Mandarin Dragonets

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Hindsight is a wonderful thing!
Feb 25, 2007
Telford, UK
Real Name
Mandarin Dragonets

Mandarin Dragonets are often referred to as Gobies, but in fact they actually occupy an adjacent suborder, the Callionymoidei.
The predominantly offered genus is Synchiropus. Synchiropus splendidus is the Blue or Striped Mandarin, and Synchiropus picturatus is the Green or Spotted Mandarin. Unfortunately their own unique beauty comes at a high price as they are very finicky eaters, preferring a very select menu. These slow, fussy eaters are one of the hardest types of fish to feed within the trade. A disproportional number of Mandarins perish due to slow starvation.

Habitat & Behaviour
The skin of a Mandarin has no scales, so to compensate, they have a thick, slimy coating. This slime is used as protection against parasites and has a foul taste. It is potentially poisonous and is used to protect them from being eaten by other fish. This slime coating and a prominent gill cover spine serve these fish well as predator deterrents in most cases.
Mandarins are very docile when it comes to competing for food or space and need to be kept with other easy going fish species or can perish from harassment or lack of food. Also, overly aggressive inverts should not be housed with them. Mandarins are good reef aquarium specimens, leaving alone all desirable species, but may in turn be consumed by anemones, the large coral anemone (Amplexidiscus) or large crustaceans. Ideal tank mates include tube-mouthed fish (seahorses, Pipefish), small Blennies, Jawfish and Gobies, Dartfish, Flasher and Fairy Wrasses. Larger Wrasses, Dottybacks, Goatfish, most Butterflyfish, Angels, Puffers and Triggers are definitely out.
Two male Mandarins will fight so they should be kept singly or in male/female pairs. Mandarins are best kept in a mature reef tank with plenty of live rock and a sandy bottom. Most Mandarins prefer to spend their time on the sand and will often bury themselves at night or when startled. They may also jump when startled so it is advised to have a covered tank.
The minimum tank requirements are often stated as 20 gallons, but ideally 55 gallons with 50 lbs of live rock is a preferred minimum. This is based on feeding requirements and not space requirements as the Mandarin is a very slow and 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.


As noted previously, feeding can be a major issue with Mandarins. Some will take foods such as frozen brine shrimp and bloodworms. Others will refuse to take anything but live foods. Mandarins are extremely slow and hover - a bit like a hummingbird - using their front fins while looking for food. Even Mandarins that take prepared foods may often be too slow against its faster tank mates and this diet still won’t provide enough nutrition to sustain the Mandarin over the long term.
They require a mature tank (at least one year old) with a self-sustaining population of small benthic crustaceans - mainly pods and worms. A refugium should also be considered essential to insure a sustained population of pods for the Mandarin to feed upon.


Mandarins have a thick slimy coating that helps protect them from external parasites. However, should they become infected they are extremely sensitive to copper, metal based or formalin-medications. The best way to treat a Mandarin is through environment controls such as temperature increases and salinity alterations.


Picture of Synchiropus picturatus in a 182 gallon reef tank.

Photograph by Alison Pride

Information Reference:

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