, P.A., Wong, B.B.M. 2013. Consequences of paternal care on pectoral fin allometry in a desert-dwelling fish. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 67)3): 513-518.

    Zietz, A.H.C. 1896. Pisces. pp. 176–180 pl. 16 in Spencer, B. (ed.) Report on the Work of the Horn Scientific Expedition to Central Australia. Part 2. Zoology. London.

    Quick Facts

    CAAB Code:37428092

    Biology:Tolerates extreme conditions

    Conservation:IUCN Vulnerable

    Fishing:Popular aquarium fish

    Habitat:Freshwater artesian springs & bores

    Max Size:6 cm SL


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