NAS - Nonindigenous Aquatic Species

small fish
Neogobius melanostomus
(round goby)
Exotic to United States
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Center for Great Lakes and Aquatic Sciences Archive, University of Michigan,
Neogobius melanostomus (Pallas 1814)

Common name: round goby

Synonyms and Other Names: Apollonia melanostoma (Pallas, 1814), Apollonia melanostomus (Pallas, 1814) See Stepien and Tumeo (2006) for name change.

Taxonomy: available through ITIS logo

Identification: Distinguishing characteristics have been given by Berg (1949), Miller (1986), Crossman et al. (1992), Jude (1993), and Marsden and Jude (1995). Young round gobies are solid slate gray. Older fish are blotched with black and brown and have a greenish dorsal fin with a black spot. The raised eyes on these fish are also very distinctive (Jude 1993). This goby is very similar to native sculpins but can be distinguished by the fused pelvic fins (sculpins have two separate fins) (Marsden and Jude 1995).

Size: 30.5 cm; 17.8 cm maximum seen in United States (Jude 1993).

Native Range: Fresh water, prefers brackish (Stepien and Tumeo 2006). Eurasia including Black Sea, Caspian Sea, and Sea of Azov and tributaries (Miller 1986).

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Interactive maps: Point Distribution Maps

Nonindigenous Occurrences: DETAILED DISTRIBUTION MAP

This species was introduced into the St. Clair River and vicinity on the Michigan-Ontario border where several collections were made in 1990 on both the U.S. and the Canadian side (Jude et al. 1992; D. J. Jude and D. Nelson, personal communication). By 1994 the species had spread to the north end of Lake St. Clair at Anchor Bay. Gobies have been taken inland in the Shiawasse and Flint rivers since August 1996 and June 1997, respectively, and the River Raisin in 1999 (D. Jude, personal communication). In 1998, the goby was reported from numerous places along the eastern shore of Michigan in Lake Huron such as Lexington, Tawas City, and Thunder Bay River (Hintz 2000, A. Hintz, personal communication). Gobies have also been collected in Michigan's upper peninsula at Port Inland and in Little Bay De Noc (G. Madison, personal communication). They have also been collected in the upper peninsula ports of Kipling and Escanaba, and the northeastern port of Charlevoix (Clapp et al. 2001) as well as Lake Michigan and the Saginaw River (Czypinski et al. 1999; Czypinski et al. 2000; Hintz 2000).  Established in Muskegon Lake (Alexander 2004).  In 1994, the round goby began appearing in southern Lake Michigan near the Calumet-Chicago area of Illinois (T. Cavender, P. Thiel, personal communication). N. melanostomus also has been documented to occur in lower Lake Michigan at the ports of Muskegon, Grand Haven, and Saugatuck (Clapp et al. 2001). In 1999, the goby was near the confluence of the Calumet-Sag Channel and the Chicago Sanitary and Shipping Canal (F. Veraldi, personal communication). Also collected at Illinois River (R.M. 249.3) [vicinity of Marseilles, IL] (Sublette 1990) and in the La Grange reach of the river between Beardstown and Peoria in 2004 (K. Irons, pers. comm.).  It was first collected in Indiana from the Grand Calumet River in 1993 (J. Francis, personal communication). The following year it was taken in Hammond Harbor (J. Francis and T. Lauer, personal communication); then in the Port of Indiana and East Chicago in 1996 (J. Francis, personal communication), in Wolf Lake (P. Charlebois, personal communication), and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (Tilmant 1999). Gobies have been reported from Alpena, Arenac, Bay, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Huron, Iosco, Mackinac, Monroe, Ottowa, Saginaw, Schoolcraft, and Wayne Counties, Michigan (Bowen, unpublished data).   In 1993, it was collected at Fairport Harbor in Lake Erie, and from the mouth of the Grand River in Lake County, Ohio (Knight 1994). Annual surveys are collecting gobies from Lake Erie at Conneaut, Ashtabula, Cleveland, and Sandusky, Ohio (Czypinski et al. 2001; S. Keppner, personal communication). In 1994, the species was taken from the lake offshore at depths of 70 feet, and reportedly from Lorain Harbor in Lorain County, Ohio, 60 miles west of Fairport, although there are no vouchers to confirm this location (T. Cavender, personal communication).  It is established in Cedar Point National Wildlife Refuge (USFWS 2005).  This species was also collected in the Maumee and Cuyahoga Rivers (Czypinski et al. 2001). The round goby was first reported from Pennsylvania in October 1996, in Lake Erie off Walnut Creek, just west of the city of Erie (C. Murray, personal communication) and later collected in Lake Erie in ruffe surveys (Czypinski et al.1999; Czypinski et al. 2001). In 2001 and 2002, a study found that several Pennsylvania tributaries of Lake Erie had established populations of round goby: Elk Creek, Twentymile Creek, Walnut Creek, and Sixteen Mile Creek (Phillips et al. 2003).  In July 1995, a single individual was collected from Wisconsin waters of the St. Louis Bay, Lake Superior, on the Minnesota-Wisconsin state line in a trawl (T. Busiahn, personal communication); This species was also collected in the St. Louis River estuary from 1999-2001 (Czypinski et al.1999; Czypinski et al. 2001). In May 1996, the first single adult was taken in Duluth Harbor, Minnesota. By 1999, gobies were found in several other locations within the harbor (D. Jensen, personal communication). There was an unconfirmed report of a round goby in eastern Lake Ontario, New York, during the summer of 1995. Reports of gobies in eastern Lake Erie in Buffalo, New York were confirmed in 1998 (Czypinski 2001; S. Keppner, personal communication).  They have been reported in the Erie Canal, Buffalo River, St. Lawrence River, Genesee River, Tonowanda Creek, and Lake Ontario in 2004 and 2005 (Goehle, unpublished data). Gobies have also been found in the Welland Canal near Welland, Ontario, Canada (Anonymous, personal communication). The first confirmed collection of a round goby in Lake Ontario occurred in July 1998. A single fish was collected at Port Dalhousie at the mouth of the Welland Canal in Ontario, Canada (C. Scobie, personal communication). Gobies were collected in Lake Huron in 1994 at Goderich, Ontario. They have since been collected near Bayfield, Grand Bend, and Port Franks, Ontario (A. Dextrase, personal communication). Along the north shore of Lake Erie, gobies have been reported from Colchester, Point Pelee, Port Glasgow, Port Bruce, and Port Burwell, Ontario. A single goby was taken in the St. Lawrence River near Quebec, Quebec in 1997 (L. Lapierre, personal communication). In July 1999, a goby was collected in northeastern Lake Ontario in the Bay of Quinte (R. Dermott, personal communication).

Ecology: The round goby perches on rocks and other substrates in shallow areas, yet it has also been reported to flourish in a variety of habitat types (USGS 2008a). This goby also has a well developed sensory system that enhances its ability to detect water movement. This allows it to feed in complete darkness, giving it an advantage over other fish in the same habitat (Wisconsin Sea Grant 2008). The zebra mussel may have facilitated the invasion of the round goby and other Eurasian species by providing an abundant food source (Ricciardi and MacIsaac 2000).

Means of Introduction: Introduced into the Great Lakes from the Black Sea via freighter ballast. Spread to Lake Superior by freighters operating within the Great Lakes.

Status: Already spread to all five Great Lakes, with large populations in Lakes Erie and Ontario. Likely to find suitable habitat throughout Lake Erie and in all Great Lakes waters at depths less than 60 m (EPA 2008). Established outside of the Great Lakes basin in 1994 (Dennison, personal communication), and in 2010 spread into the lower Illinois River (Irons, personal communication)

Round goby was considered extremely abundant in the St. Clair River in 1994. Short trawls made in Lake Erie in October 1994 turned up 200 individuals. Frequent trawling in 1995 collected over 3,000 individuals near Fairport Harbor, Ohio (Knight, personal communication). Densities in Calumet Harbor exceed 20 per square meter (Marsden and Jude 1995). Gravid females and different size classes have been found in Lake Erie (Cavender, personal communication). In Lake Superior, primarily established in Duluth-Superior Harbor and lower St. Louis River, and absent from the remainder of the western portion of the lake (Bergstrom et al, 2008)

Impact of Introduction: The distribution of the round goby around the inshore areas of the Black and Caspian seas indicates their potential for widespread occupation of inshore habitats with cover, especially plants or rocky rubble, in the lower Great Lake, yet they can migrate to deeper water 50-60m in winter (Jude et al., 1992).

The numbers of native fish species have declined in areas where the round goby has become abundant (Crossman et al., 1992). This species has been found to prey on darters, other small fish, and lake trout eggs and fry in laboratory experiments. They also may feed on eggs and fry of sculpins, darters, and logperch (Marsden and Jude, 1995) and have also been found to have a significant overlap in diet preference with many native fish species. They compete with rainbow darters (Etheostoma caeruleum), logperch (Percina caprodes), and northern madtoms (Noturus stigmosus) for small macroinvertebrates (French and Jude, 2001).

Mottled sculpins (Cottus bairdi) have been particularly affected since the establishment of N. melanostomus (Marsden and Jude 1995). This is almost certainly due to competition with sculpins for spawning sites in large round goby (greater than 100mm), for space in medium round goby (60-100mm) and for food in small round goby (less than 60mm) (Janssen and Jude 2001). Janssen and Jude (2001) argued that the main cause of the dramatic decline in the native mottled sculpin population is due to nesting interference with round goby; the other competition factors having a less severe impact, although they acknowledge the need for further research on food competition. Adults aggressively defend spawning sites and occupy prime spawning areas, keeping natives out (Marsden and Jude 1995; Dubs and Corkum 1996). Laboratory experiments have shown that the more aggressive N. melanostomus will evict C. bairdi from rock shelters that are being used for spawning or daytime predator evasion (Dubs and Corkum 1996). In trials where round gobies were introduced into tanks with mottled sculpin residents, the gobies approached and chased the resident sculpin (Dubs and Corkum 1996). When sculpin were released into resident round goby tanks, the sculpin were chased and bitten (Dubs and Corkum 1996). Sculpin did not exhibit any aggressive behavior towards the round gobies in any scenario (Dubs and Corkum 1996). In Calumet Harbor, there has been an absence of mottled sculpin nests and fish aged 0 since 1994, coinciding with N. melanostomus establishment (Janssen and Jude 2001).  Neogobius melanostomus and C. bairdi both take daytime refuge from predators under rocks, emerging to feed nocturnally (Dubs and Corkum 1996). This space competition could displace C. bairdi into deeper and unprotected spaces where they can easily be predated. Competition for food between N. melanostomus and C. bairdi occurs most heavily when they are young (less than 60mm). This is due to the overlap of an arthropod diet at this age (Janessen and Jude 2001).

The diet of larger round gobies consists mainly of zebra mussels, which no other fish species of the Great Lakes consumes so heavily, allowing round gobies to uniquely exploit a resource that could fuel a population explosion (Vanderploeg 2002). Walleye anglers in Detroit report that at times, all they can catch are gobies, which eagerly attack bait (Marsden and Jude 1995).

The invasion of round gobies into Lake Erie has had very real environmental and economic impacts.  The State of Ohio has shut down the smallmouth bass fishery in Lake Erie during the months of May and June.  The reason is that high predation rates on nests are affecting smallmouth recruitment.  Under normal circumstances male smallmouth bass guard nests and are effective in keeping round gobies away.  When males are removed, round gobies immediately invade and have been shown to eat up to 4,000 eggs within 15 minutes.  The months of May and June normally account for 50 percent of the total smallmouth catch in Lake Erie so there will be a considerable loss in funds generated by recreational fishers (National Invasive Species Council 2004).

Neogobius melanostomus introductions may also be a vector for the spread of avian botulism. The change in behavior of infected gobies make them preferred prey items to piscivorous birds (Yule et al. 2006). At Lake Erie, botulism infected birds had been feeding more on round goby compared to uninfected birds (Corkum et al. 2004).

Not all impacts of the introduced round goby are negative. Round gobies comprise the majority of the diet for Lake Erie water snakes (Nerodia sipedon insularum), and the abundance of gobies has been credited for the increase in population size, increased growth rates, and larger body size of the snakes (King et al. 2006). Due to their increase in abundance, the Lake Erie water snake was removed from the federal Endangered Species List in 2011. In addition, round gobies provide an abundant food source for several sportfishes including walleye (Taraborelli et al. 2010), yellow perch (Truemper and Lauer 2005), and largemouth/smallmouth bass (Steinhart et al. 2004; Taraborelli et al. 2010).

Remarks: The diet of round gobies collected in the United States consists of aquatic insects, zebra mussels, and some native snails. Studies have shown a single goby can eat as many as 78 zebra mussels per day. This goby is a very pugnacious fish that feeds voraciously, and, as such, it may prey on the young of other deepwater bottom dwellers such as sculpins, darters, and logperch. Its well-developed lateral line may help it out compete natives for food in the murky Great Lakes waters. Its pugnacious appetite is not reserved solely for other species; round goby males are known to eat other males eggs when they take over a spawning ground (Janssen and Jude 2001, and references within). Adult round goby also have been known to feed on smaller round goby. The round goby's aggressive nature may allow individuals to dominate prime spawning sites, making these sites unavailable to natives. There is a long spawning period during which individuals can spawn every 20 days, while they aggressively defend their nests (Jude et al. 1992; Jude 1993). Although Jude (1993) expected introduced round gobies to be restricted to near-shore rocky or weedy habitats, the species has since been captured at depths as great as 21.5 m (Cavender, personal communication). Divers have found an unusual characteristic of N. melanostomus. When divers overturn rocks to expose round gobies in their daytime shelters, more round gobies come to the site to feed on exposed prey but also to observe the divers (Janssen and Jude 2001). Yet if a predator approaches, such as a small-mouthed bass (Micropterus dolomieu) or a rock bass (Amploplites rupestris), the gobies will seek shelter (Janssen and Jude 2001). Although the species exhibits two pigmentation morphs and investigations were planned to determine whether more than one introduction of Neogobius occurred in the Great Lakes (Cavender, personal communication), only N. melanostomus has been observed.

Voucher specimens: Ohio (OSM, UF 98888); Michigan (UMMZ); Illinois (INHS). Indiana (INHS, UMMZ 224874). Voucher specimens from the Canadian side of the St. Clair River (UMMZ 217682, 218279; ROM 60675); Lake Ontario (Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, Peterborough, Ontario).

Anonymous. - Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada.

Berg, L. S. 1948-1949. Freshwater fishes of the U.S.S.R. and adjacent countries, 4th edition. Three volumes. Translated from Russian, 1962-1965, for the Smithsonian Institution and the National Science Foundation, by Israel Program for Scientific Translations, Jerusalem, Israel. Volume 1:504 pp.; volume 2:496 pp.; volume 3:510 pp.

Bergstrom, M. A., L. M. Evrard, and A. F. Mensinger. Distribution, abundance, and range of the round goby, Apollonia melanostoma, in the Duluth-Superior Harbor and St. Louis River Estuary 1998-2004. Journal of Great Lakes Research 34:535-543.

Brown, J.E., and C.A. Stepien. 2009. Invasion genetics of the Eurasian round goby in North America: tracing sources and spread patterns. Molecular Ecology 18:64-79.

Busiahn, T. - US Fish and Wildlife Service, Ashland, WI.

Cavender, T. - Ohio State University, Museum of Biological Diversity, Columbus, OH.

Charlebois, P. - Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, Zion, IL.

Charlebois, P. M., L. D. Corkum, D. J. Jude and C. Knight. 2001. The Round Goby (Neogobius melanostomus) Invasion: Current Research and Future Needs. Journal of Great Lakes Research 27(3):263-266.

Clapp, D. F., P. J. Schneeberger, D. J. Jude, G. Madison, and C. Pistis. 2001. Monitoring Round Goby (Neogobius melanostomus) Population Expansion in Eastern and Northern Lake Michigan. Journal of Great Lakes Research 27(3):335-341.

Corkum, L.D., M.R. Sapota, and K.E. Skora. 2004. The round goby, Neogobius melanostomus, a fish invader on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Biological Invasions 6: 173-181.

Crossman, E. J., E. Holm, R. Cholmondeley, and K. Tuininga. 1992. First record for Canada of the rudd, Scardinius erythrophthalmus, and notes on the introduced round goby, Neogobius melanostomus. Canadian Field-Naturalist 106(2):206-209.

Czypinski, G. D., A. K. Hintz, M. T. Weimer, A. Dextrase. 1999. Surveillance for ruffe in the Great Lakes, 1999. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ashland, WI. 29 pp.

Czypinski, G. D., A. K. Bowen, M. T. Weimer, A. Dextrase. 2001. Surveillance for ruffe in the Great Lakes, 2001. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ashland, WI. 36 pp.

Dennison, S. - Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, Chicago, IL.

Dermott, R. - Fisheries and Oceans, Burlington, Ontario, Canada.

Dextrase, A. - Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.

Dubs, D. O. L., and L. D. Corkum. 1996. Behavioral Interactions between round gobies (Neogobius melanostomus) and mottled sculpins (Cottus bairdi). Journal of Great Lakes Research 22:838-845.

Francis, J. - Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Michigan City.

French, J. R. P, III and D. J. Jude. 2001. Diets and Diet Overlap of Nonindigenous Gobies and Small Benthic Native Fishes Co-inhabiting the St. Clair River, Michigan. Journal of Great Lakes Research 27(3):300-311.

Hintz, A. 2000. Lake Huron exotic fish surveillance in 1999. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Fishery Resources Office, Alpena, Michigan. 13 pp.

Hintz, A. - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Alpena, MI.

Irons, K. - Illinois Natural History Survey, Champaign, IL.

Janssen, J., and D. J. Jude. 2001. Recruitment Failure of Mottled Sculpin Cottus bairdi in the Calumet Harbor, Southern Lake Michigan, Induced by the Newly Introduced Round Goby Neogobius melanostomus. Journal of Great Lakes Research 27(2):319-328.

Jensen, D. - Minnesota Sea Grant, Duluth.

Jude, D. J. - University of Michigan and Freshwater Physicians, Inc. Ann Arbor, MI.

Jude, D. J. 1993. The alien goby in the Great Lakes Basin. Great Lakes Information Network (Online).

Jude, D. J., R. H. Reider, and G. R. Smith. 1992. Establishment of Gobiidae in the Great Lakes Basin. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Science 49:416-421.

Keppner, S. - US Fish and Wildlife Service, Amherst, NY.

King, R.B., J.M. Ray, and K.M. Stanford. 2006. Gorging on gobies: beneficial effects of alien prey on a threatened vertebrate. Canadian Journal of Zoology 84:108-115.

Knight, C. - Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Fairport Harbor, OH.

Knight, C. 1994. The round goby: Lake Erie's newest invader. Ohio Chapter American Fisheries Society (OCAFS) Newsletter 21(3):5.

Lapierre, L. - Service de la faune aquatique, Quebec, Quebec, Canada.

Lauer, T. - Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana.

Madison, G. - Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Gladstone, MI.

Marsden, J. E., and D. J. Jude. 1995. Round gobies invade North America. Fact sheet produced by Sea Grant at Ohio State University, Columbus, OH.

Miller, P. J. 1986. Gobiidae. Pages 1019-1085 in P. J. P. Whitehead, M.L. Bauchot., J.C. Hureau, J. Nielsen, E. Tortonese, editors. Fishes of the north-eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean, volume III. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Paris, France.

Murry, C. - Pennsylvania Fishing and Boating Commission, Erie, PA.

National Invasive Species Council.  2004.  Weekly Notice May 27, 2004-June 3, 2004.

Phillips, E. C., M. E. Washek, A. W. Hertel, and B. M. Niebel. 2003. The Round Goby (Neogobius melanostomus) in Pennsylvania Tributary Streams of Lake Erie. Journal of Great Lakes Research 29(1):34-40.

Scobie, C. - Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.

Steinhart, G.B., R.A. Stein, and E.A. Marschall. 2004. High growth rate of young-of-the-year smallmouth bass in Lake Erie: a result of the round goby invasion? Journal of Great Lakes Reserach 30:381-389.

Stepien, C. A. and M. A. Tumeo.  2006.  Invasion genetics of Ponto-Caspian gobies in the Great Lakes: a 'cryptic' species, absence of founder effects, and comparative risk analysis.  Biological Invasions 8:61-78.

Taraborelli, A.C., M.G. Fox, T.B. Johnson, and T. Schaner. 2010. Round goby (Neogobius melanostomus) population structure, biomass, prey consumption, and mortality from predation in teh Bay of Quinte, Lake Ontario. Journal of Great Lakes Research 36:625-632.

Thiel, P. - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Onalaska, WI.

Tilmant, J.T. 1999. Management of nonindigenous aquatic fish in the U.S. National Park System. National Park Service. 50 pp.

Truemper, H.A., and T.E. Lauer. 2005. Gape limitation and piscine prey size-selection by yellow perch in the extreme southern area of Lake Michigan, with emphasis on two exotic prey items. Journal of Fish Biology 66:135-149.

Vanderploeg, H. A., T. F. Nalepa, D. J. Jude, E. L. Mills, K. T. Holeck, J. R. Leibig, I. A, Grigorovich, and Henn Ojaveer. 2002. Dispersal and emerging ecological impacts of Ponto-Caspian species in the Laurentian Great Lakes. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 59:1209-1228.

Veraldi, F. - US Army Corps of Engineers, Chicago, IL.

Yule, A.M., I.K. Barker, J.W. Austin, and R. D. Moccia. 2006. Toxicity of Clostridium botulinum Type E neurotoxin to Great Lakes fish: implications for avian botulism. Journal of Wildlife Diseases 42(3):479-493.

FishBase Fact Sheet

Author: Fuller, P., A. Benson, E. Maynard, M. Neilson, J. Larson, and A. Fusaro

Revision Date: 11/29/2011

Citation Information:
Fuller, P., A. Benson, E. Maynard, M. Neilson, J. Larson, and A. Fusaro. 2012. Neogobius melanostomus. USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL. RevisionDate: 11/29/2011

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