Dragonets (Mandarinfish) Care Instructions

The Callionymidae or Dragonet family of fish is frequently referred to as mandarinfish. Because of their unique food requirements, these fish are tough to keep. Mandarinfish are rather easy to keep after the nutritional barrier has been addressed.

Identification, features, compatibility, food, aquarium management, and more are all covered in this collection of mandarinfish species. Find out how to care for these sensitive saltwater fish.

  • 01 of 05

    How to Feed

    Portrait of Mandarin Fish Synchiropus splendidus, Banda Neira Island, Indonesia

    Aquarists have traditionally struggled to keep mandarinfish alive in a closed environment (aquarium) for any period of time. It was formerly thought that putting a mandarin in a tank with a ton of live rock would allow the fish to flourish on the (allegedly) massive quantity of copepods that inhabit the live rock. Unfortunately, this has not been the case in the majority of cases. The copepod population would soon be depleted, and the mandarins would starve to death. Mandarinfish must be "taught" to consume high-quality, high-protein meals that are easily available in order to live in an aquarium.

    Several aquarists have tried various strategies to wean mandarins off live food (copepods) and onto frozen Mysis shrimp, which meets all of the mandarin's nutritional demands, and ultimately onto pelletized meals. One way that worked well was to put the baby mandarins in a breeding basket or small Q.T. tank and feed them live brine shrimp, which they usually like (the live shrimp's movement is highly appealing), then gradually add a few frozen Mysis shrimp to the basket or Q.T. tank. With any luck, the mandarins will begin to taste the Mysis shrimp and accept it as food over time. The mandarins can be safely relocated to the display tank and fed exclusively Mysis shrimp once they have been weaned off the live brine shrimp.

    Keep in mind, however, that the mandarin will never be a ravenous eater and so will not be able to compete with more aggressive feeders in an aquarium, thus tankmates must be carefully selected.

    We've noticed that many of the mandarins we've weaned upon Mysis shrimp would wait for the eyedropper with the shrimp to emerge at the tank's edge before physically sucking the shrimp out.

  • 02 of 05

    Striped Mandarinfish


    This little fish, sometimes known as the "Psychedelic Mandarinfish" (Synchiropus splendidus), spends its time bouncing around an aquarium's live rocks and bottom, sucking on copepods, amphipods, and extremely minute crustaceans. The striped mandarinfish may be weaned off live meals and trained to eat frozen Mysis shrimp, which is a good food for it, with luck and patience.

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

  • 03 of 05

    Spotted Mandarinfish


    The spotted mandarinfish (Synchiropus picturatus), like other dragonets, spends all of its time on the bottom seeking for its preferred meals (amphipods and copepods). It gets along with other non-aggressive feeders, but it can't eat with most other fish.

  • 04 of 05

    Red Mandarinfish


    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


    These "tiny white bugs" (copepods and amphipods) are natural food for mandarinfish and other sea organisms towards the bottom of the food chain. Mandarinfish should thrive in your aquarium if you have a large population of them.


"Mandarin DragonetCalifornia Academy Of Sciences, 2020" ;