Mandarin Goby: Care, Tank Size, Food, Tank Mates & More

Common Name(s)Mandarin Goby
Scientific NameSynchiropus splendidus
OriginWestern Pacific Ocean
Temperature73-83°F (23-28°C)
Size3 inch length (7.6 cm)
Minimum Tank Size30-40 gallons (114-151 Liters)
Food & DietCarnivorous foragers
Lifespan10-15 years
Water pH8.1-8.4
Tank MatesNon-aggressive fish of similar size such as Coral Beauty, Firefish, and Pajama Cardinals.
BreedingPelagic spawners
DiseaseMay be susceptible to fin rot and marine ich.
Mandarin Goby
Mandarin Goby (Synchiropus splendidus)

Mandarin Goby Facts

Mandarin Goby (Synchiropus splendidus) is a stunning tropical fish from western Pacific Ocean. In addition to Mandarin Goby, they are known by various names including Mandarin Dragonet, Striped Mandarin Fish, Mandarin Fish, Striped Dragonet, and Psychedelic Mandarin. While they are most commonly referred to as Mandarin Goby, this may be misleading considering that they do not belong to the Gobiidae family. Instead, they belong to the Callionymidae family.

Mandarin Goby is a colorful fish, and it is one of the most beautiful marine fish in existence. In fact, their colorful appearance is the reason they are named “Mandarin” Goby. Their bright pigmentation is reminiscent of an imperial Chinese officials’ robes.

Their Latin name splendidus is also in reference to their colorful pigmentation. It means means “tending to shine or glitter.” While the generally accepted scientific name of Mandarin Goby is Synchiropus splendidus, the species was first described by Albert William Herre in 1927 as Callionymus splendidus.

They are truly beautiful with a multi-color body. The blue pigmentation definitely stands out, and this is due to their light-reflecting cells, Cyanophore (blue Chromatophore).

Mandarin Gobies dwell in the western Pacific Ocean, but they are also found in the Coral Triangle, Australia (Great Barrier Reef), Hong Kong, Micronesia, New Caledonia, Taiwan, Japan, and Palau.

Mandarin Goby Care

Mandarin Goby is considered difficult to care for and expensive to maintain. The main challenge is regarding feeding this carnivorous fish, since they require live food. In most cases, they will not accept dry flake food, or even frozen food. They are picky eaters.

Keeping Mandarin Goby can be expensive since the majority of the live food that they eat are pods. Live pods cost approximately $20-30 USD a bottle, and they may finish a bottle every month depending on the size of the fish.

Tank setups for Mandarin Gobies can get complicated if there is a refugium involved. Refugiums are common in Mandarin Goby tanks because it allows the pods to survive and reproduce. Without the refugium, the pods will be quickly wiped out in the main tank since the Mandarin Goby will be constantly hunting for them.

Due to the difficulty of care and the cost involved, Mandarin Goby are recommended for experienced and dedicated aquarists.

Mandarin Goby Temperature

Mandarin Goby are tropical fish that require warm temperatures between 73-83°F (23-28°C). In order to maintain stable water temperatures, installing an aquarium heater is recommended. Rapid fluctuations in water temperatures can cause stress or death to the fish.

Mandarin Goby Water Parameters

Like other reef fish, Mandarin Goby’s ideal saltwater environment must have a pH of 8.1 to 8.4. The carbonate hardness of the tank water should be at a alkalinity range between 8 to 12 dKH. When it comes to salinity, the best range to aim for would be 1.022 to 1.025 sg.

Mandarin Goby are relatively hardy fish. However, improper pH and poor water quality can weaken its immune system and cause disease. Therefore, testing water parameters on a weekly basis will help hobbyists spot potential issues before they develop into something irreversible.

Water changes should be done regularly. A 10% water change can be done every two weeks. A 25% water change can also be done every month as well. The water being added must have the same water parameters as the tank’s water in order to avoid osmotic shock. This is also the reason why a newly bought Mandarin Goby must be acclimatized for 3 hours with low lights by adding the original tank water drop by drop via a thin pipe and clamp. To be on the safe side, Mandarin Gobies should be quarantined for 4 to 6 weeks before being added to their main tank in order to avoid potential spread of diseases (e.g. Cryptocaryon irritans aka Marine ich, Amyloodynium and Brooklynella). A newly purchased fish will may arrive in a with a weakened immune system and a fishkeeper must help the fish by allowing their Mandarin Goby enough time and food to rest.

Mandarin Goby Size

Mandarin Gobies are relatively small fish. They can grow up to 3 inches (7.6 cm) in size.

Mandarin Goby Tank Size

While Mandarin Goby are small fish, they do need an adequate tank size to meet their needs. As a general rule, one Mandarin Goby will require at least a 30 to 40 gallon (114 to 151 L) tank. A Mandarin Goby pair will need a minimum of 75 gallons (284 L).

Having an adequate tank size is important for multiple reasons. Many of these reasons are tied to their dietary needs.

First, the tank must be large enough to allow the Mandarin Goby to explore. If you observe a Mandarin Goby, you would that they are always exploring and hunting for food. The tank must be large enough to accommodate this behavior.

The tank must be large enough to accommodate live rock formations and other hardscape as well. Since Mandarin Goby likes to explore, a bare tank would not be suitable for them.

The live rock and sand is good for pods as well. If the tank was bare, Madarin Goby would find and consume all of the pods very quickly. Allowing the pods to establish itself in the aquarium is important. This would provide a more stable source of food for the fish.

Mandarin Goby Food & Diet

Mandarin Goby are carnivorous fish that mainly feed on small invertebrates. Among these invertebrates, copepods are their preferred food source. Other invertebrates that they feed on include cyclops, worms, protozoans, crustaceans, gastropods, fish eggs, amphipods, Mysis shrimp, ostracods, and other micro-organisms found at the bottom of the ocean. They forage throughout the day, and constantly nip at small creatures hiding in the coral substrate.

Due to their fast metabolism and heavy reliance on live food, feeding Mandarin Goby in captivity can be a challenge. Many Mandarin Goby, especially wild-caught specimen, will only accept live food. Many aquarists feed baby brine shrimp, rotifers (wheel animalcule), amphipods, black worms, and phytoplankton. However, the majority of their diet often consists of copepods (pods). Therefore, keeping a healthy population of copepods is important.

In order to keep a consistent supply of pods, the breeding colony must not be depleted. If the tank is too small, or there isn’t enough places for the pods to hide, the Mandarin Goby may eat all of them in a short period of time. In order to prevent the breeding colony from getting depleted, a copepod breeding box can be added to the tank. This will provide a safe place for the pods live and breed in. Another way of ensuring a stable breeding colony is to dedicate a separate tank for them, such as a refugium. When checking the tank for pods, it can be difficult to see them. One way to help see the pods is to turn off all the lights and shine a direct light into the tank. This will make it much easier to spot the pods.

Some Mandarin Goby may accept frozen food. If it does, the fish was most likely bred in captivity. Some frozen food that can be fed to Mandarin Goby include chopped clams and prawn eggs (e.g. Nutramar Ova).

Since Mandarin Goby are picky eaters, it important to feed them properly and regularly. As a general rule, they should be fed twice a day. A malnourished Mandarin Goby may have a visible horizontal rib line, which is cause for concern.

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Mandarin Goby Lifespan

The Mandarin Goby has a lifespan of 10 to 15 years in the wild, although this significantly decreases in captivity. This species tends to live an average of 2 to 5 years in aquariums.

Mandarin Goby Tank Mates

Mandarin Gobies have peaceful personalities and a slow-moving nature, therefore aquarists should choose other non-aggressive coral fish species of similar size.

Compatible tank mates for Mandarin Goby include Coral Beauty, Firefish, Pajama Cardinal, Clownfish, Green Chromis, Royal Gramma, Seahorse, Watchman goby, Small Damselfish, and some marine shrimps, snails, and crabs.

Incompatible tank mates for Mandarin Goby would be larger predatory fish that would show aggression towards Mandarin Goby. Fish that would outcompete Mandarin Goby for food should also be avoided. Potentially incompatible tank mates for Mandarin Goby include large angels, tangs, and large wrasses.

Mandarin Goby and Clownfish

Mandarin Gobies and Clownfish would make excellent tank mates for each other, but it is important to provide enough food for both species. 

Mandarin Goby and Anemone

Mandarin Gobies should never be kept with Anemones! They are slow swimming, non-aggressive fish who will be devoured by Anemones despite their toxic slimy layer.

Are Mandarin Goby Aggressive?

The Mandarin Goby has a peaceful temperament, prone to shyness and can co-exist with other fish, aquatic plants, corals, and invertebrates. This species has a protective, slimy coat, which typically prevents other fish from harassing them, although scorpionfish may bully them during spawning. Two male Mandarin Gobies should not be housed together, because they can be territorial towards their own species and may even fight each other to death. Advanced fish keepers would be able to keep harems of Mandarin Gobies in one tank, and even breed them with the correct conditions.

Mandarin Goby Tank Setup

The shy Mandarin Goby can be seen hiding amongst corals and rubble in the silty bottoms of shallow marine waters. A well-established reef tank that has been prepared for eight months to a year (the longer the better) is essential for Mandarin Gobies to live in. Being a bottom-dwelling species that prefers to hide and forage, they need live rocks (at least 75 pounds, 34 kg per fish) and corals at the bottom of their aquarium.

Live sand that covers the bottom of the tank is ideal, especially if an aquarist is intending to keep their Mandarin Gobies in a community tank. The substrate must be thick enough (minimum 2 inches, 5.1 cm) as this species tends to bury their bodies in the sand. Without this, a Mandarin Goby will be too anxious to eat, socialize, and thrive. On top of the substrate layer should be live rocks and coral – this will mimic their natural habitat and act as a breeding ground for pods, as well as a maze for Mandarin Gobies, so that they do not completely deplete their food source in one go. The grain size of the sand substrate must be an average of 1 to 2mm, no larger as this can harm the fish.

This marine species must have saltwater in their tank, which can be accomplished either with a premium salt mix or saltwater purchased from a fish store.

Since they are slow swimmers, aquarium filters with strong water flow is not recommended. If the outflow of the filter is too strong, it should be adjusted accordingly. If the particular filtration system is not adjustable, a baffle can be placed on the outflow.

Mandarin Gobies are fine with standard lights, but the aquarium should not be exceptionally bright because of their raised eyes, which are biologically designed to see in dim lights. Installing a protein skimmer can be beneficial as well.

Smooth decor (e.g. caves) can be a good hiding place for Mandarin Gobies, but aquarists must be vigilant in avoiding sharp edges/corners, as these can injure their fish. Aquatic plants are not necessary for a Mandarin Goby’s survival, however they do not harm the fish if a keeper wishes to add some in their tank. Aquascaping can be ideal, as Mandarin Gobies love hiding spots and a design that offers them this will help them feel more secure and comfortable in their tank.

Sumps with a refugium are ideal for the Mandarin Goby beginners because of their pod diet and can even be built DIY. A refugium should be able to contain 10%-20% of the tank’s water volume. The refugium in the sump must filter the water using macro algae, which provides the perfect breeding conditions for the pods to populate. Adding bio balls and a bio filtering substrate (e.g. MarinePure) in the refugium will aid in balancing the ecosystem.

Mandarin Goby Breeding

Mandarin Gobies can be easy to breed, but the challenge of raising juveniles takes an advanced hobbyist. Fish keepers will need to be able to isolate the juveniles from a community tank and provide live food, such as brine shrimp, rotifers, and phytoplankton. A breeding box or a separate tank exclusively for spawning is recommended to protect the juveniles from being eaten by other fish.

Mandarin Gobies are sexually dimorphic and differentiating a male from a female is simple enough, even though most shops sell this species as males. Males have an extended dorsal fin that is pointed, while females in comparison are duller in color, smaller in size and lack a long dorsal fin.

Wild Mandarin Gobies spawn for a select few months per year before sunset when the lights dim. A small group of females (3 to 5) will approach the places where males are more abundant. A male will “put on a show” for their female counterparts as a way to court them. A willing female will engage in a belly-to-belly “dance” with the male – the female will be perched on the male’s pelvic fin. Being pelagic spawners, they will both slowly ascend while simultaneously releasing sperm and eggs (as many as 200), before darting away.

Females can only spawn once per evening, which is why a male will mate with several females in one night. Sometimes another male will even attempt to discretely release his own sperm near the couple to try and fertilize some of her eggs. The eggs will float until they hatch in 12 to 18 hours and the planktonic larvae will be 1mm long until 2 to 3 weeks have passed.

Captive Mandarin Gobies breed once a week throughout the year, given the correct conditions. However, fish keepers ought to realize that pairs must be established because not all female/male pairs will mate, even in close proximity. There are established pairs available on the market, but they can be expensive and harder to find.

Mandarin Goby Disease

The Mandarin Goby is considered hardy and resistant to Cryptocaryon irritans, mostly due to their scale-less and bitter, slimy outer layer, which wards off predators from hunting them, implied by their aposematic pigmentation. However, aquarists should note that this species can still struggle with illness.

Improper water conditions, pH-imbalance; overcrowding, and an insufficient diet are the main causes of disease with the Mandarin Goby. Fish keepers must keep an eye out for: fin rot (ragged/frayed fins); cloudy eyes; discoloration; redness at fin base; excess skin mucous; darting/scratching against object (“flashing”); rapid labored ventilation; cyst formations on fins/gills/skin; and lack of appetite/weight loss. A marine parasite remover may be needed to treat the tank, although, Copper medications and Organophosphate (e.g. dichlorvos, trichlorfons) should be avoided due to the Mandarin Goby’s lack of scales. Nonetheless, when a Mandarin Goby sleeps beneath the tank’s sandy substrate, they may first appear grey/less pigmented when re-emerging in the lights – this normal.
It is vital that hobbyists avoid netting their Mandarin Gobies, as the protrusions/spikes from their cheeks can get entangled and cause serious damage.  

Where can I find Mandarin Goby for sale?

Captive bred Mandarin Gobies are the best option for fish keepers because they are healthier, easier to keep in an aquarium and feed. Their popularity means they are available worldwide in shops and online retail stores. Prices can be as high as $50, although this depends on their gender, size, and coloration. Their tank set up and diet can also be pricey, so aquarists must be financially ready to take care of this unique species.