Yellowheaded Sleeper Goby: A Fascinating but Challenging Sand-Sifter

A pair of Yellowheaded Sleeper Gobies, also known as Gold Head or Blueband Gobies.

A pair of Yellowheaded Sleeper Gobies, also known as Gold Head or Blueband Gobies.

Though not the most chromatically gifted species, the yellowheaded sleeper goby (Valenciennea strigata), is interesting to observe and can serve a utilitarian purpose in marine aquaria—regularly overturning and oxygenating the top layer of the substrate with its sand-sifting feeding behavior. However, for reasons I’ll soon elaborate upon, this same behavior can make V. strigata somewhat challenging to keep.

Physical appearance

Potentially reaching about 7 inches in total length, this Indo-Pacific species has a slender, cream-colored body with a yellow head and a thin, blue horizontal band extending from the corner of its mouth to the margin of the gill cover.


V. strigata is a burrowing species, so it’s important to secure any rockwork or décor that could be toppled if undermined. It feeds by repeatedly taking in mouthfuls of sand, sifting out tiny benthic invertebrates, and expelling the sand from its gill openings. Small fish and fish eggs are also on its natural menu. In the wild, this species is usually found in pairs, and it can be kept as such in aquariums if a known bonded pair is acquired.

The feeding challenge

To loosely paraphrase the Melancholy Dane, therein lies the rub! Owing to its constant sand-sifting behavior, V. strigata can easily deplete the resident microfauna in an aquarium substrate and is, therefore, highly vulnerable to starvation in captivity if efforts aren’t made to ensure live foods are replenished. Small, non-live meaty foods, such as mysis shrimp and finely chopped seafoods, should be offered, but do be aware that not all specimens will learn to accept substitute food items.

Proper setup

An aquarium for V. strigata should be well established with a deep bed of live sand and, ideally, a productive refugium to promote healthy populations of microfauna. A tank size of at least 55 gallons is recommended for long-term keeping, but the availability of open bottom space is a more critical consideration than overall tank volume. Also, be sure to cover the tank well, as V. strigata is a jumper.


Most relatively peaceful species that aren’t prone to gobbling up goby-sized fish will make good tankmates for the yellowheaded sleeper goby, but it’s wise to avoid species that are likely to compete with V. strigata for the same food source, such as dragonets, or for the same burrowing real estate, such as jawfishes.

In the reef tank

V. strigata won’t pick at or eat corals or other sessile invertebrates, so it’s generally considered a good candidate for inclusion in reef systems. However, there is one caveat to consider: Invertebrates positioned on or near the substrate will likely have sand continually showered down upon them as the goby sifts the substrate for food.


If you enjoyed this post, subscribe to get our new posts in your email.
About Jeff Kurtz

Jeff Kurtz is the Co-founder/Editor of Saltwater Smarts, former Senior Consulting Editor for Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine, and the aquarist formerly known as “The Salt Creep.” He has been an aquarium hobbyist for over 30 years and is an avid scuba diver.


  1. Maime Schemenauer says

    We just purchased one of these gobies about 4 days ago and right away he found a hiding place, which is good for him but not for us he has been in there and will not come out he does once in awhile Peak his head out but then he goes back in, so far has not been out in the tank to do any sifting. We are feeding our fish dry flakes and we do have blood worms. I don’t put the blood worms in because I don’t see the fish eating them even though we were told that they love blood worms. We have very friendly fish we have Nemo’s and we have blue damsels so far. To make a long story short my question is is this goby ever going to come out and start sifting sand?

  2. I have one of this fish I just bought it this week he was doing just fine eating and sifting even swimming at the top of my tank but tonight I just watched that his mouth is opening and closing quickly like something is stuck in his mouth it wasn’t from the air or even the water becose I just did my water change today morning can you please advice me I don’t want to lose my fish
    His tankmates are :
    Clownfish (nemo)
    Coral banded shrimp (boxer shrimp)
    Nassarius snail

    • Don’t you love a website that uploads their articles making out that know every thing but then won’t answer questions!

Speak Your Mind