Mandarin Gobies, also referred to as Mandarin Dragonets, Mandarinfish, Mandarins, and Psychedelic Gobies, are by-and-by one of the most beautiful and exotic types of fish on the market. Thanks to their mesmerizing stripes and dizzying colors, Mandarins are a super-hot commodity among reef hobbyists.
The Mandarin, with vibrant blue-green rivers of pigment running across its body, is an unmistakable fish that’s sure to be the highlight of your aquarium or refugium. They originate from the warm pacific waters in and around the Indonesia, the Philippines, and Australia.
Despite the fact that Mandarin Gobies are such a staple in the reefing enthusiast’s collection, they still reign supreme as one of the hardest types of fish to keep alive. Letting them thrive is a different story altogether.
The way the Mandarin Goby feeds in the wild (eating large amounts of live shrimp, copepods, and worms) makes for a tough time recreating the conditions. Malnourishment is one of the most common fates to befall a captive Mandarin. Much of the time, they won’t even touch the food you put out for them.
Does that mean you should give up on the Goby and pop for an easier, less finicky fish? Absolutely not. With a little TLC and the right, very specific conditions, Mandarin Gobies can be a breeze to take care of. As gorgeous as they are, you’ll be glad you made the effort.
Purchasing a Winning Mandarin Goby
This step is, unfortunately, a bit trickier than it is for most fish. On top of the fact that many Mandarins are caught in the wild and shipped in tiny packages for thousands of miles with no light, food, or proper conditions, they can run into problems at your local fish shop.
Since Mandarinfish are such picky eaters, quite a few fish shops don’t go through the effort of feeding them their proper diet. As such, they go long stretches with no food.
When the time comes to pick out a Mandarin Goby, do a little detective work first. Your Mandarin should have a nice round belly. If their stomach looks shrunken or emaciated, it could be too late to bring them back from the brink. Nobody wants to buy a fish just to have it die a few days later.
Other than that, just use good intuition. Look for a vibrant, energetic looking fish as opposed to a sluggish, limp one.
When in Doubt, Quarantine
It may seem like overkill, but it’s a smart idea to quarantine a new Goby. Putting your brand new Mandarin Goby straight into your main tank is a great way to kill it. Even if you want to get your fish integrated as quickly as possible, giving your Mandarin time to adjust to aquarium life will significantly increase the chance of its survival down the line.
Mandarin Gobies are extremely slow eaters, and trying to feed them in the same tank as bigger, faster copepod-eating fish will no doubt lead to your Mandarin going hungry.
To give your Goby a fighting chance, let it spend a week or two in its own quarantine tank. Essentially, all you need a small tank with water in the right conditions (more on that later). A little piece of mature live rock from your full-size aquarium would go a long way in helping your fish feel at home (they get stressed, too!), but it’s not necessary.
As a side note, you probably won’t need to quarantine your Mandarin for any disease or illness reasons. Mandarins naturally secrete a disease-resistant oil that coats their bodies and protects them from pathogens and bacteria.
To keep your Mandarin Goby full and happy in its small confinement, load the quarantine tank up with plenty of copepods like Tisbe Pods, or less ideally, Tiger Pods. Just be sure to give your Mandarin plenty to eat- They can gulp down hundreds of pods a day!
Getting the Right Environment
Ok, so you’ve been catering to your Mandarin’s every beck and call for the last week or two while he just lounges around in the quarantine tank. You’re itching to get your fat, healthy fish into your “serious” tank. How do you go about it?
First off, it’s important to note that if your reef aquarium isn’t at least a year old with a minimum of fifty gallons in size with fifty pounds of live rock, packed with little fishy hiding places, or otherwise loaded with constantly reproducing food sources, you’re going to have a real bad time.
In fact, it’s more than likely a small, unestablished reef could be picked clean of food within a few days, because Mandarin Gobies are literally always eating. Soon after your Mandarin will become malnourished and die. That’s not to say a dedicated reefer couldn’t keep it alive with less, but it’s more of a pain than most people are willing to put up with.
Optimal water conditions are as follows: 72-78 degrees Fahrenheit, 8-12 dKH, 8.1-8.4 pH, Sg 1.020-1.025. You should be checking these daily, because your fish can rapidly deteriorate and die in the wrong conditions.
And finally, the moment of truth.
Your Mandarin should integrate nicely into the ecosystem, but just to be sure, let him enter the tank far away from the other fish, close to some food. That way, it’ll feel just a little bit homier and safer until he works up the courage to explore.
If you’re thinking about introducing multiple Mandarinfish into the same tank, be sure to avoid adding more than one male (you can tell by the spine on the dorsal fin). Although Mandarins are generally peaceful fish, they’ll get a little rough-and-tumble with rival males in their territory.
Feeding your Mandarin Goby – Live is King!
Your fish might be successfully acclimated to your reef aquarium, but you aren’t out of the woods just yet. The hardest part is still coming up: feeding.
Mandarin Gobies are finicky little creatures. They won’t eat until everything is perfect. Feeding them isn’t about just tossing some pellets in the water and forgetting about it. It’s more like spending hours trying to convince your Mandarin to just try a bite of some food. The majority of Mandarins won’t even eat anything that isn’t still swimming.
Mandarins really should honestly be eating only “live foods” like they do in the wild. Many reefing enthusiasts try to train their Mandarins to eat dead, frozen foods and pellets, to sub-optimal results.
It’s just common sense. Pellets and processed fish food are unrecognizable and unnatural, especially for picky fish like the Mandarin Goby. Even if you can convince your fish to get used to these types of foods, they end up lacking a certain vibrancy that you get with live foods.
The only way you can really be sure your Mandarinfish is getting what it needs is with a steady diet of proper foods. Small worms are a decent food source, but are relatively nutrient-poor compared to copepods.
More specifically, the gold-standard for Mandarin food is Tisbe Pods. Mandarins have a distinct love of Tisbe Pods. More importantly, Tisbe Pods are packed full of everything your Mandarins need to grow well.
When feeding time rolls around (two to three times per day) take care to give your Mandarin a little extra attention. Find a small area in the tank away from the other fish and disperse a bit of Mandarin food there. This’ll just give it a little place where it can leisurely eat, sans all the stress of competing other fish.
If your reef is setup correctly, you shouldn’t even need to manually feed a Mandarin. A large reef with thriving colonies of copepods should easily keep a Mandarin fed, pretty much indefinitely.
While Mandarin Gobies are certainly a handful, all the work is worth it when you’ve got one brightening up your aquarium. With a little effort, attention to detail, and grit, you can have a thriving new addition to your reef in no time!