Mandarinfish Profile

Mandarinfish are among the most beautiful and interesting fish kept in marine aquariums. Fish that are members of the Callionymidae or Dragonet family are commonly called mandarinfish. They are very similar to gobies, but are in a different family from the gobies. These are difficult fish to keep because of their specialized diet requirements. Once the dietary challenge has been overcome, however, mandarinfish are fairly easy to keep.

Here is a collection of mandarinfish species with information on their identification, feeding, and aquarium care. Learn about keeping these delicate saltwater fishes.

  • 01 of 05

    Mandarinfish Feeding and Care

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

    How to Feed Mandarinfish

    Keeping mandarinfish alive in a closed system (aquarium) for any length of time has sometimes been a problem for aquarists. It used to be thought that if a mandarin was placed in an aquarium with plenty 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 mandarinfish would consume the copepod population and then slowly starve to death. For mandarinfish to survive in an aquarium, they must be "trained" to consume other high quality, high protein foods that are readily available.​

    Several aquarists have been experimenting with different methods to wean mandarins off live food (copepods) and onto frozen Mysis shrimp, which fulfills all of the mandarin's nutritional needs, and then onto pelleted fish foods. One successful method was to place the new mandarinfish in a breeding basket or small quarantine 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 quarantine tank. Over time, and with some luck, the mandarinfish will start eating the Mysis shrimp and accepting it as food. Once the mandarinfish have been weaned off of the live brine shrimp, they can then be safely moved to the display tank and fed the Mysis shrimp.

    Keep in mind, however, that the mandarinfish 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. Ensure that the food falls to the bottom near the mandarinfish when feeding so they get it without competing against faster eating fish species.

    From personal experience, we have found that many of the mandarinfish 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!

    Mandarinfish Aquarium Care

    Male Mandarinfish can be territorial and aggressive when it comes to other males. It is best to keep only one, or keep one male and one female if you wanted to have more than one. The water parameters for Mandarinfish are comparable to many other reef fish. Mandarinfish should have a water temperature range between 75 and 81 degrees Fahrenheit.

    • Salinity – 1.023-1.025 SG
    • pH – 8.1-8.4
    • Water flow – low flow with frequent partial water changes

    Mandarinfish Aquarium Size and Compatability

    The common aquarium species of Mandarinfish will only grow to about 4 inches long. A single mandarinfish should have at least a 30-gallon aquarium with live rock made into caves. The live rock provides hiding areas and will grow extra food for it. If more Mandarinfish or other compatible species are in the aquarium, it should be larger.

    Here are other species of fish that are compatible with Mandarinfish:

    • Clownfish – As long as the aquarium is large enough to support all the fish then clownfish are compatible, unless your Clownfish needs an anemone. Having an anemone in the same aquarium as the mandarinfish risks it being eaten by the anemone.
    • Gobies – A Mandarinfish would get along well with gobies as long as they were provided with adequate food at the bottom of the tank for both types of fish.
    • Blennies – these are peaceful fish, but the aquarium needs live rock set up to allow adequate hiding areas for all these benthic (bottom-dwelling) fish species. They also have similar feeding habits, so ensure enough food is getting to all the fish.
    • Seahorses – these feed on the same copepods and amphipods as mandarinfish. Having them trained to eat frozen brine shrimp or Mysis shrimp makes it easier to feed both species of fish.
  • 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 slow 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 mandarinfish (Synchiropus splendidus) is a color variation of the striped or psychedelic mandarinfish (Synchiropus splendidus).

    The head and body of the red mandarin dragonet are a mazelike combination of green, 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 at 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. Having large amounts of live rock in the aquarium allows for abundant growth of copepods and amphipods.

Article Sources
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  1. Mandarin DragonetCalifornia Academy Of Sciences, 2020