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Mandarin Dragonet Fish Facts and Care

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PirateFX is fascinated by the beauty of the mandarin dragonet and enjoys sharing information about this challenging fish.

The mandarin fish is the most beautiful member of the genus Synchiropus. It is also one of the most breathtaking marine fish ever found in our oceans.

The mandarin fish is the most beautiful member of the genus Synchiropus. It is also one of the most breathtaking marine fish ever found in our oceans.

Quick Facts About the Mandarin Dragonet

  • Scientific Name: Synchiropus splendidus
  • Origin: Indo-Pacific Ocean
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Temperature: 72–82 Fahrenheit
  • Maximum Size: 4 inches
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Reef Safe: Yes
  • Tank Size: 75 gallons minimum

The mandarin fish is the most beautiful member of the genus Synchiropus. It is also one of the most breath-taking marine fish ever found in our oceans. It looks more like an intricate painting than it does a fish, with its entire body made up of wavy alternating lines of orange, blue and green.

While commonly known as the mandarin goby and the mandarin fish, its true name is the mandarin dragonet. It is similar to the scooter blenny (Synchiropus ocellatus) in this respect.

A closeup of the mandarin dragonet.

A closeup of the mandarin dragonet.

Mandarin Dragonets Have Particular Needs

Due to its natural beauty, this fish is heavily collected from throughout the Indo-Pacific. I've visited wholesalers with tanks upon tanks filled with mandarin fish with the vast majority sure to perish within a month.

Sadly, these fishes do very poorly in captivity. They have special dietary needs that are not met by the vast majority of hobbyists. Most pick one up and simply assume they'll get by like the rest of their fish. This could not be further from the truth. Most hobbyists cannot provide the mandarin with the proper food, and they end up starving to death.


Tank Size

Mandarin dragonets reach a maximum of 4 inches in length. They require a tank no smaller than a 30-gallon, if they are accepting prepared foods.

If they are not eating anything you offer them, then you need a large established aquarium with a lot of live rock, at a 75-gallon minimum per mandarin.


Mandarins are peaceful fish that are well-suited to community tanks. They are only aggressive towards conspecifics, i.e other mandarins and dragonets like the psychedelic dragonet and the scooter dragonet.


Getting a mandarin to take prepared foods is one of the most challenging tasks for a hobbyist. In the wild, they are carnivores that constantly scan live rock for small crustaceans such as copepods and munnid isopods. This is all they eat in the wild, and this is where the problem lies. They just don't eat prepared foods.

Thankfully, there are solutions.

Use a Large, Well-Established Tank

The easiest solution is to house them in a well-established 75-gallon or larger aquarium that is full of copepods. This, then, requires no feeding as the mandarin will simply graze on the existing copepod populations. Smaller tanks cannot have large enough populations to feed a mandarin long-term. They'll be wiped out in a matter of weeks.

Train Your Mandarin to Accept Prepared Foods

For this, you need frozen and live brine shrimp, preferably adults.

  1. First, get them feeding on live brine shrimp, which is simple enough to do.
  2. Then, mix in frozen artemia with the live ones. Once they start feeding on frozen artemia, slowly scale back on the amount of live brine shrimp you feed.
  3. Eventually, you'll be able to feed them exclusively on frozen brine shrimp.
  4. But your work isn't over yet. You need to get them on something nutritious like mysis shrimp, krill and a good pellet.
  5. Start mixing in mysis with the frozen brine.
  6. Do the same for all the other foods.


Mandarin dragonets have been bred in captivity. They are pelagic spawners, which means the male and female both rise up into the water column to release eggs and sperm. Raising their larvae is a tough job that requires live rotifers, live brine shrimp and phytoplankton cultures.

Identifying Males and Females

If you want a pair of mandarins, buy a male and female and put them together. The very first dorsal spine on males is very elongated and can be seen clearly. Females lack an elongated spine.

© 2009 PirateFX


Esi on February 21, 2020:

can you add some things it can read to me?

zooooooooooooooooooo on November 02, 2019:

there are a lot of facts

daniel on February 15, 2019:

what other plants live that are in its habitat and other fish that live in its habitat are

Zia Uddin from UK on November 29, 2018:

Very extraordinary fish, I like it. Thanks for the share.

shane dawson on April 12, 2018:

girl meee tooooo

lizeyshla mendez on December 01, 2017:

i love this fish

lilliee on November 03, 2017:

i love these fish. thank u so much for giving facts about this

awesomesause on October 02, 2017:

i love fish!!!!

Thank u so much 4 facts!

kennedy on January 03, 2017:

i am trying to do interesting facts but i cant

The Fish Lover on July 21, 2013:

I would guess anywhere from .25 ounces to 5 ounces

A on April 11, 2013:

How much do mandarin fish weigh?

The Fish Lover on April 03, 2013:

I've had a mandarin for ONE YEAR in my 10 gallon tank. Easy!!!!! Mine eats frozen brine shrimp, mysis, and frozen bloodworms!!!! I'm 11 years old!!!! and I don't get why you said a mandarin would die in a small tank?!?!?!?!?? Because mine HASENT!!!!!

bob on March 04, 2013:

fisheys!!!! YAY!!!

dani.snickelfritz on February 09, 2013:

what eats Mandarin fish?

gargi shukla on January 08, 2013:

this is fantastic

chris on November 13, 2012:

i have had a 180litre reef tank running for 7 years ,1 pair of clowns and aroyal gamma,tank is full of soft corals,do you think it is acceptable to try one mandarin in it,thank you in anticipation

Christy on October 16, 2012:

Just bring home th dragon goby 3 days go but he eats nothing ,,, please help

Christy on October 13, 2012:

I have a maroon clow fish but I like to bring home a dragon goby is it ok thaks for th advice , christy

Yvonne on April 23, 2012:

Just purchased my first dragonette. 2 days new in a 150 gallon reef tank with about 9 other fish. According to the service who cleans and maintains my tank I have copepods for this fish to eat plus I purchased a feeding a copepods...put half in the tank and half in the lower chamber with rocks. This morning my dragonette is in the rocks just looking like it is having labored breathing. Is this normal or is it sick? Any help would be appreciated as I don't want it to die. Thx.

Bob on March 26, 2012:

Cool I love mandarin I used to have one but like you said they don't live well in captivity.

Nathan on March 18, 2012:

How much do mandrin gobies weigh and where are they in the foodchain.

Stephany Vale on March 08, 2012:

Hello, I just got a Dragonet a week ago. Sometimes we go to Mexico for the weekend, so I was wondering, how long can a dragonet go without food?

(please e-mail the answer to

plaubel on January 30, 2012:

Wow, I have an app on my Android phone called Aqua Pets. I have 6 mandarin fish in my tank. I thought they were a made up fish because they were so colorful. I found your site, and was surprised to find they were real and even more beautiful. Thanks

PirateFX (author) on January 22, 2012:

Tonia - Dragonets are fairly laid back even towards members of the same genus. However, two males may display some aggression towards each other regardless of species.

Karter - Mandarins are cheap, something like 10-15 for one? Getting it to feed will be a problem especially since they are very slow eaters. Unless you can ensure it gets fed a good amount each day, i wouldn't recommend one. Of course, if you have a nice established system, it would help with the natural creatures that will count as food.

Russel - Thanks for your insights and experience!

Russell W. Higgins on January 17, 2012:


I found you comments very helpful. Just obtained a Mandarin a couple of weeks ago. He is in a 34 gallon well established tank. His stomach was sucked to his spine at the lfs. They had put him in with 200 other fish when he came in, and was left with them for a week. Most of them were gone when I saw him a week later. I asked them to feed him, and he took a couple of mysis shrimp. Course he was starving. So I took him. I have given him blood worms, mysis shrimp, tubifex worms, and at least once a day I shut down the pumps and rinse some chaeto in the tank to release what ever is in there. He gets an hour to forage that way. Also, he has a favorite cave, so first thing in the morning I squirt what ever into his cave. I can see him foraging in there after, and I am sure he is eating. The Picasso Clowns don't go in there. So he has free range. Other wise I use a scattered feeding techinque so that he can forage for stuff. With a surplus of food, the Clowns get full, and then leave stuff for him to forage for. They don't target feed like most fish. You are so right, they forage. Also, he could not compete with a Wrasse, for example. It is important to have a protein skimmer with this method. Anyway, he is full figured now, and appears very content. I am so proud of myself. It has made me a better aquarist to do this, and I love it. Thanks again.

Karter8 on January 17, 2012:

Hi my family has a 40 to 50 litre tank and there are 3 of us getting a fish i want to get a Mandarin Dragonet and im just wondering could i get one and if so what is the price range

tonia on January 15, 2012:

I have a Green spotted right now in my take i would like to add the Mandarin Dragonet also, i need to know if they will be aggressive towards each other??? thanks

neil on January 03, 2012:

Anyone that has seen a mandarin fish while diving, and then keeps one in captivity - has no soul. None.

Gingunyah on December 10, 2011:

So sad to read about keeping Mandarin fish in tanks. I have just seen them in their natural environment in Muluku Islands living happily they are so beautiful!

PirateFX (author) on November 14, 2011:

@Momma469 - Hi Momma, if you can get it to feed, it may have a decent chance. But getting it to eat is sometimes quite difficult. Even if it does, they are very slow eaters that simply cannot compete with its tank mates. Having said that, i'm sure that are some reefers out there that have pulled it off before. All the best.

Momma469 on November 12, 2011:

Hello I have a 37gal. tank that has been up for almost 7 months. We have 35lbs of live rock, 1 flame angel fish, 1 6 line wrasse, 1 clown fish, 1 cleaner shrimp, 1 pajama cardinal, and 1 tuxedo urchin. I would really like to get a green mandarin but, do I have to house them in a 75 gal tank or would 1 be okay in the tank I have???

swagga72 on November 10, 2011:

cool site- nice fish- they r pretty awsome-

Ryan2243 on November 10, 2011:

Hey guys-

@ maggie: Mandarin Fish produce at the ages of 2-3. From what I read, they also have to have a hormonal shot before they can mate.

Hope this helps,


Ryan2243 on November 10, 2011:

Cool site. I will definitly use this in the future.

lover of mandarin fishies! on November 10, 2011:

"Do we take it or leave it?" (squeaky male voice)

"I don't know, Senor. Where is la mama?" (Antonio Banderas voice.)

"Guys, it's a gold pooper. We're taking it!" (joyful deep voice of female cat.)

Complementary of Puss!

(In Boots.)


1. Squeaky male voice: Humpty Dumpty

2. Antonio Banderas: Puss

3. Deep female voice of cat: Soft Paws

lol mandarin fishes are awesome man...

Alexandra452212112347222 on November 10, 2011:

These fish are veerrryy beautiful.... I was wondering... What do the eggs look like? How many do the male and female breed at once when they go up to the top of the water? What other sites do you know of that have more information on their eating and nutrition habits? -for that, I mean when they are in the wild.- And do you have to have at least the volume of a 75 gallon tank for each fish that you have? I understand that they do need plenty of room for eating, and they need to have slow eaters around them. But how much room would you need if you had several fish? And where can I get live shrimp?

By the way, I think that it is awesome you don't have to have a user's account to comment & question.

This site seems very cool, but where did you find your information? And do you know of any other sites that I can find ANY information on? Thanks, alex

Topsy-Turvy-Double-U~ on November 10, 2011:

Just inquiring.... Where could I get more information on their diet and nutrition? This is great, but I am trying to get a couple kids to write a page-or-2 long essay. Actually, more than just their diet would help.


maggie on November 07, 2011:

what age do they product babies

jams on October 28, 2011:

verry nice

marly on October 25, 2011:

theses fish are so colorful and pretty

PirateFX (author) on July 30, 2011:

@Dash - forums. They can answer all your questions regarding breeding mandarins. HTH.

Dash on July 30, 2011:

looking for any information on mandarin fish i have a 6x2x2 ft marine set up and looking to keep mandarin fish and posibly breed them, I am new to marine fish as previously having fresh water species for years and being successful with with them any information and help would be great.

PirateFX (author) on July 06, 2011:

@Marim - Yep, very pretty fishes.

marimccants on July 05, 2011:

Very cute Mandarin fishes. They have beautiful colors.

PirateFX (author) on June 28, 2011:

Thanks for droppiing by Terrel.

jamterrell on June 28, 2011:

I love fishes. Thanks for posting this hub.

PirateFX (author) on April 15, 2011:

@ewynfguh - Any fish with a mouth large enough to swallow it.

ewynfguh on April 13, 2011:

What is it's predetor

meganOUFC on November 25, 2010:

yes great great guy!! Would be up for trying it myself. unfortunetly its hard to find healthy specimines. I saw one at my lfs today that was incredibly skinny :( such a shame. I almost wanted to rescue it but it was female and i think my mandy wouldn't be best pleased!

PirateFX (author) on November 24, 2010:

Males have a long spike on its top dorsal fin. It has to extend the fin for you to see it.

got-swagg23 on November 23, 2010:

ayo how do you tell the girl from boy?? it ant that easy 2 tell with fish no wat i mean..

PirateFX (author) on November 23, 2010:

Megan - Glad to hear your Mandarin's doing great :) All the best on pairing it with a male. Its sometimes hard to identify a male as they don't always expand their dorsal fin to reveal the spike. It takes some patience :) The thread you pointed me to deals with none other than the Legendary Matt Wittenrich. He's the author of "The Complete Illustrated Breeders Guide to Marine Aquarium Fishes". Currently the most comprehensive book on marine breeding.

Got-swagg23 - No Problem :)

got-swagg23 on November 22, 2010:

yooo thanks 4 tha info it helped me on my paper

meganOUFC on November 17, 2010:

hello again, just wanted to say hi again and that my mandarin has been doing really really well and is really fat!!! very happy :D amazing fish :D I am looking for a male at the moment and maybe in time hope to get a breeding project going. I've seena few on MOFIB they are awesome.. have you ever read this

speak again soon

SINCITYREEFERS on November 15, 2010:

I basicially just wanted to know if my tank sounds like a good home?I run all natural,no skimmer NO chemicals.

youtube 29gal.reef/fish tank by jimalawson It has at least 8 more lbs reef roc since the vid Please let me no:0]

SINCITYREEFERS on November 15, 2010:

My 29gal.reef/fish has 30 prime sand,and 50 lbs.PRIME rock.Covered in coraline zoas,polyps mushrooms,leathers,etc etc...All soft coarls thoes worms and copeapods cover my powerheads,and bottoms of my lr.I am almost to my fish load,which includes coral b,two clowns red scooter,valintini puffer,and my fish cardinal

PirateFX (author) on November 15, 2010:

@B-Rad - Most mandarins on the market are definitely not tank bred. ORA tank bred mandarins don't even make up 1% of mandarins brought in. The vast majority are still very much wild caught.

B-rad on November 13, 2010:

I have had a mandarin for 3-4 months now in only a 12gal tank with tons of live rock in it and it is getting along fine and even growing. It would be good to note that most MG's sold now are tank bred and will eat alot of small pellet food tho this is not what i feed mine. i dontfeed it at all. i did get some reef pods and it seems to do just fine scavaging the LR.

PirateFX (author) on September 04, 2010:

Hi Chris, there are some reports of them consuming flatworms, but they certainly aren't a fix for flatworms. Whether they will thrive in the long run on this diet seems unlikely.

Chris on September 04, 2010:

Does anyone know if the Mandarin will eat flat worms?

PirateFX (author) on August 05, 2010:

Hi Nik, aside from pods, you could try and train them to eat prepared food in a separate tank. If you can get them on something nutritious like mysis or some frozen mixed food, that would really help in the long run. But like you mentioned, gotta wait for your pod population to grow. All the best.

nik on August 05, 2010:

i going to stock my tank so i can get 1 but i just got some copepods and they seem really small and a bad food source. I used to have amphipods but they died and those seem better. please help. (and yes i know that i have to let the copiepods/amphipods set up a coliney before introduceing a manderian).


PirateFX (author) on July 25, 2010:

Hi Megan,

It looks like Minnie's a real healthy one :) As for me, i've been out of the loop for quite a while. My last tank was a simple 15g nano -

Unfortunately, due to a delay by a tank manufacturer, i have no tank at the moment, just a bunch of fish in quarantine waiting for their new home.

meganoufc on July 25, 2010:

Thankyou :)

Amazingly i fed my other fish about fifteen mins ago and she (minnie) came out and took some flake :-O Amazing!!!

I think she is going to settle in well , i am very pleased.

Do you have a blog or some sort of thread on a forum so i could take a look at your tank etc?

regards megan

PirateFX (author) on July 25, 2010:

Hi Meganoufc. From what you've mentioned, i think you're on the right track :) I don't see how she will perish with your immaculate preparation. All the best!

meganoufc on July 25, 2010:

Hi thanks for the info on the mandarins..... great!

I have just got my mandarin today , a female :)

i have been preparing for her for some time. I have enriched brineshrimp on the go... also i have been rearing some copepods to bump up my population in my aquarium, also i added a small population to my sump to breed in the cheato algaes and live rock rubble in there and that is just in addition to my 50kilos of LR in my tank. i hope she doesn't become one of the many failures i read about all so often. The shop i brought her from had her feeding on dried food as well as pods etc... so hopefully i can continue with their success. They are truly the most beautiful elegant little fishes in the marine world

PirateFX (author) on June 18, 2010:

Thanks for dropping by Tamarind :)

Tamarind on June 18, 2010:

These are the most beautiful fish, like you said. They kind of remind me of mud-skippers, with much more color of course. Very interesting hub. I had heard of this marine fish, but I don't believe I have ever seen one until now. Especially one in action. Nice videos.

deb95 on June 01, 2010:

thanks piratefx i will look into that website thanks again for the advice.

PirateFX (author) on May 31, 2010:

Hi Deb95. Generally speaking, breeding any marine fish is going to be a labor intensive ordeal and i would recommend against it if you have only a passing interest. If you're serious however, i'd like to invite you to pay a visit. You will find everything you need to know about breeding this species and the live foods required for such an endeavor. Good luck :)

deb95 on May 30, 2010:

hi i've had my mandarin for about a year know, and i just picked up a feelmale one last week. i would like to try and breed them has anyone have any advice for me, i would be thankful. i have a spare tank, but i dont know what to feed the fry on. will the parents become aggressive how long does it take for the fry to hatch, all advice would be great.

log28 on May 30, 2010:

oh thanks for that i will take that in mind thanks

brad23 on May 30, 2010:

oh by the way the 330 gallan is us gallon just thought i'd let you know.

brad23 on May 30, 2010:

thanks for the comment, it cost about 1,300 pounds if that helped but i did get filter, pump,heater with that

log28 on May 30, 2010:

wow brad23 you got a fish tank! i bet it looks so cool with all those fish and i bet you have a reef set up. could you tell me how much your tank cost, i'm looking for a tank round about that size.

brad23 on May 30, 2010:

i've had my mandarin for 2 years know, he feeds on anything i put in the tank, but of course i hat to get him to feed on these other foods. i feed mine on enriched brine shrimp, blood and bristel worms, pellet food (small pellets as possaible)fish eggs and gasteropods. he will happily eat any of those things. he's real big i think at 5 and half inches, thats right they can grow bigger than 4 inches. there a wonderful fish to own and a joy to have in your aquarium, once you can get them onto other foods that is. try breaking other foods into there diet by mixing them, start with a live food then mix in frozen, over a period of time they should then start to eat less live, and more frozen then you should start to think about adding a pellet food of somekind. i perhaps was just lucky with mine, it started to eat frozen food after being in my tank after 2 days. i know my friend has one but that will only eat live foods and my friends had theres for about a year, so it is important to try and get the mandarin onto frozen food as quick as possiable. other wise it could work out to be a costly game. my mandarin did not really start to grow bigger until i upgraded my aquarium. i started of with a nano cube but thought that it was to small, so i put some cash away and brought a 330 gallon aquarium which is 1250 litres. of course i had other fish for example coral beauty, yellow tang, maroon clownfish, royal gramma etc..

Dani3d on May 12, 2010:

BTW, feeding them on brine shrimp only is a very bad decision as unriched brine shripms are very low in nutrition value. It is best to enrich brine with Selcon or else they will lack the important fatty acid. This otherwise is a sure way to starvation for a mandarin.

Dani3d on May 12, 2010:

Copepods and isopods is NOT all the eat in nature. They eat all sort of things from copepods, isopods, amphipods, small worms like bristle worms, gasteropods (snails) and fish eggs. Basicaly they eat any small they can find and I have seen both of mine eat couple of frozen bloodworms in one sip so they can gobble up much larger food if they want. I got mine to eat fish roe and live white worms first, then frozen bloodworms. I just got a new one, a small female and she started to eat frozen bloodworms and fish roe after only 2 days.

This is not as hard as people say it is and the biggest problem is having them with other fast eating fish. Mandarin need a dedicated tank where they can eat in peace and take their time. I got mine in a 20 gallons tank and he's huge and fat. Mine prefer to eat larger food that I offer rather than spend all day hunting for copepods so I have copepods and isopods all over my glass and they eat them once in a while.

PirateFX (author) on April 28, 2010:

They sure are :)

deneisha on April 27, 2010:

i love mandarin fishes! they are so pretty!