The mandarin fish (Synchiropus splendidus) is admired for its exquisite beauty and elegance. Their small size makes them suitable for nano tanks, with adults reaching a length of between 7.5 and 10 cm. With the exception of diet, mandarin fish are quite hardy and are resistant to many common aquarium diseases. Despite their small size mandarin fish can live for between 10 and 15 years. Water parameters should be the same as for any other reef dwelling fish.
Feeding is arguably the number one concern for hobbyists keeping mandarin fish. This is because they prefer live foods such as copepods and brine shrimp. Supplying this on a routine basis may prove a challenge. Making sure that the mandarin fish gets its fair share of the food is another issue. However, these concerns are sometimes overrated. It is possible to purchase mandarin fish that have already been weened onto frozen foods. Simply asking the staff at your local fish store what the mandarin is being fed will tell you all you need to know. If you can find a mandarin that has already been weaned off live foods, then your all good to go! If not, read on!
While copepods can be found living on live rock, this alone is not enough to support a mandarin fish. The mandarins will quickly consume the copepod population and then slowly starve to death. The easiest way to ensure the survival of your mandarin fish is to ween them off live foods and onto high quality, high protein prepared foods.
One successful method of weening mandarin fish off live foods is to place the new mandarin fish in a breeding basket or small quarantine tank and feed them live brine shrimp, then slowly start adding a few frozen mysis shrimp. Over time, the mandarins will start tasting the mysis shrimp and accepting it as food. Once the mandarins have been weaned off of the live brine shrimp, they can then be safely moved to the display tank and fed only mysis shrimp.
Due to their preference for live foods, mandarin fish are best kept in a tank which has been setup for over twelve months before introduction. Plenty of live rock and a refugium will aid in providing a constant supply of copepods. These fish are REEF SAFE and can be kept with a variety of corals. Mandarin fish are ill-adapted to the conditions provided by an SPS dominated tank, as they prefer slower water flow.
The main consideration when choosing suitable tank mates should be competition for food. Due to their small size and slow moving nature, mandarin fish are unable to compete with larger, more aggressive fish for food.
Additionally, mandarin fish are highly territorial towards their own kind. Therefore, you should either keep them singly or in mated pairs. Males will attack one another, so putting more than one male in a tank should be avoided. Harems involving one male and more than one female have proven successful, however, the results are far from guaranteed.
Male mandarin fish have a long dorsal spine that rises up on their back, while the female lacks this spike. Keep in mind that a male’s spike may have broken off due to fighting or handling, so look closely when trying to pair them.