Engineer Goby Care Guide: A Tunnel Builder

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engineer goby saltwater aqaurium

Engineer Goby is a fish that any aquarium enthusiast would like to have. This fish is very easy to maintain and will share its tank with plenty of other fish. It has a peaceful and social temperament and goes great with community life. It loves to dig and make tunnels all over the tank, offering you a great show.

The appearance of this fish stands out for its changes during its lifespan. When juvenile, this fish is black with horizontal white stripes, and when grown up, it turns into black and yellow vertical stripes. In this article, you will find the Complete Care Guide for this fish, including its ideal tank conditions, tankmates, breeding, feeding, diet, and much more.


The Engineer Goby is known as the Cichlid of the sea. Is a saltwater fish that will amaze your tank with its stunning appearance. This fish is quite small, and it changes during its lifespan. When juvenile, this fish is black with horizontal white stripes, but when he grows up as an adult, his lines turn vertically and yellow. The adults grow longer than the usual ratio of juveniles; they seem alike eels in shape, having interesting bars.

Engineer Goby Size

Engineer Goby can grow up to 13.5 inches (34 cm).

This fish is a peaceful one, and all it likes to do is dig in the sand. Although they might eat smaller fish. It is very easy to take care of and won’t be difficult at all for beginner aquarium enthusiasts to keep this fish. A minimum of 30 to 55 gallons(132 – 208 liters)  of water is required for this fish. Therefore, a sand/gravel substrate is required since this fish likes to dig during its whole lifespan. 

Care DifficultyEasy
ColorBlack, White, yellow
TemperamentPeaceful, social
Tank Size30 – 55 gallons (132 – 208 liters)
Salinity1.020 – 1.025
pH8.1 – 11
dKH8 – 12
Temperature72 – 78 °F (22 – 25 °C)
Lifespan8-11 years

Behavior & Temperament

This fish is very peaceful and shy but may eat smaller fish. You should be aware when choosing to share the tank with other smaller fish. However, it won’t hurt any other fish or corals. They are very social and like to live in groups. They have the temperament of an engineer. They like to dig, and not only to feed or create a house and then just stop.

Engineer Goby Building Tunnel

Engineer Goby loves to dig tunnels.

Engineer Goby like to dig their whole life. It’s like they were born to do so. They can show aggression, but only when mature because of their large size. They won’t kill any fish, but surely they will cause a lot of stress to them.

Size & Lifespan

The size of engineer Goby is quite small when juvenile, 1-2.5 inches (2.5 – 6 cm). As they grow into adults they get larger in size with an average of 13.5 inches (34 cm), way longer than juveniles, looking like eels. They also have a lifespan from 7 to 10 years (45 cm), but the maximum lifespan was 11 years which went 18 inches long.

Origin & Habitat

Engineer Goby is native to Australia, Indonesia, and the Central/West Pacific. This saltwater fish is known as Pholidichthys Leucotaenia and is from Pholidichthyidae – Pholidichthys family. In its natural habitat, this fish lives in shallow lagoons and coral reefs. At night it is found at substrate burrows. The adults are very secretive and tend to swim along with juveniles in protected areas during the daytime. Their comfort zone of the natural habitat is a depth of 3 to 30m.

Engineer Goby Juvenile Native Habitat Ocean

Engineer Goby in his native habitat, West Pacific.

Are Engineer Goby Reef Safe?

Yes, Engineer Goby is reef safe. This fish does not harm corals, anemones, clams, sponges, or any other sessile species. The only harm they can do in this case may be any minor damage when digging, but unintentionally. In this case, we know that some corals may be poisoning and kill each other if they accidentally dislocate from this fish digging and fall over other corals. This is the only damage that can happen from this fish indirectly. 

Food & Diet

Engineer Goby is a carnivore and very easy to feed, although they don’t require live food. A mixture of fresh or frozen carnivore food diet would do great for this fish since it is generally slow and won’t succeed while hunting. In this case, sinking carnivore pellets would be perfect since flakes tend to drift and might be eaten by other fish. 

This fish will grow healthy if fed once or twice a day with a heavy amount of food since they do not seem to be active swimmers (except for digging). A list of food that you could feed to this fish are:

  • Thawed brine shrimp
  • Bloodworms
  • Mysis shrimp
  • Krill
  • Chopped fish
  • Squid

All of them were chopped into small pieces.

Care & Tank Requirements 

Engineer Goby is very easy to maintain, although you should make the proper environment to welcome this fish and learn some basic care tips. As we said earlier, these fish tend to grow up to 13.5 inches (34 cm), and you should consider choosing the proper tank size. They need space since they grow large and like to swim, but a special requirement is a substrate. 

Engineer Goby Reef Tank

On Engineer Goby tank you must include grained sand.

When choosing to grow Engineer Goby fish in your tank, make sure you choose the proper substrate as this fish likes to dig into the sand. Digging is vital to this fish and is an activity that accompanies this fish all his life. They tend to dig deep tunnels, and you don’t want any accidents that may hurt the fish; that is why you should consider them getting trapped under corals or rocks and stick them to avoid any harm to this fish.

These fish tend to shift the base of the rocks or other objects while digging. This is why you should secure these objects by gluing them and saving the fish before it’s too late. Sand would be the ideal substrate for juveniles, as for adults, grained sand, coral rubble, and gravel would be perfect as they build stable tunnels.

Rocks with holes, gaps, and other cavities are very appreciated since the fish can escape or hide when stressed or in danger.


Engineer Goby Hiding on Rocks

When talking about other parameters, this fish is intolerant of:

  • Temperature swings: be careful with the low temperatures as it may lead to health complications until death.
  • Low flow: is another problem for this fish. You should consider any energy interruption and have a backup plan.
  • Acidic water: this fish lives in alkaline water and cannot stand the acidity or pH level lower than 8.0.

Tank Size 

The tank size is important for this fish as it grows large. When juvenile, 30 gallons (113 liters) of water tank is the minimum required. However, when adults, the minimum is 55 gallons (208 liters). The tank size should be the bigger, the better, because a single overfeed can lead to ammonia and nitrite since this fish is a carnivore.

Engineer Goby Reef Tank

At night Engineer Goby tend to test the tank bounds and be careful about any possible escape options such as loose covers or holes for pipes and wires. You don’t want this fish to escape and discover a tragic incident the next morning.

Water Parameters

The water parameters are not as detailed as other species since this fish has low maintenance and doesn’t need to follow strictly. Although, you should consider some basic parameters such as temperature, pH, and Water hardness as follows.

The temperature should be kept between 75 to 82 °F (23 – 27 °C just like in its natural habitat. The ideal pH ranges from 8.1 to 11. Ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate should be kept as lower as possible, nearly 0ppm always, as these fish are sensitive to them.


Engineer Goby is not very difficult to breed in captivity. The difficult part is to tell who’s the male and the female; that is why when breeding, you should consider pairing 4 to 6 fish. The main things you should consider that you might struggle with are: mating the pair and raising the fry.


After successful breeding, you will have new Engineer Goby. Noticed the colors of juvenile Engineer Goby?

We basically said the ratio for the mating process, although four fish are recommended to give you an 87% chance of doing a proper pair. The gobies should be mature in order to pair. If not, it will take a while until they reach a mature level. After they do so, they will need a large tank of +150 gallons (567 liters) of water.

A great influence on breeding is the space, rocks, and burrows. The fish will lay its eggs in large sticky clutches in its burrow for weeks after hatching. After hatching, the parents will defend their burrows and bring food for their babies. 

The hard part is when the parents start to usher the fry out of their burrows and eat them with anger. You should be careful and act before this happens in order to save as many fries as you can. Try giving the fry a new home with rocks and pre-built burrows. You can feed the fries with rotifers and baby brine shrimp. Try to make a mix of them and not create a lack of nutrition in their diet. In this case, you should feed less brine in order to not spoil them and begin to reject the rotifers, and this can lead to death.

The fry size will increase up to 0.4 inches (1 cm) every month and change colors within the first year. 

Ideal Tank Mates

Engineer Goby is known to be a peaceful and social fish, although small and slow fish that fit their mouth can be in danger. Small shrimp can also be consumed by this fish, including Clams, Starfish, Sea Urchins, Snails, and unsavory invertebrates. However, here we have listed the ideal tankmates for this Engineer Goby:

  • Angelfish, Damselfish, Clownfish, Tangs like Powder Blue Tang, or other marine Area Fish.
  • Larger Crustaceans, Starfish, Snails, Sea Urchins, and other large Invertebrates
  • Corals, Sponges, Sea Anemones, or other Sessile Microorganisms.
  • Other Engineer Gobies

Therefore, try to avoid sharing the tank with Firefish, tiny Blennies, Goby, Tiny shrimp/crabs, or aggressive tunnel dwellers (Moray Eels).


If you have a community tank and you are passionate about this fish, don’t waste a minute. Engineer Goby has amazing coloration and is easy to maintain. The Juveniles are very active and will enchant your tank with their black and white stripes. Therefore, the adults will make an amazing show digging tunnels and swimming around rocks with their large bodies and amazing black and yellow colors. You will not struggle to take care of this fish, and you can also learn enough from the article to breed them too. 


Here are the most frequently asked questions about Engineer Goby.

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I am Mario, a experienced fish keepr and the editor-in-chief of Epic Aquarium.

At Epic Aquarium, we take our commitment to providing comprehensive and unbiased reviews very seriously. Our team carefully reviews each product, and we only recommend the very best in terms of quality. We also consult with leading fish keeper experts to ensure that each article is based on the most reliable and up-to-date information available.

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