Mandarin Dragonet: Synchiropus splendidus

Phylum: Class: Order: Family: Genus: Species:
Chordata Actinopterygii Perciformes Callionymidae Synchiropus S. splendidus

Common Names:  Mandarin fish, Mandarin Dragonet, Mandarin Goby, Psychedelic fish

Scientific Name:  Synchiropus splendidus

The Mandarin Dragonet can simply not be confused with any other fish.  It has arguably the most attractive coloration and pattern of any commonly kept reef fish.  The scale-less body of the fish is a blue or green color which has orange wavy lines across it.  The tail is bright red with blue edging.  Other colors can be found in the pattern as well.  These fish are also sometimes called Psychedelic fish due to its rather bizarre coloration.  The male Mandarin tends to be larger than the female and has a large pointed dorsal fin that is only occasionally displayed.  Although commonly called Mandarin Goby, they are in fact not a Goby, but rather belong to the family known as Dragonets.

Natural Environment:
Comes from the Philippine area and westward to Australia.  Found in groups or pairs, often on sandy bottoms between reef crests.

Reef Tank Suitability:
Mandarin Dragonets are one of the more commonly sold fish, yet they are unfortunately one of the most likely to perish in the average reef tank.  The reason for this is their very finicky feeding habits.  Many Mandarin Dragonets will only eat live amphipods and copepods (pods) which are found in sufficient numbers only in larger and well established reef tanks.  The minimum tank requirement is generally stated as 55 gallon with 50lbs or more of live rock.  This is based on feeding requirements and not space requirements as the Mandarin is a very slow, docile fish.  Perhaps more important than tank size is how heavily fed and nutrient rich a tank is, since this type of tank will generally support a higher pod population than tanks run under more lean conditions.

If you are able to get a Mandarin Dragonet that is feeding on frozen food, they can be an excellent candidate for a small tank since they are  small, slow moving fish.

Be cautious that many Mandarin Dragonets are kept in conditions in pet stores where there is little to no opportunity for them to feed if they will only eat live food and therefore are under starvation conditions.  If you get one of these fish, look for it to have a nice rounded belly.  If it looks shrunken in, the fish has not been feeding for some time and it seems that they are often unable to recover even when placed in a tank with an adequate food supply.

Completely non-aggressive to other fish and other fish seem to pay them little attention. .  Mandarins spend their days carefully checking over the live rock and sand looking for tasty tidbits to eat.  2 males will fight unless in a very large tank, so they should typically only be kept singly or in a male/female pair.

As noted above, feeding can be a major issue with Mandarin Dragonets.  Some will take foods such as frozen brine shrimp and bloodworms and a few will even take pellet food.  Others will refuse to take anything but small live foods such as copopods and amphipods. Mandarins are extremely slow and methodical and hover much like a hummingbird using their front fins while looking for food.  Even Mandarins that take prepared foods have a hard time competing with faster fish for the morsels.

One suggestion I have heard that makes good sense, especially in smaller tanks that don’t support a large pod population is to build something called a ‘pod pile’.  This is a few small rocks stacked into a pile into which small pieces of shrimp or similar food can be inserted every couple of days.  This pile of rocks provides shelter and a food supply for the pods which allows them to rapidly breed and provide food for the Mandarin.  Similarly a large refugium hooked to the tank will help supply pods.  Small wrasses in the tank will tend to compete for the same food sources and being much faster, the Mandarin Dragonet will have a hard time competing.

You can also buy pods on-line, though this gets expensive over time or you can culture them in a separate tank.

Mandarin Dragonets are actually very hardy under the right conditions when starting with a healthy specimen which is feeding.  They seem to be very resistant to parasitic diseases such as Ick, apparently due to their thick slime coating.   As noted above, getting a healthy specimen to begin with is key. If possible, select a specimen that you know is eating frozen or pellet food.

Does well within normal reef tank temperature ranges of approximately 74-84°F.

Mandarin Dragonets can get up to about 3″ in length.

Mandarin Dragonets in the hobby are all wild caught at this time.  If there is a male and female in the tank, they may pair up and go through the courting ritual which is fun to see.  Any eggs that may be produced are dispersed into the water column.  There is a link below to the only successful breeding and rearing that I am aware of.  Some of the other dragonets such as the Green Dragonet are more commonly bred in captivity.

The outstanding Header and one other photograph tagged individually are courtesy of Luc Viatour.  Wild pair photo courtesy of Steve Oakley.   All other photos by ReefCorner © All Rights Reserved