The Salty Side: Saltwater Aquariums for Beginners

How to Pair a Goby and Pistol Shrimp

How easy is it to pair a goby and pistol shrimp? The symbiotic relationship formed between a goby and a pistol shrimp can be very endearing to watch. Pistol shrimps are busy little beavers that are constantly shifting sand and substrate while the goby keeps a close watch on potential dangers.

how to pair goby and pistol shrimp

Not all gobies are created equal

First things first. Not all gobies can form a symbiotic relationship with a pistol shrimp. There are many types of gobies available in the aquarium trade, but you should be looking for specific types known as Shrimp Gobies.

Some examples of Shrimp Gobies are:

Yellow Watchman Goby
Yasha Shrimp Goby
High Fin Red Banded Goby
Orange Stripe Prawn Goby
Dracula Shrimp Goby

Any Shrimp Goby can be paired with any pistol shrimp, they are not overly picky when it comes to relationships.

Goby and pistol shrimp tank size requirement

The great thing about this pair is they are quite happy, once settled, to stay put under one rock and never venture too far from that spot. The goby will monitor the immediate area around their rock and if it feels threatened will let his shrimp pal know by wiggling his tail. If frightened he will dart back into the burrow faster than you can blink!

As neither of these guys move much from one spot they are well suited to a small tank, as much as they are to a larger aquarium. Your only concern should be to provide adequate substrate which enables the pistol shrimp to build his internal structures under your rock work – but this isn’t a must. I just like to see him in action.

I keep an aquarium magnifying glass from Amazon on hand so I can have a really good look at their antics, its amazing what you can see when magnified. The same magnifying glass is great for checking out your corals.

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Why do a goby and pistol shrimp pair?

The pairing of a goby and a pistol shrimp is created through necessity. Both are tiny relatively speaking, and by working in a partnership they preserve themselves. The pistol shrimps vision is not very good so the goby acts as the lookout. In return the goby lives in the tunnels created by the pistol shrimp.

Pairing a goby and pistol shrimp

It may surprise you to learn that the pairing is completely instinctive. They don’t need to get to know each other first or have been kept in the same tank at your LFS for the pairing to happen. The moment a goby notices a pistol shrimp the two will be inseparable. The difficulty comes in creating the conditions that will guarantee the goby will notice the pistol shrimp – a tank can be a big place.

shrimp goby

Creating the conditions for pairing

Over the years I have tried a few different ways to pair a goby and pistol shrimp. Some worked and some didn’t, but they all did eventually find each other.

If you add your pistol shrimp first it will immediately begin digging its way beneath a rock, firstly to escape any danger and secondly because that is what they do. If you then add a shrimp goby there is absolutely no guarantee that it will find the pistol shrimp straight off the bat. The first thing the goby is interested in is finding a hiding place to escape danger. Both of these guys are super into ‘stranger danger’.

By adding both at the same time there is the strong possibility that each will go their own way. As much as they what to be together, their number priority is to escape danger. I did try this in my most recent introduction and it looked good few a few minutes, then they split up.

My most successful pairing was introducing the goby first. The goby went into the tank a few weeks before the addition of the pistol shrimp. What this achieved was the goby was able to settle in one spot and barely moved from there. I then introduced the pistol shrimp down a pvc pipe directly to the goby. This was an instant pairing.

yasha goby pistol shrimp
The Yasha goby also makes an ideal pistol shrimp companion.

Can you guarantee where they goby and pistol shrimp will settle?

Simply put, no.

Unfortunately they will settle where they feel the safest, and where there is a ready supply of food passing the entrance hole. This may or may not be at the front of the tank. Thankfully mine have always ended up at the front of the tank and this may be due to the food being caught in the water column flowing across the front of the tank.

There have been cases where the pair have settled at the back of the tank. But the shrimp can be quite mobile at times, and every now and again they will move spots. So there is a glimmer of hope.

Other articles you may find interesting:

Does a goby need a pistol shrimp?

Although the behaviour seen with a pistol shrimp is amazing to watch there may be reasons you do not want a pistol shrimp. One of them could be that you have a predatory wrasse you know will take it out if given the opportunity.

Whatever the reason, shrimp gobies can live without pistol shrimps with no problems at all. They will create their own burrow, or find one in which to hide.

What do gobies and pistol shrimps eat?

Shrimp gobies will snatch food from the water column that passes close enough to the hole. They are not very picky eaters, eating frozen, flake and live food. Pistol shrimps are mainly carnivorous eating smaller invertebrates and detritus (which is a polite way of saying they eat the goby poo).


Shrimp gobies and pistol shrimps are one of my favorite additions to a reef tank. They can be endlessly entertaining as long as you can see them, and can be accommodated in the smallest of saltwater tanks.

They will pair automatically as long as the shrimp goby can find the pistol shrimp or the shrimp is introduced by PVC pipe. As long as you don’t have rock work sitting on sand, you are good to go.

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