Mandarin Goby (Dragonette) Care Requirements & Feeding

Image Credit: Susan Dennis via Flickr
Image Credit: Susan Dennis via Flickr

Mandarin Goby (Dragonette) Care Requirements & Feeding


Mandarin Gobies are beautiful fish that can really brighten up your marine aquarium. However, many people underestimate how difficult it is to properly care for these marine fish.

Proper Mandarin Goby care requires that you can meet feed these picky eaters fed with a healthy supply of pods and frozen or live food. They are peaceful aquarium fish that gets along with a lot of other species but ensuring they remain healthy is the most challenging part.

Are Mandarin Gobies hard to keep?

Mandarin Gobies are not a fish for someone who is just starting in the hobby. They do require a little extra care that usually only someone very familiar with the hobby can carry out. Part of this is that you need to be able to supply your mandarin with nutrients all day, which is commonly done by keeping pods in your tank.

Keeping a pods farm in turn requires a refugium which also needs a sump, so as you can begin to see just on the equipment and ecosystem side of things, the mandarin is becoming a little needy. The real challenge is ensuring that enough pods are around all the time to keep your mandarin gobies happy.

Mandarin Goby Behavior

Synchiropus splendidus is a relatively shy fish that isn’t going to start any conflicts with its tankmates. Synchiropus splendidus (Mandarin Goby or Mandarin Dragonet) is a reef-safe fish that mainly eats pods so it is important to have a steady stock of them. However, during feeding time, gobies will also eat Mysis shrimp or other shrimp if they want to but they shouldn’t be the goby’s main source of food.

They are slow swimming fish and can mostly be seen at the bottom of your reef aquarium.

Mandarin Goby Requirements

Like any aquarium organism, Mandarin Gobies have needs within your reef aquarium beyond their food source.

Mandarin goby temperature range

Mandarin Gobies should have a temperature range between 75 and 81 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mandarin goby water parameters

The water parameters for Mandarin Gobies are comparable to many other reef fish.

  • Salinity – 1.023-1.025
  • pH – 8.1-8.4
  • Water flow – low flow with regular water changes


Mandarin goby tank size

A single Synchiropus splendidus should at least have a 30-gallon tank and that is because you need to be able to ensure there is enough live rock inside your reef aquarium for them to thrive. The live rock provides extra food for the goby to munch on.

Around 75 pounds of live rock is advisable for a Mandarin Goby. However, if you wanted to have more than one goby, you will need to keep a large enough tank to ensure the two gobies have enough space between themselves.

  • Mandarin goby nano tank? – It isn’t really possible to keep a Mandarin Goby in a nano tank because they won’t have enough live rock and probably not enough pods. If you kept Synchiropus Splendidus in a nano tank, you would need to manually feed them and watch their behavior; however, even that might not be enough. It is really more of a headache to try and make a Mandarin Dragonet work in a nano reef than to just choose a different species.
  • Mandarin goby in a new tank? – Mandarin Gobies should really be used in tanks that have had a chance to become well established and that is because its food source needs time to populate the tank. Pods need time to breed but if they are introduced at the same time as the goby that will make it incredibly difficult.
  • Mandarin Goby in bare bottom tank? – It is possible to keep a Mandarin Goby in a bare bottom tank but you need to make sure that your tank is ready in every other category. Make sure that your water parameters are within an acceptable range, there is plenty of live rock, and that there is a thriving population of pods. If your tank has all of these things, your goby won’t care if there is sand or not.

How many Mandarin goby in a tank

Just because the Mandarin Dragonet is a peaceful fish doesn’t mean you can load up their habitat with identical fish.

  • Can you have more than one Mandarin Goby? – Yes and no. Male Mandarin Gobies can be territorial and aggressive when it comes to other males. The best thing that you can do is keep one male and one female if you wanted to have more than one goby. However, always make sure that your tank has enough live rock and pods to support the diets of the gobies that you introduce to your tank.
  • Male vs female Mandarin Gobies – You can hypothetically support two gobies as long as they are a female and a male while ensuring they have a steady food supply.

Mandarin Goby Compatibility

Synchiropus splendidus can generally get along with most other fish but there are some things you should watch out for.

Mandarin goby temperament

Synchiropus splendidus or Mandarin Dragonet is typically a peaceful fish as long as it isn’t two males fighting over a female. That means the species get along with most other species of fish. It also doesn’t do well if it needs to compete for its food. It will let other fish gobble up their pods if it comes down to it. The Mandarin Goby is just a little too polite of a neighbor.

  • Mandarin Goby and Clownfish – Mandarin Gobies can get along fine with Clownfish since they will not be competing against one another for food. As long as your tank is large enough to support both fish then it shouldn’t be a problem unless you wanted your Clownfish to host an anemone. You shouldn’t have a live anemone in the same tank as your gobies since the gobies will spend their time in the bottom of the tank, they run the risk of being eaten by the anemone.
  • Mandarin Goby and Yellow Watchman – A Mandarin Goby would get along well with a Yellow Watchman Goby. The only type of goby that the Mandarin Goby has a problem within close quarters are other male Mandarin Gobies.
  • Mandarin Goby and Lawnmower Blenny – Yes, you technically could have both of these fish species together since they are both peaceful fish but you need to make sure your tank is prepared for their coexistence.
  • Mandarin Goby and Pistol Shrimp – The Mandarin Goby would be completely okay with the Pistol Shrimp. If you are worried about the shrimp attacking your goby, there is little reason for it to do so. Pistol Shrimp typically only attack species like snails or invertebrates. The fish would be okay.
  • Mandarin Goby and Seahorse – The problem with keeping a Mandarin Goby and a Seahorse together is that they both need to be eating constantly to survive and both of their diets consist of live pods. They will fight over the pods and it is already hard enough keeping one of these species alive, let alone two.
  • Mandarin Goby and Diamond Goby – These two species won’t fight over food but will live near one another. They get along well and there might even be some instances where they have unique exchanges with one another. However, they won’t harm one another.
  • Mandarin Goby and Scooter Blenny – Another example of two fish species that are going to consume all the copepods in your tank quickly. Keeping both of these species can be tricky and you need to be extremely confident in your ability to provide enough food for the two of them.

Mandarin Goby Diet

The largest sticking point in caring for a Mandarin Goby is their diet since it can be difficult depending on your setup to adequately provide for them.

What do Mandarin Gobies eat?

Mandarins mainly will be seen feeding on copepods but can also consume some pellets, Brine shrimp, and Mysis shrimp. Live rock in your tank acts as a place for copepods to gather and other small organisms that your fish loves to snack on.

Mandarin Goby feeder

A retail store will often sell repacked feeders that come with copepods populations in them and sometimes other organisms that are great for the Mandarin goby’s diet. However, these feeders do not replace the need to establish a tank that can support a continuous copepod population.

  • How often should I feed my Mandarin goby? – Mandarins consume continuously throughout the day which is why you must have an established aquarium system that will support a continuous copepod population. If you see that your Mandarin Goby’s spine is beginning to show, then that means that it is not able to consume enough to support itself. You need to add additional copepods. If you want to give a rounded diet, you can feed your goby small shrimp-like Brine shrimp 2-3 times a week. However, if you have a thriving copepod population, when it comes to additional feedings, less is more.
  • What type of copepods do Mandarins eat? – The type of copepods that you fill your saltwater tank with isn’t nearly as important as the number of copepods that you have in your saltwater tank. However, if you have the luxury to fill your marine aquarium with your goby’s favorite meal, then you could try to fill your saltwater tank with apocyclops panamensis copepods.
  • How many pods do mandarins eat? – On average, you should expect your fish to eat around 30 or more copepods a day.
  • Where to buy copepods for a mandarin goby – Ensuring that you are providing a steady food supply for your Mandarin Goby is crucial to ensure that it is living a healthy life inside your aquarium. If you haven’t yet been able to establish a self-sustaining copepod farm or it has fallen off a bit, it is important to know where you can go to get more. Most online retailers provide copepods that can be shipped to your home very quickly if need be. However, that does require that you are proactive and keeping a close eye on how the copepods on your saltwater tank are doing. There are some online retailers, like algae barn that provide a subscription and will automatically send you more copepods within the amount of time that you decide. It might be a good idea if you are struggling to remember to buy more copepods and can’t seem to keep the population in your aquarium from being wiped out.
  • Do Mandarin fish eat amphipods? – They will consume amphipods if there is a supply available, so if you want to can ensure that you have a good supply of amphipods available as well as copepods and frozen/live foods.
  • How do you get Mandarin to eat frozen food? – Mandarins are known to be picky eaters and generally tough to feed, so it can sometimes be a challenge to feed the blue fish a wider diet of foods. If you are trying to feed your Mandarin Goby frozen food, you should fill a small bucket with aquarium water and place the food in the bucket to thaw a little. Once it has melted a little, you can begin to introduce the water back into the aquarium towards the gobies. Depending on the population of your aquarium, you might have to do this process after feeding your other fish so that food is eaten before the gobies can get to them.
  • How to train a mandarin Goby to eat pellets – Getting your Mandarin Goby to consume pellets can definitely be a challenge but the payoff can be very rewarding and help keep your fish’s health thriving. To make the training easier, it might be best to quarantine your goby until it knows how to consume pellets. First, start by feeding your Mandarin Goby live foods from an eyedropper. The goal is to make your fish see the eyedropper as a food source. However, you need to feed the shrimp slowly to your fish or you might not be able to catch them. You know you can begin to switch to other foods when your fish is seeking out the eyedropper when it sees it. You might try to move right on to pellets or you can try other live foods until your goby is even more comfortable. When you do switch to pellets, it might be necessary to make some adjustments to the dropper to fit pellets inside. Once you feel that your goby is comfortable eating the pellets from the dropper, you can move it back into the reef aquarium.
  • How do I know if my Mandarin Goby is eating? – You can tell if your goby is eating in two ways. First, is you should watch its behavior because if it is pecking over the live rock and the sand bed, it is most likely eating away at copepods and other tiny organisms. The second is if you can begin to see the spine of your goby there is a problem. The fish is probably not eating or just not getting enough to eat and you should take action to try to rectify the issue.
  • How do I know if I have enough copepods? – Try turning off the lights in your aquarium and the room in which the aquarium s located (and shut the blinds if during the daytime). Shine a light into the aquarium and see the pods gather around the light. If there is an abundance around the light, you know that you have enough for the time being.
  • Will a Mandarin Goby eat flatworms? – It is possible that your goby will eat the flatworms but it is equally possible that they won’t care about them. I would advise not getting a Mandarin Goby solely as a way to reduce your flatworm population. If your goby does, think of it as a bonus.
  • Will a Mandarin Goby eat frozen or live brine shrimp? – Your Mandarin Goby loves to consume live/frozen brine shrimp and it can easily be provided but know that it might be difficult for the fish to catch it before other aquarium fish in your aquarium do. It might be best, depending on your reef tank’s population, to feed the other marine fish first and then your goby.
  • Do mandarin Goby eat bristle worms? – Again, this is one of those times where your goby may or may not actually consume the worms. They certainly can consume bristle worms but some just aren’t interested in them provided their dietary needs are matched somewhere else. They will always prefer pods over anything else.

Mandarin Goby Acclimation

There are two methods for acclimating fish. The method that you choose will depend on species and personal preference.

  1. If your goby was shipped to you, the first thing you need to do is acclimate it to the light of the room your aquarium is located in. Dim the lights in the room and turn off the lights in your aquarium for about 15 minutes while the fish adjusts.
  2. Place the dragonet’s fish bag in the aquarium for about 20 minutes while you wait for the temperature in the bag to match the temperature in the aquarium.
  3. Now, cut open the bag and roll the sides down. The goal is to have the bag open but still floating at the top of the aquarium.
  4. Every five minutes, slowly add a small of aquarium water to the bag, no more than half a cup.
  5. If the bag fills up, empty about half the bag into the drain and then start the process over again for 30 minutes.
  6. Test the water in the aquarium and place the fish in your reef aquarium.

Mandarin Goby Care

How to tell if a Mandarin Goby is healthy

Being able to tell if your mandarin Goby is thriving is an important step in their care. You want to monitor their appearance and behavior closely. Is there anything growing on your goby’s scales? Is it acting erratically or going places that it has never gone before? Is it eating properly? Can you see its spine? These are all questions you want to ask yourself to get a general idea of how your fish’s health is good or not.

  • Can a Mandarin goby get ich? – Mandarins have a slime coat that can help protect them against diseases but that doesn’t make them immune to things like ich. You goby can still get ich if you aren’t though it isn’t necessarily common.
  • Mandarin goby fin rot – If your goby has fin rot, you should check your water parameters right away, especially your alkalinity. Signs of fin rot are frayed fins and some red discoloration to the base of the fin. You might need to take to a vet to provide treatment.
  • Mandarin goby swimming at top of the tank – There is a possibility that if your fish is a female, she is trying to find a mate by swimming to the top of the aquarium at night. It could also mean that your fish is sleeping up there however if it is during the day, you should check the oxygen in your aquarium and see if there are any issues. However, if this was the case, you would probably see other erratic behavior in your other fish.
  • Mandarin goby breathing hard / lethargic / not moving – This can be caused by a multitude of reasons. Have your fish been eating lately? Are the parameters within an appropriate range? Has it suffered from a tankmate preying on it? If you can safely check these off as not being an issue, then your goby could have picked up a disease.
  • Mandarin goby disappeared / hiding – This can be completely normal behavior especially since their favorite food, pods tend to hide out in the live rock. However, it might also be possible that your fish is stressed out by either the flow of your saltwater tank or another inhabitant of the tank like an anemone. There can be times where your fish is just chilling in its hiding places and there is nothing wrong with this.
  • Mandarin goby turning white – This is completely normal behavior and tends to happen when they are resting.
  • Mandarin goby sleeping – It is a common mistake to see a resting goby and think that it is dead due to its paler appearance.
  • Do Mandarins jump?

It isn’t exactly common but gobies can hump if they really want to. A potential factor in encouraging the behavior could be the flow of your aquarium. Remember that gobies prefer a lower water flow.

How to quarantine a Mandarin Goby

Though it isn’t normally a fish that needs to be quarantined before you introduce them to your reef aquarium, there can be times when you might want to quarantine them, like pellet training.

Acclimate them as you would to the main aquarium. You should provide some live rock if you can and pods if you don’t plan on feeding them every day. Feeding is the most important thing, so if you aren’t pellet training, make sure you have plenty of pods and/or feeding them foods like Brine shrimp.

Mandarin Goby Types

The main difference between all the Mandarins is their colors while their behaviors and preferences are all the same.

Green Mandarin Dragonet

Green Mandarin Gobies come in blue, green, and orange colorings. Green Mandarin Gobies are some of the most common you will see in an online store

Spotted/Bullseye/Target Mandarin Dragonet

These dragonets are characterized by their spots or targets spread throughout their body. The colors overlapping as the circle gets smaller.

Psychedelic Mandarin Dragonet

This type of mandarin fish gets its name from its colors that resemble something that someone might hang in their VW bus.

Mandarin Goby Size

Mandarins are not large fish and will only grow up to about 4 inches on average.

Mandarin Goby Facts

  • Are Mandarins nocturnal – You will see your fish awake during the day but their primary food source is pods which are mostly active at night. However, this does not mean that they will be asleep the majority of the time you see them. The fish adapt and will be active during the day as they see fit.
  • Are Mandarin dragonets reef safe? – They are definitely reef safe but they can get hurt by common reef species like an anemone.
  • What is a Mandarin fish predator? – There aren’t many things the Mandarin Dragonet needs to worry about. Lionfish are a problem and so are anemones.
  • Do Mandarin fish have scales? – Surprisingly, these fish do not have scales but this is where that protective layer of slime comes in.
  • How long do Mandarin gobies live? – Though in the wild, these fish can live upwards to 15 years, in captivity, their life expectancy decreases significantly to around 2-4 years.
  • Why are Mandarin fish so colorful? – The color is to help ward off predators from considering it a good meal. The body color and the protective slime coating act as deterrents from being eaten.
  • Are Mandarin fish poisonous? – Yes, they are. The protective coating of slime that covers it instead of scales can pose a huge threat to predators.
  • Do Mandarin gobies sift sand? – No, the Mandarin Goby doesn’t sift sand but a Yellow Watchman Goby will sift your sand if that was what you were interested in.

Wild Caught Vs Captive Bred Mandarin Goby

Though you might not think there is much of a difference between the two, there can be a difference in how the two backgrounds affect the diets of the fish.

The wild gobies will more likely consume a wider variety of food like small snails and shrimp as well as pods. The wild-caught fish will prove to be more difficult to train to consume other foods besides pods once in captivity.

Captive-bred Mandarin Goby breeders

Getting your goby from a reputable breeder will ensure that you are getting a fish in peak health that will be ready to accept frozen and live food and be easier to train to consume other foods like pellets come feeding time.

The Marine Ornamental Aquaculture (ORA) has begun to offer some Mandarin fish and they are a reputable dealer that will sell you a fish in peak health. You can also look into the Biota Group for your fish needs too.

Captive-bred mandarin goby for sale

However, you don’t need to buy directly from the breeder for your fish needs. Depending on your location it might be more financially feasible to try a reputable retail store to get your fish from.

However, some of them might be more expensive but some might also provide free shipping. make sure you consider all the factors before you make your final purchase. For instance, most retailers will provide their mandarin fish for 99 dollars but Live Aquaria has theirs listed for over 150 dollars. Of course, the type and coloration matter too.

Algae Barn provides the option to get either a male or female for only 99 dollars though they don’t offer free shipping, they do have multiple shipping options. Buying from a reputable captive-bred dealer or breeder can make caring for your fish much easier than buying one that was wild caught in its natural habitat.

Final Thoughts

Mandarin Dragonettes are amazingly beautiful fish but are only recommended for more advanced saltwater aquarium owners due to their diet usually consisting of live copepods that flourish well enough to replenish their supplies on their own.

Having copepods grow well enough in your aquarium to not get their numbers decimated by a single Mandarin requires a large aquarium of at least 90 gallons. Some have had luck in smaller tanks by dosing copepods regularly using a subscription from

It’s possible to get them to eat frozen food and pellets but is very difficult with a wild-caught Mandarin. Even some captive-bred Mandarin may need extra help with diets other than copepods.

If you’re going to make an attempt to home this fish in your aquarium make sure you’re prepared to properly care for it.

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