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mandarin dragonet

What do Mandarin Fish eat? ( What they eat, how much, and how often )

As one of the most attractive saltwater aquarium fish available, the Mandarin fish (Synchiropus Splendidus) is a popular choice for many home aquariums. It is also, however, and this is unfortunate, one of the most likely to perish in the average reef tank.

As off-putting as that sounds it really should not stop you from owning one of these incredible looking fish. That is, just as long as you can get them to feed, and give the right diet. The Mandarin fish, you see is an incredibly picky eater, but a beautiful one and that counts!

So What Do Mandarin Fish Eat?

As a carnivore, the diet which you can feed to a Mandarin fish is limited and can make feeding them challenging. However, once you have got them feeding, the good news is, they are a breeze to keep.

In their natural habitat, which consists of shallow lagoons and inshore coral reefs in the Western Pacific, Mandarin fish feed all day. They do this by picking off food that is perched on the substrate or on rock surfaces.

Foods Mandarin fish eat include small snails, worms, fish eggs and copepods. Copepods are a group of small crustaceans found in nearly every freshwater and saltwater habitat. Some Copepods are planktonic and float in the water, whilst others are benthic and live on the ocean floor.

What Should I Feed Mandarin Fish In An Aquarium?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a Mandarin fishes favorite food when in an aquarium is copepod. This is, again unsurprisingly, because they eat it naturally. It is also, however, one of the few things they will eat in captivity, and means they need a specific aquarium setup.

Green Mandarin Dragonet

Live rock is of huge importance in a Mandarin fish setup as it will sustain the population of copepods that your fish requires. The amount of rock, of course, will depend on the size of your aquarium. Bear in mind, however, that if you want to feed your Mandarin fish solely on copepod you’re going to need plenty of rock. A 70 gallon, well-established aquarium should suffice. They can also be kept in smaller aquariums like Nano Reef Tanks but they must be established and have suitable tank mates.

How To Introduce Live Copepods Into Your Aquarium

When adding live copepods into your aquarium it is best to do so at night time when your fish have been fed and are resting. You should also try to release them as close to the substrate as possible to avoid predation. A feeding tube or PVC pipe can help with this making transfer efficient.

Once at the bottom of the aquarium the copepods will have a chance to settle and begin reproducing. Don’t worry if you cannot see them at first as the larvae are super tiny and virtually impossible to see with the naked eye. After 1 to 2 weeks, however, they will become visible when larger adult pods will increase.

Copepods can be purchased from many sources, including reputable aquatic stores and also online.

You can also breed and grow copepods in a Refugium. Having an refugium offers many benefits and supplying a constant source of live foods is just one of them. Find out all about refugiums and how they work here.

What Else Can I Feed Mandarin Fish?

If your aquarium is smaller than 70 gallons your Mandarin fish will deplete any copepods quickly. This means they will require supplemental food to prevent them from starving. Live shrimp are a popular choice when it comes to alternative foods, with frozen mysis shrimp also being used. These are a good choice of diet as they are full of nutrients.

Freeze dried foods are great if you can encourage your Mandarin Fish to accept them. They will ensure they have a balanced diet if used in conjunction with flake foods, mini pellets and Live foods.  

Poor diet, it needs to be said, will make your Mandarin fish more susceptible to disease. Symptoms of disease due to a poor diet will include discoloration, darting, flashing, rapid ventilation, and loss of appetite.

green mandarin dragonet

Of course, as picky eaters, Mandarin fish will not necessarily accept any alternative to copepod easily. They will need coaxing into it gradually. To do this, you should provide both live and frozen food together at first, then gradually lower the amount of live. Be careful to ensure that your Mandarin fish are eating the frozen before you start to decrease the live food.

Mandarins are amazing fish, read some strange and interesting little know facts about these beautiful little fish.

How Often And How Much Should Mandarin Fish Be Eating?

As Mandarin fish feed throughout the day, you should offer them food several times a day. Little and often is the motto with this species with 3 to 4 times daily feedings being ideal.

This, of course, is only if you are feeding an additional diet to copepods. If you’re not, as previously stated, Mandarin fish will just help themselves to copepod all day. It is also worth noting here that any frozen foods should be thawed before feeding.

When should you feed your fish? Find out if some fish will feed better at day or night.

Conclusion: Mandarin Dragonet Fish Feeding Guide

Whilst the Mandarin fish may not be the easiest species to keep due to its picky eating, it is definitely worth the effort. They are strikingly beautiful, a really unique shape, and full of interesting habits. You could, in fact, say, they are a real show stopper!

There is also a little secret, that we’re going to let you into. You can, in fact, purchase Mandarin fish that have already been weaned onto frozen food and even pellet! You, of course, will probably need to shop around to find one of these, but it would be well worth the effort.

For more information on buying and keeping mandarin Dragonet Fish read our complete guide.

About the Author

Carl Broadbent

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I have been working in the tropical fish industry for over 30 years now and I'm still learning. Everydays a school day in this hobby. But I share what knowledge I have with you guy to stop you making some of the mistakes I made in the beginning.