Gobiidae in British Seas

Shorewatch Biological Recording Information Page

Gobies are difficult to identify. Photographs in books cannot be relied upon because the identifications of British species are wrong over 50% of the time.

The Common Intertidal Gobies around the British Isles.

Two small sandy coloured gobies of shallow sandy pools and estuaries:

Common Goby,  Pomatoschistus microps

Photograph by Andy Horton

Common Goby

Scientific Name:
Pomatoschistus microps
Family: Gobiidae

Usual Size:  64 mm

Small goby (a family of small fishes with a notorious reputation of being difficult to differentiate, characterised by a pair of dorsal fins, and a pelvic fin fused into a weak suction cup).
Sandy colour, but not so long as the similar species Pomatoschistus minutus. In breeding coloration the male fish has a dark blotch at the rear of the first dorsal fin. Only experienced rockpoolers are likely to be able to separate these species in the wild.

Similar Species:
Sand Goby, Pomatoschistus minutus.

Spring. May lay eggs up to five times under a shell. Male guards the eggs. Life span 12 - 15 months only.

Habitat:  Sandy shallows, intertidal with shallow sandy pools, estuaries in summer.

Small crustaceans like caprellids, worms.

All British coasts.

Additional Notes:

Sand Goby Pomatoschistus minutus

Scientific Name:
Pomatoschistus minitus
Family: Gobiidae

Usual Size:  94 mm

Small goby (a family of small fishes with a notorious reputation of being difficult to differentiate, characterised by a pair of dorsal fins, and a pelvic fin fused into a weak suction cup).
Sandy colour but longer* than the similar species Pomatoschistus microps. In breeding coloration the male fish has an  occelated spot at the rear of the first dorsal fin. Only experienced rockpoolers are likely to be able to separate these species in the wild.

*distance from the last second dorsal fin ray to the tail fin is proportionately greater than in P.microps.

Similar Species:
Common Goby, Pomatoschistus microps.

Habitat:  Sandy shallows, intertidal with shallow sandy pools, estuaries in autumn.

Small crustaceans like caprellids, worms.

All British coasts, North Sea, Mediterranean.

Additional Notes:

Two medium sized gobies of large pools and under rocks

Black Goby Gobius niger

Rock Goby Gobius paganellus

Photograph by Robert Jones (Trowbridge)
Leopard-spotted Goby   Thorogobius ephippiatus

Small goby of the weedy pools

Two-spotted Goby  Gobiusculus flavescens

Gobiusculus flavescens

Photograph by Luke Richards (Isle of Wight)

Gobiusculus flavescens, Two-spotted Goby. Photographed with great difficulty at Tjärnö Aquarium by Mike Noren.

A photograph of a shoal of 2-Spot Gobies by Paul Parsons.

Transparent Goby  Aphia minuta

Small goby, abundant offshore and occasionally stranded in pools.

Two black spots can be seen clearly on the transparent boby, one near the head and one near the tail fin.

Leopard-spotted Goby, Thorogobius ephippiatus

Leopard-spotted Goby
Photograph by Ron Barrett
This small fish inhabits the shallow seas below low water mark in rocky areas. Occasionally, it can found on the shore where there is a quick fall off into deeper water e.g. the north Devon coast around Ilfracombe.

Other gobies that are rarely found:

Giant Goby Gobius cobitis

This large goby is a very rare find on the south-west shores of Britiain.
It is also known from the shores of both Guernsey (where a specimen was caught in 1994 by an angler that weighed 264 grams) and intertidally on Jersey.

Their rarity in Britain is because they are on the northern edge of their natural distribution based on water temperature for breeding. In the south, probably because they are eaten or go into bouillabaisse. Also, their bathymetric zone is probably in shallow water, and not normally intensively fished, and not encountered by rockpoolers except on the low spring tides, or under rocks too large to shift.


5 August 2011

I found two Giant Gobies, Gobius cobitus.  at Roskilley, south of Newlyn; in a small middleshore pool, 100cm x 100cm (open space), no green algae cover, but there was a very deep crevice under a large rock. On watching them I was amazed at how rapidly they can change colour from dark brown to olive green depending on the bottom / from shade to light. They were both easily teased out their hole with a little mackerel flake.

''I passed the pool the day before and heard a large splosh from it. I went
back with a little mackerel to tease the fish out from under the large rock
they were under to see what the fish were, as I suspected Giant Goby. Fish
in image is approx. 9 inches in length.''

Report and Photograph by David Fenwick Snr. (Aphotomarine)

1 February 2010

Giant Goby
Photographs by David Fenwick Snr. (Aphotomarine)

On going back up Marazion Beach, south Cornwall, as the tide turned (on the lowest tide of the year) my partner and I looked around some uppershore pools and discovered five Giant Gobies, Gobius cobitus. in three small pools. They averaged about 18 cm in length.

Report by David Fenwick Snr. (Aphotomarine)
on the Marine Wildlife of the North-east Atlantic Ocean Group
Full Report & Photographs (Link)

September 2009
A Giant Goby, Gobius cobitus, was photographed in a rockpool at Gerrans, south Cornwall.

Report by Andy Rapson
Link to a Photograph (by Andy Rapson)

27 September 2008
I was fishing near Treyarnon Bay south of Padstow, Cornwall, and caught a Giant Goby, Gobius cobitus. I have been fishing for 30 odd years and have not seen the like of it before. It was about 20 cm long and its identity was confirmed from internet image searches. It was safely unhooked and returned to the sea.

Report by Matthew Burton

26 July 2008

Giant Goby (Photograph by Howard Dent)

I found a Giant Goby, Gobius cobitus, in a rockpool at Portholland beach, south Cornwall. I wasn't sure exactly what it was as it was so large, although I knew it was a goby! Having googled the subject I was interested to see which type it was, and that they appear to  be protected. This one was in rude health, and was released of course following some photography. I didn't have the good fortune to have a ruler with me but would estimate the fish to be approx 20 cm long.  I have been an avid rockpooler for 40 years and I have never seen one before.

Report by Howard Dent

31 January 1998:
A Giant Goby, Gobius cobitus, was discovered by Jon Makeham at Hannafore Point, Looe, in southern Cornwall. It was found sheltering underneath a piece of Japweed, Sargassum muticum, on the middle shore. This large goby at 25 cm long, is at the northern edge of its range in the SW of Britain and is rarely found between the tides.

This goby is now a protected species (since 1998).

Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, Species Protection

Schedule 5
Protection for wild animals on Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act
Section 9
  Part 1 intentional killing, injuring, taking
  Part 2 possession or control (live or dead animal, part or derivative)
  Part 4 (a) damage to, destruction of, obstruction of access to any structure or place used by a scheduled animal for shelter or protection
  Part 4 (b) disturbance of animal occupying such a structure or place
  Part 5 (a) selling, offering for sale, possessing or transporting for the purpose of sale (live or dead animal, part or derivative)
  Part 5 (b) advertising for buying or selling such things

Giant Goby (Photograph by Nicolas Jouault) Giant Goby (Photograph by Nicolas Jouault)

19 April 2003
The discovery of a Giant Goby, Gobius cobitis, found in a rockpool above the half tide mark at Les Écréhous, Jersey, was a notable discovery. This goby is a protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act Schedule 5. It has always been known from the shores of Jersey but it is virtually unknown on the northern English Channel coasts with occasional records from Cornwall only. As it name indicates this goby is a 'giant' amongst the Gobiidae, a family of small fishes. The Giant Goby attains lengths of up to 25 cm.
English Nature & MBA articles on Giant Gobies (the link no longer works)
Marlin on the Giant Goby
Conservation Designations for UK Taxa

Report by Nicolas Jouault on the Channel Islands Wildlife Watch Smart Group
and on the Marine Wildlife of the North-east Atlantic Ocean Group

14 March 2003
I have photographed a Giant Goby at Pendennis Point, Falmouth, Cornwall.
Another Image (Link)

Report by Paul Parsons
on the Marine Wildlife of the North-east Atlantic Ocean Group

Painted Goby Pomatoschistus pictus

Photograph by Trevor McDonald (Aberdeen)

This goby is common in some areas below low tide mark, and conceivably could be discovered betweeen the tides, but few reports of this fish from the shore have been received by the BMLSS. Jim Hall reports this fish on very low tides from Tenby, SW Wales. There are frequent reports from divers from NE Scotland to Devon, so the fish must be widespread below low water mark.

Pomatoschistus pictus Painted Goby. Note the two dark band on the dorsal fin. Size about 2.5cm. Photographed at Tjärnö Aquarium by Mike Noren.

Couch's Coby   Gobius couchii

This goby with a local distribution is so similar to Gobius niger that I cannot distinguish the species.

Crystal Goby  Crystallogobius linearis

A photograph of this pelagic goby can be found on the following web site:

Lesuerigobius friesii have been reported living with the Scampi Prawn, Nephrops norvegicus, in the same burrows.

Norwegian Marine ***

Lebetus goby (pic.)


Small Goby: Lebetus guilleti
The ID is in question. It could be a juvenile sculpin, possibly a young Micrenophrys lilljeborgii
Photograph by Jim Anderson on a dive off the Scottish coast

This small fish was originally identified by me as arguably the most attractive of the gobies found around the British Isles: Lebetus guilleti is rarely seen and even more rarely photographed. It has not even got a popular name. This one had attained its maximum size of 25 mm.

Lebetus guilleti is a very small fish (possible the smallest in European seas?) has not been recorded between the tides around the British Isles, but it is seen mostly in shallow depth at about 10 metres. It inhabits Lithothamnion alga-encrusted rock areas. There is another species in the genus, Lebetus scorpioides, that inhabits deeper waters. Lebetus guilleti  has been recorded from the Shetland Islands to the Mediterranean Sea.

More notes:

The north-eastern Atlantic gobiid genus Lebetus Winther, 1877, was formerly believed to contain two species, Lebetus scorpioides (Collett, 1874) and L. orca (Collett, 1874). These have been subsequently shown to represent females (and immature fish) and males respectively of a single, sexually dimorphic species whose valid name is L. scorpioides. The discovery of two forms of Lebetus postlarvae, differing in meristic characters, fin growth, and pigmentation, is shown not to affect this conclusion but to suggest provisional recognition of another species, L. guilleti (Le Danois, 1913), with fewer anal fin-rays (A I/5–6) and vertebrae (25–26) than L. scorpioides (A I/7–8; vertebrae 27-29). A key and limited synonymy for the species is provided. As a possible alternative view it is suggested that relatively high summer sea-temperatures during early development of L. scorpioides in certain areas may produce the lower meristic features of L. guilleti. Dr. Peter Miller 1971

Guillet’s Goby - Lebetus guilleti (by Lin Baldock)

Guillet’s Goby - Lebetus guilleti (by Robert Patzner)

Jim Anderson Nudibranch Gallery

8 December 2014

Diminutive Goby
Photograph by George Brown

A miniature (25 mm) goby, a female Lebetus scorpiodes, known as the Diminutive Goby, was photographed on silt covered bedrock on a night dive at Wolf Rock, in Loch Duich, western Scotland. This goby is rarely recorded because it it is small and overlooked with a local distribution in seas around the British Isles.

Report & Image by George Brown
Seasearch IdentificationsBritish Marine Life Study Society facebook
The Red-mouthed GobyGobius cruentatusis a species of goby native to the Eastern Atlantic Ocean from southwestern Ireland to the coasts of Morocco and Senegal, and also in the Mediterranean Sea where it occurs in inshore waters at depths of from 15 to 40 metres (49 to 131 ft) in areas with rocky or sandy substrates or in meadows of sea-grass. This species can reach a length of 18 centimetres (7.1 in) TL.

More information on this family of small fishes in British seas to follow.

Differences between Blennies & Gobies
British Blennidae
BMLSS Fish page
Dr Peter Miller (Homepage)
Mediterranean Gobies (including British species) by Robert Patzner

Gobies and Blennies Photographic Portfolio
(Marine Wildlife of the North-east Atlantic Ocean Group)

British Marine Life Study Society Home Page
News 2020
News 2018
Main Links
Membership Form
Top of the Page