The Chinese Vermilion Goby

Author: Stan Sung

A fairly recent import, the Chinese vermilion goby is a playful, hardy addition that is perfect for anyone looking for a new fish to try in their river-themed tank.

I am proud to have had the opportunity to showcase the importation of the panda loach (Protomyzon pachychilus) into the United States ornamental fish trade, as it is rare these days to come across beautiful aquarium fishes that have never been seen before. I would like to introduce another new, glorious gem of a fish that only recently made a splash in the US tropical fish trade: the Chinese vermilion goby (Rhinogobius zhoui), which made its thundering debut in aquarium circles in 2010 via Rare Fish Inc.

The Genus Rhinogobius

Fishes of the genus Rhinogobius have been imported into the US for years. Most specimens that make it to fish importers are sold under the trade name white cheek gobies. All members of the genus Rhinogobius make outgoing, comical residents for the home aquarium. The goby featured here, R. zhoui, is arguably the most colorful and jewel-like goby from China. It is named after Chinese collector extraordinaire Zhou Hang, who has kindly offered me information regarding this crimson and blue beauty. He is credited with first collecting this species, a single specimen in March 2006.

Natural Ecology

The type locality of the vermilion goby is the highland streams of Lianhua Mountain in Haifeng County. Three other species of Rhinogobius (R. duospilus, R. leavelli, and R. giurinus) also call these watersheds their home. R. zhoui lives in the highest sections of the streams and does not cohabitate with its close goby relatives. These streams are characterized by clear, flowing waters and large, submersed rocks. Only Parazacco spilurus, Pseudogastromyzon laticeps, and Schistura hingi share the habitat with R. zhoui.

Aquarium Care

Thankfully, this dynamite new import is simple and a joy to keep in captivity. This is a rather small species, topping out at around 2½ inches in total length. But don’t let its diminutive size fool you—what this fish lacks in size, it more than makes up for in its outgoing, dynamic personality. Males will stake out small territories and flare and chase away intruders. These territorial squabbles are usually harmless, and very little in the way of physical damage occurs. Females may also display aggression and bluster to one another, particularly when they are gravid and ready to spawn.

Properly setting up an enclosure to maintain and breed these gobies is simple; just keep in mind their natural habitat and try to emulate these conditions in the home aquarium. Vermilion gobies come from higher elevations, from mountain streams that flow cool and clear. A room-temperature aquarium is perfect for maintaining them. Decorate their aquarium with smooth river stones and roots. The gobies do not damage live plants and will sometimes use them for shelter, or they will sometimes use a leaf as a lounging pad. Most important is that the water in their aquarium is moving and saturated with oxygen.

Water Changes

Good water quality is imperative to their well being. After a good-sized water change, these comical gobies will often put on a show with intensified colors and territorial behavior.


Chinese vermilions are not terribly choosy about their foods. They can be taught to accept pellets and flake foods, though their enthusiasm for this fare is usually lackluster. Instead of giving them those foods, try a diet of frozen brine shrimp, mysis, and bloodworms. They will also take living blackworms with gusto. These high-protein carnivorous items will quickly bring the gobies into breeding condition.


It will be quite apparent when the gobies have been brought into breeding condition. Females are more somberly colored than males, but even they will develop a lot of scarlet spangling throughout their body and fins. On gravid females, the eggs—bright orange in color—are easily seen through the body of the fish. Males, in all of their chromatic glory, become even more beautiful, as the borders of their fins become iridescent. The fins shimmer in a dramatic, silvery-chartreuse color.


The males will increase their activity and dance wildly in their attempts to court the females. When the males’ pectoral fins become ink black and their gill membranes turn navy blue, spawning is imminent. Vermilions are not at all choosy about where they lay their enormous eggs. We have had them spawn on the bottom gravel, inside terracotta caves, and on the sides of filters or even the glass sides of the aquarium. My good friend Jeff Long, whose wonderful photos grace this article, has noticed that the gobies in his care became increasingly zealous in their displaying and dancing upon the approach of a storm. The drop in barometric pressure seems to play a role in triggering a spawning response.

Spawning in Captivity

Being a relatively new import, specimens received into the trade have been, for the most part, wild-caught juvenile fish. These initial spawnings have occurred numerous times under our care. Thus far, the males have consumed the eggs either right away or, sometimes, once the eggs begin to develop and eye up. Attempts to hatch the eggs when removed from their parents’ care have not been successful at this time. These failed attempts could just be because the males, being young and inexperienced, have not figured out how to take care of their eggs or young. Given time, the successful breeding and rearing of the fry is almost a sure thing.

A Fantastic New Import

Both Zhou Hang and I hope that this gorgeous fish will fall into the hands of accomplished aquarists who will set out to breed it for the hobby as soon as possible, thus alleviating any pressures on collecting it from its natural habitat. Rhinogobius zhoui is found in only one stream, and only within its upper reaches. Due to its brilliant coloration, ease of maintenance and breeding, and dynamic personality, there should be a place in our hobby for the Chinese vermilion goby for years to come.

See the full article on TFH Digital