Mandarinfish Profile

Fish that are members of the Callionymidae or Dragonet family are commonly called mandarinfish. These are difficult fish to keep because of their specialized diet requirements. Once the dietary challenge has been overcome, mandarinfish are fairly easy to keep.

Here is a collection of mandarinfish species identification, characteristics, compatibility, feeding, aquarium care, and more. Learn about keeping these delicate saltwater fishes.

  • 01 of 05

    How to Feed

    Portrait of Mandarin Fish Synchiropus splendidus, Banda Neira Island, Indonesia
    ifish / Getty Images

    Keeping mandarinfish alive in a closed system (aquarium) for any length of time has always been a problem for aquarists. It used to be thought that if a mandarin was placed in a tank with a ton of live rock that the fish would be able to thrive on the (supposedly) huge amount of copepods that populate the live rock. Unfortunately, this has not proved to be the case in most instances. Before long, the mandarins would consume the copepod population and then slowly starve to death. For mandarinfish to survive in an aquarium, they must be "trained" to consume high quality, high protein foods that are readily available.​

    Several aquarists have been experimenting with different methods to wean mandarins off of live food (copepods) and onto frozen Mysis shrimp, which fulfills all of the mandarin's nutritional needs and then onto pelletized foods. One successful method was to place the new mandarins in a breeding basket or small Q.T. tank and feed them live brine shrimp, which they will normally take to quite well (the live shrimp's movement makes it very tantalizing), then slowly start adding a few frozen Mysis shrimp to the basket or Q.T. tank. Over time, and with some luck, the mandarins will start tasting the Mysis shrimp and accepting it as food. Once the mandarins have been weaned off of the live brine shrimp, they can then be safely moved to the display tank and fed only Mysis shrimp.

    Keep in mind, however, that the mandarin will never be a voracious eater and will therefore never be able to compete with more aggressive feeders in an aquarium, so their tankmates must be carefully chosen.

    From personal experience, we have found that many of the mandarins that we have weaned onto Mysis shrimp will actually wait for the eyedropper with Mysis shrimp in it to appear at the edge of the tank and then literally suck the shrimp out of the eyedropper.

  • 02 of 05

    Striped Mandarinfish

    Dragonet mandarinfish in Banda, Indonesia underwater photo
    fenkieandreas / Getty Images

    Also known as the "Psychedelic Mandarinfish" (Synchiropus splendidus), this little fish spends its time bouncing around the live rocks and substrate in an aquarium slurping up copepods and amphipods as well as very small crustaceans. With luck and patience, the striped mandarinfish can be weaned from live foods and trained to take frozen Mysis shrimp, which is an excellent food for it.

    Not an aggressive feeder, this fish does very well with other careful eaters such as seahorses.

  • 03 of 05

    Spotted Mandarinfish

    Synchiropus picturatus
    marrio31 / Getty Images

    As with other dragonets, the spotted mandarinfish (Synchiropus picturatus) spends all of its time on the bottom looking for its favorite foods (amphipods and copepods). It also does well with other non-aggressive feeders, but cannot compete for food with most other fish.

  • 04 of 05

    Red Mandarinfish

    Mandarinfish swimming in coral reef

    Image Source / Stuart Westmorland / Getty Images

    The red mandarin (Synchiropus cf. splendidus) is a variation of the striped or psychedelic mandarinfish (Synchiropus splendidus).

    The head and body of the red mandarin dragonet are a mazelike combination of blue, orange, and red. Male red dragonets may be distinguished from females by their extra-elongated first dorsal spine.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Those Little White Bugs in Your Aquarium

    Marine Amphipod Larvae
    Xavier Hoenner Photography / Getty Images

    These "little white bugs" (copepods and amphipods) are the food close to the bottom of the food chain in the ocean and are the natural food for mandarinfish as well as many other creatures. If you have a good population of these, mandarinfish should do quite well in your tank.

Article Sources
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  1. Mandarin DragonetCalifornia Academy Of Sciences, 2020