What a Clown! The Mandarin Dragonette
by Jules Cremer
We are all attracted to different things. It may be a hobby or a person. It may be a place or a memory. I, personally, find coral reefs attractive and beautiful. There is something about all of that color that draws in the eye and draws out a breath of awe. And one of the things I find the most attractive about a coral reef is the riot of colors. Colors! Colors! Colors! Neon green and tangerine orange rubbing elbows with mauve and lavender. Reds on top of blues on top of yellows. I could spend an entire day SCUBA diving in a coral reef and never tire of the beauty around me.
And its not just the corals that are colorful…it’s the fish as well! There are hundreds upon thousands of species of fish that call coral reefs their home. They utilize the coral for food, shelter, hunting prey and for protection. Coral reefs are living, underwater cities. The New York or Chicago of the oceans. And there is one species of fish that is, in particular, one of my favorites and also takes the cake when it comes to being “well dressed”. Allow me to introduce to you the Mandarinfish (Synchiropus splendidus).
Even their general name, Mandarinfish, refers to their weird and wonderful coloration. The gorgeous stripes, blues, greens and oranges closely resembles an Imperial Chinese Officer or Mandarin. These fish have even been described as one of the most weird and wonderful fish in the Ocean. They inhabit broken coral rubble or under dead coral in sheltered lagoons or reef crests in the Western Pacific Ocean. This area includes Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia and the Philippines. Mandarinfish are extremely shy and secretive. In fact, the smallest amount of movement can startle them. The old adage, “Quiet as a mouse.” should be changed to, “Quiet as a mandarinfish.”
Mandarinfish are actually a species of dragonette. One can often see them hopping from one perch to the another instead of swimming up and down the water column. But when they do swim, their fins move back and forth at a super high speed; very much the wings of a hummingbird during flight. And speaking of birds, these fish closely resemble birds when it comes to their eatings habits; they study their food before they eat it (I know this is true because my parrot at home always studies the food that I give her before she either takes a bite or flings it at me!). When it comes to getting some grub, Mandarinfish are extremely picky, slow and careful at choosing what to put in their bellies. Worms, small crustaceans and protozoans are the main foods of choice. The large eyes that sit on either side of their head allow them to find tiny tidbits easily.
If you are a female and looking for a mate, then being a mandarinfish is just what you are looking for! During dusk, three to four females will hang out in one spot in the reef and wait for the males to come a-calling. In fact, males will spend their time going around to different female hotspots showing off what they got and trying to attract the ladies. So long E-harmony! Once a female has chosen a male, they will go to a particular spot, rise up a few feet above the reef and release a cloud of sperm and eggs. Sadly, the courtship only lasts for a short time as the male and female flee shortly after. There are usually about two hundred eggs that become fertilized in the cloud the male and female have left behind. The eggs take about eighteen to twenty-four hours to hatch into tiny fish fry (or baby fish). After a period of two weeks, the fry will settle down in a coral home and may live up to fifteen years! Being a macho male in the world of mandarinfish is a big deal! In fact, the bigger the better! Males that have the bravado and brawn will win the attention and favor of the females.
The fish are definitely the clowns of the coral reefs. But there is nothing to laugh at when it comes to their conservation status. Mandarinfish are being threatened though destruction of their habitat and overfishing. In addition, these fish are extremely popular in the pet trade. Hundreds of aquarium hobbyists would give their right thumb (or right fin) for a chance to add one of these beauties to their collection. But since Mandarinfish are extremely picky eaters, their chances of survival in an aquarium setting is very slim if they are not fed the proper diet. Living in a tank will satisfy the demanding dietary needs that these fish have. That is why it is so important to do lots of research, seek professional advice and support local aquarium hobbyists if you wish to start a saltwater tank of your own.
Well, I hope you enjoyed getting to meet this weird and wonderful inhabitant of our coral reefs. Take and moment to feast your eyes on the crazy and wacky patterns of color on this fish species. Breath deep and enjoy the creativity that Nature provides all around us!
1. Photo by Jules Cremer
2. Photo by Jules Cremer
1. “Diving with Mandarinfish”. http://www.dive-the-world.com/creatures-mandarinfish.php. World Wide Web. Accessed 30th April, 2015.