Just before my attention was diverted by an octopus in the midst of a speculative hunt on a raised flat at Lazarus Island two Sundays ago, an ornate lagoon goby budged just enough to draw my eyes toward a fish the size and shape of a fat finger, with its belly on a bed of sand and seagrass in two inches of sea, an ephemeral pond created by the pull of the moon and soaked in the shadows of a sleepless strait.
At home in muddy flats, mangroves and the upper fringes of reefs strewn with sand and rubble, Istigobius ornatus is fairly indiscriminate in its choice of habitats, as long as the substratum is suitably patterned to match its specks and spots, and a hole, nook or recess is always within reach of a few flicks of the tail. Unconsolidated sediments also provide food in the form of meiofauna – tiny crustaceans, worms and members of other, obscure phyla – that the gobies consume by sifting mouthfuls of silt and expelling bland grains through their gills.
These gobies tend to sit out unwanted attention, preferring streaks to speed unless a threat looms too large. Istigobius may enjoy a comparative advantage in patches where the sand is fine and flecked, but other benthics edge it out on coarser bottoms. The dusky flanks of a frill-fin goby, perched by the left quarters of the larger fish, held up until its presence was revealed hours after the tide. Named for their membrane-free upper pectoral fin rays, Bathygobius fuscus are probably even more abundant than lagoon gobies in littoral shoals, where they pursue tiny prey and guard nests in rocky crevices, safe from casual glances in a coat of random blotches with a dark saddle that ill-defines their piscine profile. Near invisible in their terrain of pebbles and loose particles, the gobies play in a landscape of contrasts and cobbled stones, creatures of dusk and disguise who remain immune to charm and all but lost to eyes bent on brighter clues.