The Nonindigenous Occurrences section of the NAS species profiles has a new structure. The section is now dynamically updated from the NAS database to ensure that it contains the most current and accurate information. Occurrences are summarized in Table 1, alphabetically by state, with years of earliest and most recent observations, and the tally and names of drainages where the species was observed. The table contains hyperlinks to collections tables of specimens based on the states, years, and drainages selected. References to specimens that were not obtained through sighting reports and personal communications are found through the hyperlink in the Table 1 caption or through the individual specimens linked in the collections tables.

Neogobius melanostomus
Neogobius melanostomus
(Round Goby)
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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, and Stepien and Neilson (2013) for clarification on taxonomy and nomenclature.

Taxonomy: available through www.itis.govITIS logo

Identification: Distinguishing characteristics have been given by Berg (1949), Miller (1986), Crossman et al. (1992), Marsden and Jude (1995), and Hubbs et al. (2004). Young round gobies are solid slate gray. Older fish are blotched with black and brown and have a white to greenish dorsal fin with a black spot at the posterior base (but note some Lake Erie specimens are spotless). This goby is superficially similar to native sculpins but can be distinguished by the presence of fused pelvic fins (sculpins have two separate fins) (Marsden and Jude 1995; Hubbs et al. 2004).

Size: 30.5 cm; 17.8 cm maximum seen in United States

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

Hydrologic Unit Codes (HUCs) Explained
Interactive maps: Point Distribution Maps

Nonindigenous Occurrences:

Table 1. States with nonindigenous occurrences, the earliest and latest observations in each state, and the tally and names of HUCs with observations†. Names and dates are hyperlinked to their relevant specimen records. The list of references for all nonindigenous occurrences of Neogobius melanostomus are found here.

StateFirst ObservedLast ObservedTotal HUCs with observations†HUCs with observations†
IL1993201911Chicago; Des Plaines; Kankakee; Lake Michigan; Little Calumet-Galien; Lower Illinois; Lower Illinois-Lake Chautauqua; Lower Illinois-Senachwine Lake; Peruque-Piasa; Pike-Root; Upper Illinois
IN199320203Chicago; Lake Michigan; Little Calumet-Galien
MI1990202045Au Gres-Rifle; Au Sable; Betsie-Platte; Betsy-Chocolay; Birch-Willow; Black-Macatawa; Boardman-Charlevoix; Brevoort-Millecoquins; Carp-Pine; Cass; Cedar-Ford; Cheboygan; Clinton; Detroit; Fishdam-Sturgeon; Flint; Huron; Kalamazoo; Kawkawlin-Pine; Lake Erie; Lake Huron; Lake Michigan; Lake St. Clair; Lake Superior; Little Calumet-Galien; Lone Lake-Ocqueoc; Lower Grand; Manistee; Manistique; Menominee; Muskegon; Ottawa-Stony; Pere Marquette-White; Pigeon-Wiscoggin; Pine; Raisin; Saginaw; Shiawassee; St. Clair; St. Joseph; St. Marys; Tacoosh-Whitefish; Thunder Bay; Tittabawassee; Upper Grand
MN199620153Baptism-Brule; Lake Superior; St. Louis
NY1998202019Black; Buffalo-Eighteenmile; Cattaraugus; Chaumont-Perch; Chautauqua-Conneaut; Headwaters St. Lawrence River; Irondequoit-Ninemile; Lake Erie; Lake Ontario; Lower Genesee; Mohawk; Niagara; Oak Orchard-Twelvemile; Oneida; Oswego; Owego-Wappasening; Raisin River-St. Lawrence River; Salmon-Sandy; Seneca
OH1993201910Ashtabula-Chagrin; Black-Rocky; Cedar-Portage; Chautauqua-Conneaut; Cuyahoga; Grand; Lake Erie; Lower Maumee; Ottawa-Stony; Sandusky
PA199620203Chautauqua-Conneaut; French; Lake Erie
WI1995201912Beartrap-Nemadji; Door-Kewaunee; Duck-Pensaukee; Lake Michigan; Lower Fox; Manitowoc-Sheboygan; Menominee; Milwaukee; Oconto; Peshtigo; Pike-Root; St. Louis

Table last updated 4/20/2021

† Populations may not be currently present.

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 including open sandy areas and in abundant aquatic macrophytes (Jude and DeBoe 1996; Clapp et al. 2001).  Highest densities are reported between 1 and 50m depths, but the species has been reported out to 180m and is migrating offshore seasonally. Most reports are in coastal margins with high thermal energy, low exposure and high tributary influence. Round goby has a broad temperature tolerance but energetic optimum temperature of about 26° C and appears to avoid colder streams (Kornis and Vander Zanden 2010). This species has broad salinity tolerance surviving brackish conditions to 20ppt.  It can tolerate low oxygen concentrations and poor water quality.  Streams with low concentrations of dissolved ions such as calcium appear to resist invasion (Kornis et al 2013).  Coulter et al. (2015) examined the influence of various habitat characteristics (e.g., wetlands vs open water, productivity, zooplankton and fish community diversity) on the abundance of Round goby at several sites in Lakes Michigan and Huron, finding that catch per unit effort was generally related to biological productivity but the direction and strength of the relationship varied across sites.

Female round gobies mature at 1-2 years with clutch (100-4000 eggs) related to body size.  They can spawn every 20 days from April to September and have a maximum lifespan of about 4 years.  Round goby has been shown to exhibit phenotypic plasticity in some life history characteristics, such as reproductive traits like number and size of mature oocytes, and this plasticity has been suggested to enhance establishment success at invasion fronts (Hôrková and Kovác 2015). Phenotypic plasticity has also been shown in Round goby to maintain or regain homeostasis after rapid temperature changes, thus increasing its invasion success (Wellband and Heath 2017).

The Round goby 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). Round goby also forage efficiently in structured habitats that might otherwise serve as prey refugia (Gebauer et al 2019).

Round goby are dietary generalists feeding on both invertebrates – Dreissenid mussels, fingernail clams, small native mussels and snails, soft-shelled crayfish, Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera, Trichoptera, Chironomidae, Ceratapogonidae, Diptera, Odonata, Oligochaeta, Ostracoda, Isopoda, Amphipoda,  Mysidae, and large Cladocerans (Jude et al 1992, Jude et al 1995, Ray and Corkum 1997, French and Jude 2001, Ricciardi 2001, Phillips et al 2003, Barton et al 2005, Hogan et al 2007, Walsh et al 2007, Krakowiak and Pennuto 2008, Polacik et al 2009, Kipp et al 2012) – as well as on small fishes and fish eggs (Crossman et al 1992, Jude 1993, Jude et al 1995, Marsden and Jude 1995, Ray and Corkum 1997, Chotkowski and Marsden 1999, French and Jude 2001, Jude 2001, Ricciardi 2001, Hensler and Jude 2007, Gebauer et al 2018, Gebauer et al 2019, LeBlanc et al 2019).  The zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha) may have facilitated the invasion of the Round goby by providing an abundant food source (Ricciardi and MacIsaac 2000). 

Round gobies, particularly young gobies, are eaten by many native Great Lakes fishes including Lake Trout (Salvelinus namaycush), Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieu), Mottled Sculpin (Cottus bairdii), Northern Madtom (Noturus stigmosus), Burbot (Lota lota) and Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens)  (French and Jude 2001, Steinhart et al 2004, Dietrich et al 2006, Brey 2006, Hogan et al 2007, Taraborelli et al 2010, Madenjian et al 2011, Crane and Einhouse 2016, Jacobs et al 2017).

Round goby is one of the most frequently found prey items in the diet of the Double-Crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) (Van Guilder and Seefelt 2013, Madura and Jones 2016). Round Gobies now 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).

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 (Hensler and Jude 2007); larval round goby have a diel vertical migration that facilitates them being taken in with ship ballast water and spread port to port. Round goby distribution in the Baltic Sea was partially determined by shipping activity, thus it is likely the same applies to the Great Lakes populations (Kotta et al. 2016).

Status: Widespread, overwintering and reproducing in all of the Great Lakes.  Densities in some locations exceed 20 per square meter (Marsden and Jude 1995). Populations are expanding into tributaries (Phillips et al 2003, Krakowiak and Pennuto 2008, Kornis et al 2013, Bradshaw-Wilson 2019).

Established outside of the Great Lakes basin in 1994 (Dennison, personal communication), and in 2010 spread into the lower Illinois River (K. Irons, Illinois Natural History Survey, Champaign, IL, personal communication).


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 Lakes, yet they can migrate to deeper water 50-60 m 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. French and Jude (2001) suggested that Round Goby competes with Rainbow Darter (Etheostoma caeruleum), Logperch (Percina caprodes), and Northern Madtom (Noturus stigmosus) for small macroinvertebrates; however, Burkett and Jude (2015) found that gobies exhibited little diet overlap with most small benthic fishes.

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 100 mm), for space in medium Round Goby (60-100 mm) and for food in small Round Goby (less than 60 mm) (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 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 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 60 mm), 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 et al. 2002). In LeBoeuf and French creeks, Pennsylvania, native juvenile Unionid mussels comprised a significant portion of Round Goby diets (Bradshaw-Wilson et al. 2019). 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 Goby into Lake Erie has had very real environmental and economic impacts. Beginning in 2004, The State of Ohio has closed the Smallmouth Bass fishery in Lake Erie during the months of May and June, due to high predation rates by gobies on nests affecting recruitment. Under normal circumstances male Smallmouth Bass guard nests and are effective in deterring gobies. When males are removed, 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 Bass 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). Increased abundance of Round Goby in the diet of double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) may reduce chick growth and reproductive success, due to a lower energy density compared to other native fishes (Ruetz et al. 2009), and thus could provide some control over cormorant populations (Van Guilder and Seefelt 2013). Round Goby may provide an entry point for polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) into trophic webs. Macksasitorn et al. (2015) found a weak correlation between sediment and goby tissue PCB concentrations, with smaller gobies having higher PCB concentration.

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). Round goby became the primary food resource for smallmouth bass in New York waters of Lake Erie following invasion, with a marked decrease in crayfish consumption, and bass had a larger length-at-age in the post-invasion period (Crane and Einhouse 2016). Jacobs et al. (2017) used stable isotope analysis to examine Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) in Lake Ontario and lower Nigara River pre- and post-invasion of Round Goby, finding an increased trophic position with age, an increased rate of δ15N enrichment, and a marked importance of Round Goby in Lake Sturgeon diets in the post-invasion period. Jacobs et al. (2017) suggest that high abundance of this novel food source has altered Lake Sturgeon feeding ecology and may have increased population growth and success.


Remarks: 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 (T. Cavender, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, personal communication), only N. melanostomus has been observed.

Adrian-Kalchhauser et al. (2017) suggest that there is no direct evidence for the direct attachment of egg clutches by Round goby to aquatic vessels, a commonly suggested introduction vector for Ponto-Caspian gobiids, and that this concept should be treated as an untested hypothesis.

Pettitt-Wade et al. (2015) examined trophic niche breadth, plasticity, and overlap between Round and Tubenose gobies in Lakes Superior and St. Clair using stable isotope analysis. They found a higher isotopic trophic position and generally higher isotopic nichc breadth and plasticity in Round Goby, with little overlap between size-matched Round and Tubenose gobies, and suggested that this increased isotopic niche breadth and plasticity has assisted in the establishement success of Round Goby in the Great Lakes (widely abundant and distributed vs. low abundance and localized distribution of tubenose goby).

Introduced populations of Round Goby in the Great Lakes show reduced diversity and numbers of parasites compared to populations from its native range as well as to native Great Lakes fishes, providing some support for the 'enemy release hypothesis' for invasion success (Kvach and Stepien 2008; Gendron et al. 2012). However, Gendron et al. (2012) found that gobies from Lake St. Clair (one of the earliest introduced populations) showed an increase in parasite diversity and density over time. Similar results are apparent in Lake Erie (Kvach and Stepien 2008) and Lake Michigan (Camp et al 1999). Additional studies of introduced and native populations in Europe (Kvach et al 2014, Ondrackova et al 2015, Kvach et al 2017, Ovcharenko et al 2017, Mineeva 2019) also indicate that that enemy release is a transient effect seen only in early stages of invasion.

Round Goby has been shown to exhibit phenotypic plasticity in some life history characteristics, such as reproductive traits like number and size of mature oocytes, and this plasticity has been suggested to enhance establishment success at invasion fronts (Hôrková and Kovác 2015). Phenotypic plasticity has also been shown in Round Goby to maintain or regain homeostasis after rapid temperature changes, thus increasing its invasion success (Wellband and Heath 2017).

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).

References: (click for full references)

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FishBase Summary

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

Revision Date: 4/14/2021

Peer Review Date: 12/5/2019

Citation Information:
Fuller, P., Benson, A., Maynard, E., Neilson, M.E., Larson, J., Fusaro, A., and Sturtevant, R., 2021, Neogobius melanostomus (Pallas, 1814): U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?speciesID=713, Revision Date: 4/14/2021, Peer Review Date: 12/5/2019, Access Date: 4/20/2021

This information is preliminary or provisional and is subject to revision. It is being provided to meet the need for timely best science. The information has not received final approval by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and is provided on the condition that neither the USGS nor the U.S. Government shall be held liable for any damages resulting from the authorized or unauthorized use of the information.


The data represented on this site vary in accuracy, scale, completeness, extent of coverage and origin. It is the user's responsibility to use these data consistent with their intended purpose and within stated limitations. We highly recommend reviewing metadata files prior to interpreting these data.

Citation information: U.S. Geological Survey. [2021]. Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. Gainesville, Florida. Accessed [4/20/2021].

Contact us if you are using data from this site for a publication to make sure the data are being used appropriately and for potential co-authorship if warranted. For queries involving fish, please contact Matthew Neilson. For queries involving invertebrates, contact Amy Benson.