Dragon Goby: Species Profile and Complete Care Guide (2024)

Closeup image of a dragon goby head
Featured Image – Dragon Goby
Dr. Mollie Newton
Published by Dr. Mollie Newton PHD| Senior Editor
Last updated: July 12, 2024
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Are you considering adding a brightly colored fish to your brackish water aquarium? Are you looking for a species that can grow large and consistently captivate your attention in the tank? The dragon goby could be a perfect choice! Find out why our experienced aquarists consistently rank this as one of the best aquarium fish available!

Article Summary

  • With an elongated body, dragon scales, and sharp teeth, the dragon goby resembles an eel and can display a brilliant purple or deep blue color with a metallic sheen in ideal conditions.
  • They are predatory scavengers, requiring a varied diet of live food, dry food, algae wafers, and vegetables.
  • Dragon gobies prefer tanks with substrate to sift through and since they can jump out of the tank, it is highly recommended to have a fitted lid.

Species Overview

Common namesViolet goby, dragon goby, dragon fish
Scientific nameGobioides broussonnetii
SpeciesG. broussonnetii
Size15 inches
Lifespan10 years
FamilyOxudercidae
GenusGobioides
DistributionSouthern North America, Northern South America
ColorBlue, violet, black
DietCarnivore
TemperamentPeaceful
Minimum tank size40 gallons
Place in the tankBottom
Care levelModerate
BreedingDifficult

History and Background

Commonly found in and around central america, the dragon goby is extremely popular with aquarists creating a brackish system.

What is a dragon goby?

The dragon goby, sometimes called the dragon fish, is a brackish water fish that gets its name from its vibrant coloring and dragon scales. Unlike other goby species the dragon fish is not a small fish and displays sharp teeth.

Where are dragon goby found?

They are commonly found in the Southern USA, Central America, gulf of Mexico, and northern South America. They can be found as far north as South Carolina and as south as Brazil. As mentioned earlier they prefer brackish waters and will be found at the mouth of rivers, estuaries, and bays.

Appearance

A Dragon Goby Opening Its Mouth
(1) A Dragon Goby Opening Its Mouth

One of the most interesting fish in brackish water, the dragon goby has extremely vibrant coloring and unique physical features. With its elongated body and dorsal fin, this species more closely resembles an eel than a dragon.

What do dragon gobies look like?

Dragon gobies have slender and long bodies and a similar appearance to eels. Their anal and dorsal fins run almost the entire length of their body and their ventral fins are hidden right behind their large gills. The head of this goby species is rounded and when it opens its mouth you’ll notice sharp teeth. Despite their chompers this isn’t an aggressive fish and they use their teeth to scrape algae and other organic material off rocks.

When kept in ideal water conditions the goby will exhibit brilliant purple or deep blue color with a metallic sheen. This coloring is what gives it its other name the violet goby.

How big do dragon goby fish get?

In their natural habitat the violet goby has been known to grow to sizes of up to 24 inches, but in captivity it most often stays around 15 inches.

How fast do dragon goby grow?

When purchasing from pet stores or breeders you’ll acquire a juvenile dragon goby that is around 3 or 4 inches in length. In the first year it will grow to about three quarters of its mature size. Afterwards it will grow at roughly 1 inch per year until reaching max size (~15 inches).

Temperament and Tankmates

An Aquarium With Different Fish Species
An Aquarium With Different Fish Species

While a peaceful fish, the dragon goby needs ample space to swim around and does not like fish that encroach on its space.

What fish can live with dragon goby?

The recommended tank mates below include other species that do well in brackish waters. While your dragon gobies can live in freshwater for a short amount of time, it is best to choose other fish that have similar living requirements.

  1. Most gobies-both knight goby and bumblebee goby are peaceful fish that are compatible with dragon gobys and are a popular choice due to their complimentary coloring.
  2. Ghost Shrimp– one of the few small organisms that the dragon goby will do well with as it is too large for the fish to attempt to swallow. Additionally it will help your fish clean the tank.
  3. Archers-a quirky personality, archer fish project a stream of water towards their prey (land-based insects). If you decide to choose this fish be sure to add a lid to your tank! They are known to jump out of the water. They get along with dragon gobies because they occupy completely different parts of the tank.
  4. Glassfish-another peaceful fish that won’t give your dragon goby any trouble.
  5. Swordtail fish-a schooling fish that will do well in freshwater or brackish water and comes in many vibrant color variations.

When choosing tank mates for your dragon goby it is best to choose fish that are medium sized as smaller fish will be viewed as a snack. Additionally, you will want to stay away from aggressive species as dragon gobies are not particularly fast swimmers and don’t have many defense mechanisms.

Uncompatible tank mates

  1. Oscars-a large and aggressive fish, oscars are sure to be bullies to almost all the fish in your tank.
  2. Tiger Barbs-another aggressive fish, tiger barbs are freshwater fish and will gang up on your dragon goby.
  3. Green Spotted Puffer-while they are very intelligent and will interact with fish keepers, the green spotted puffer can be extremely aggressive as it gets older.
  4. Scat fish– a bad tank mate for a dragon goby as its dorsal rays are mildly toxic and cause issues if the two get in a fight, also java ferns are poisonous for this fish. 
  5. Mudskippers-both these and dragon gobies occupy the same area of tank and are both fairly territorial which can lead to many disagreements.

Tank Requirements

Empty Aquarium
An Empty Aquarium

The most challenging aspect of dragon goby care is finding the balance between salt and freshwater that is present in brackish water. Brackish water is considered having a salinity between 500 and 30,000 parts per million.

Tank Size

When choosing a tank for your violet goby you want to use a home aquarium that has ample room along the bottom of the tank on all four sides so that your dragon goby can fully turn around. Because of its long eel like appearance and body shape, a single fish needs a tank roughly 4 feet in length.

Aquarists that have the best luck with this fish have a large tank to allow maximum swimming space.

Water Parameters

Tank Size>40 gallons
Water TypeBrackish
Water Temperature72-82
Water pH6.5-8.5
Water Hardness10-20 dKH

Tank setup:

What kind of substrate to use?

When planning substrate for your dragon goby you will want to use fine sand (preferably dark sand) as they swim along the bottom of the tank in search of a meal. Larger substrates will likely get stuck in their very small throats and cause issues as they try to sift for food.

Do I need a filter?

A good filtration system is absolutely necessary for this species as they are very sensitive to changes in ammonia levels and nitrates. Expect to form water changes at least once a week to maintain appropriate water quality and keep your tank clean.

Should I install a pump?

A pump isn’t necessary for this fish unless you notice it rapidly breathing and trying to swim to the top of the tank for air. This could be a sign that your home aquarium has poor circulation and not enough dissolved oxygen is getting to the bottom.

Is a Water heater necessary?

A water heater is necessary for the dragon goby as they live in the more tropical regions of the Atlantic coast and prefer warm waters.

What kind of lighting should I have?

Lighting choices will not affect this species much as they have extremely poor eyesight and mostly depend on their ventral fins to feel around their environment. However, if you have brightly colored substrate you will want dim lighting so that the reflection does not hurt the dragon goby’s sensitive eyes.

Diet and Health

Variety of Fish Food
Variety of Fish Food

Providing a healthy diet for these active fish is important to their wellbeing and happiness. While relatively easy to feed, you do have to be careful with portion sizes to avoid hazards such as your fish choking. Luckily, we’ve included everything you need to know below.

What do dragon goby eat?

As a predator scavenger the dragon goby will eat as much food as it can find. However, to not provide a poor diet you will need to give them a wide variety of live food, dry food, algae wafers, and other nutritious sustenance.

In the wild violet gobies stick to the bottom of the brackish water bodies searching for small fish, algae accrued on rocks, and insects.

What to feed dragon goby?

Despite having a fairly big mouth dragon gobies have a small throat and can’t swallow large morsels. For their diet dragon gobies need small morsels of food such as baby brine shrimp, flake food, blood worms, and pieces of vegetables.

RECOMMENDATION

Because the dragon goby hangs out at the bottom of the aquarium you should purchase sinking food.

How often to feed dragon goby?

Ideally, feed your dragon fish once a day. What time of day can correlate to your schedule and what other tank mates need.

For food such as algae wafers that your fish are unlikely to eat right away, you should not leave a wafer in the freshwater for more than one day as it will foul your water quality.

How much to feed dragon goby?

You should feed your violet goby using the three minute rule. This is where you start a time and provide your fish with a few morsels of food. Once they have eaten all of the food you have offered you may offer them more until the three minutes is up.

Common diseases of dragon goby:

Columnaris/Cottonmouth

One of the main bacterial infections that affects dragon gobies and other fish it is often mistaken for fungus because of the moldy appearance of the lesions. Other names for this disease include guppy disease and saddleback disease.

Symptoms include the appearance of fuzzy white or gray lesions on the head, gills, fin, or mouth, eroded fins, and gill degradement. Causes are due from poor water conditions, improper diet, high water temperatures, and stress from tank mates or moving. Treatment options can include using terramycin, copper sulfate, furan, aquarium salt, or a mixture.

Fin Rot

Fin rot is a common disease that can be present in any fish and is a result of a bacterial infection that has taken hold due to poor living conditions. Fin rot symptoms include the fins and tail of a fish looking ragged or torn, lethargy, and hiding.

This disease can come from other fish nipping at fins which become infected…

This disease can come from other fish nipping at fins which become infected, and is more likely to happen when your fish is stressed. Treatment options include furan, melafix, or other broad-spectrum antibiotics. It also might be necessary to treat your fish for a secondary fungal infection as a result of a severe bacterial infection.

How long do dragon goby goldfish live?

In ideal conditions the dragon goby will live up to 10 years and is considered a long-term investment for a fish. When deciding whether you want this species be prepared to provide dragon goby care for a long time.

Breeding

Dragon Goby inside an aquarium
(2) Dragon Goby Inside An Aquarium

Breeding this fish in captivity is rarely successful and extremely challenging even to the most experienced aquarists.

Can you breed a dragon goby?

It is very challenging to breed the dragon goby. Part of the issue is that there is an active wild fish trade as dragon gobies are not endangered and the aquarium community is not interested in finding a breeding method. Methods that do exist are very far and few between and limited in their knowledge.

How to breed a dragon goby

The small amount of information known about breeding Gobioides broussonnetii is that you will need a very large aquarium in which you will keep one male with several females. To start the breeding cycle, starve the fish for a couple of days before feeding them rich, meaty, protein filled food. You can also attempt to change the salinity to trigger spawning.

The male will build a nest for the female dragon gobies to lay their eggs in. Once the eggs are deposited the male exhibits parental dragon goby care, keeping watch over the eggs until they hatch. Once the eggs hatch (a few days after being laid) remove the adult fish from the aquarium. Feed the baby fish infusoria for the first few weeks of life before upgrading to baby brine shrimp.

FAQS

Do dragon gobies need sand?

While dragon gobies don’t necessarily need sand, they do prefer a tank that has substrate that they can sift through rather than a bare bottom tank.

Do dragonfish goby jump?

Yes, dragon gobies are known for being fugitives and will leap out of the tank. Sometimes this is because they feel threatened by tank mates, or are trying to escape bad water quality but other times they will randomly jump out. When providing dragon goby care be sure to place a properly fitted lid on your aquarium.

Are dragon goby aggressive?

No, the dragon goby is not aggressive despite its ferocious name.

Do dragon gobies hide?

Yes, this fish species is mostly nocturnal and will spend most of the daylight hours hiding. Adding multiple hiding places to your aquarium will help ensure your dragon goby is content and maintains low stress levels.

Why is my dragon goby always hiding?

The violet goby is a nocturnal fish and spends most of the day hiding. This is partly due to their poor eyesight and wanting to stay out of the other fish way.

Why is my dragonfish goby gasping?

There could be many different reasons why dragon gobies are gasping for air, we’ve listed a few below.

  • Gill Flukes-a symptom of some parasites can cause difficulty breathing. Parasites attached to gills can cause a large amount of difficulty sapping strength and also encumbering breathing abilities.
  • Ammonia poisoning-if your aquarium has high ammonia levels your fish might be struggling to breath because their gills are inflamed from the chemical imbalances.
  • Poor Oxygen Circulation-If you have lots of plants or fish in your tank your dragon goby might not be receiving enough oxygen because it’s all the way at the bottom of the tank. The solution to this problem is adding an air pump to the tank to increase oxygen circulation or reducing the stock in your tank.
  • Green Water-the evidence of green tinted water might suggest an algal bloom will lead to anoxic conditions and potentially a fish kill. This is caused by the excess of nitrogen or phosphorus in the water, poor maintenance practices, and bad tank conditions.
  • Cottonmouth– like mentioned earlier in the common diseases, this infection can lead to trouble breathing due to its degradation of the gills.

Is the dragon goby for you?

If you’re looking for a peaceful species that will add life and personality to your brackish water fish tank then the dragon goby is for you.

Conclusion

Though the dragon goby is one of the more challenging species to take care of it can be extremely rewarding having one in your aquarium.

Featured Image – Cedricguppy – Loury Cédric, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
(1) Cedricguppy – Loury Cédric, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
(2) Kitty Kat Katarina, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons