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...I'd like to buy a Mandarin!

  • orange_mandarin_0-iloveimg-resized

Mandarin fish are probably one of the most beautiful reef-safe fish that are available for hobbyists today. With their graceful meanderings, their colorful markings and gossamer fins, people quickly fall in love with these gentle creatures. Surprisingly, they aren't that expensive, giving the reef keeper even more motivation to acquire one.

There are various types of Mandarins, such as the large blue, red or green Synchiropus splendidus, and the smaller Target or Spotted Synchiropus picturatus. These fish hunt for food all day long, picking at the rockwork for bugs smaller than we can see. At night, they rest. While they rest, their colors fade substantially, so don't worry.

To successfully keep one of these fish, it is best to have everything ready before you buy.

  • Your reef tank should have already been established for at least six months to one year.
  • You need to have a minimum of 75 lbs of Live Rock.
  • I strongly recommend having a working refugium incorporated and teaming with 'pods' of all kinds.


If you have any other pod-eating fish in your tank, such as a Six Line Wrasse, it is possible to starve a Mandarin. They move slowly seeking live food, so faster fish will consume its prey! You may get lucky and buy a Mandarin that eats prepared foods, but many don't and thus your tank will have to provide all of its food naturally.

A few ways are available to improve your success, such as building 'pod piles' or hatching baby brine shrimp. A pod pile is a small collection of rock carefully stacked together so that fish can't get in between them. Some hobbyists will take a strawberry basket from the supermarket and fill it with small bits of live rock, and invert this onto the floor of their tank. The fish can't enter the basket so the pods can propagate safely. As they emerge from the basket, the mandarin can eat. If you don't like the look of a basket, you can pile up bits of rock in the corners, but you may have to re stack them again later as crabs and fish flip them over.

Synchiropus picturatusWhile I don't recommend this as the only food source, hatching brine shrimp is easy and can be done on a rotating basis where you have one new batch each day, providing a constant supply of food. Feeding newly hatched brine is more nutritious because the yolk-sac is still attached. So if you want to generate the potential food source with this method, it will work as long as you keep up with your hatcheries. Having a refugium tied into your system is the best or preferred method, as you'll always be creating new bugs for your fish to eat, where they breed safely and can't be devoured (until they enter the display tank). You will have to feed phytoplankton to your tank and refugium, because the copepods, amphipods and other tiny crustaceans need to eat as well.

So, if you feed your little bugs, they will breed and make more. And this in turn will provide the food necessary to keep a beautiful Mandarin fat and happy. And that is no joke, as a fat mandarin is a happy one.

A few more thoughts.....

These fish don't get Ich as they secrete an oily substance on their bodies. Their skin type and the oils secreted make them extremely sensitive to many medications. What may heal one species will more than likely kill a mandarin. So if your other fish develop ich, the mandarin is not to be put in to quarantine. Which is fortunate because it would starve to death if you did, assuming the medication didn't kill it first.

You can recognize a male from a female because the male has a sharp spike on his dorsal fin. If you decide you want a pair of mandarins, make sure you have plenty of LR to support their food source, and that you have one male and one female. Putting a pair of mandarins in a tank smaller than 125g would probably be a mistake, unless they ate prepared foods. I've watched mine eat Formula One or Formula Two small pellet food, mysis, baby brine shrimp, cyclop-eeze and more, but others have stated their fish accepted nothing but live prey.

1/06/05 - Reefkeeping Online presents a beautiful Mandarin slide show, along with some good comments about these delicate fish. Take a moment to read the text and enjoy the show.  January 2005 ReefSlides

1/15/05 - Check out the Mandarin Diner.

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