Mandarin Goby

Mandarin Goby: A Vibrant Saltwater Fish

The Mandarin Goby is a visually stunning and peaceful saltwater fish that captivates aquarists due to its striking colors and unique behaviors. Native to the warm Pacific waters between Japan and Australia, this bottom-dwelling species requires an advanced level of care and a well-established marine tank environment. In this comprehensive guide, we will discuss everything you need to know about caring for your Mandarin Goby, including tank setup, dietary requirements, breeding, and potential tank mates.

Species Overview

Scientifically known as Synchiropus splendidus, the Mandarin Goby is a member of the Callionymidae family and is often referred to as the mandarinfish or dragonet. Their natural habitat includes sandy lagoons and coral reefs, where they enjoy warm, shallow waters and abundant food supplies. The Mandarin Goby’s beautiful coloration and peaceful nature make it a popular choice for experienced saltwater aquarists.

Appearance and Physical Features

One of the primary reasons behind the Mandarin Goby’s popularity is its remarkable appearance. With a scaleless body featuring striking color patterns, they are named after the resemblance to the vibrant robes of Chinese Imperial Mandarins. Their blues, greens, reds, and psychedelic patterns create an unforgettable visual display in any aquarium.

Mandarin Gobies are small in size, reaching up to 3 inches in adulthood, with males being slightly larger than females. Males also have a taller dorsal fin with a stunning orange and blue pattern, as well as a long spike extending out. Their eyes are usually red with black pupils and are in constant motion, resembling amphibian eyes more than those of fish.

The fish’s body is covered in delicate protrusions and spikes, making it crucial to handle them with care. When transferring or quarantining your Mandarin Goby, use a sterile container rather than a net to avoid damaging their fragile features.


Under ideal conditions, a captive Mandarin Goby can live for two to four years, while they can live up to 15 years in the wild. Ensuring that the fish eats properly after being introduced to the tank is crucial, as their unique dietary needs can be challenging to meet, especially for wild-caught Mandarin Gobies. These fish generally thrive if they can adjust to their new environment and receive adequate nourishment.

Tank Requirements

Caring for a Mandarin Goby requires a well-established saltwater tank with ample space, live rock, and sand to emulate their natural environment. Here, we will discuss the essential aspects of setting up a suitable tank for a Mandarin Goby, focusing on tank size, water parameters, and tank decorations.

Tank Size

A minimum tank size of 30 gallons is recommended, although experienced aquarists often suggest a 50-gallon or larger tank to provide the Mandarin Goby with adequate space to roam and search for food. If you plan to house multiple fish species, a larger tank is essential. For a pair of Mandarin Gobies, a 75-gallon or larger tank is recommended.

Water Parameters

Maintaining standard saltwater reef conditions is crucial for the well-being of your Mandarin Goby. Keep the water flow slow to moderate, allowing the fish to explore the tank floor and feed at their leisure. Regular water changes, such as a 10% change every two weeks and a 25% change monthly, will help maintain optimal conditions and prevent disease.

Here are the ideal water parameters for a Mandarin Goby tank:

  • Water temperature: Maintain a consistent temperature between 74° and 80°F, with fluctuations no more than 2° F in 24 hours.
  • Water pH levels: Keep pH levels between 7.9 and 8.4, as levels outside this range can compromise the fish’s immune system.
  • Water hardness: Ensure carbonate hardness is maintained between 8 to 12 dKH for the health of both the fish and microorganisms within the tank.
  • Specific gravity: Keep salinity levels between 1.022 to 1.025 sg, with fluctuations no more than .001 sg in 24 hours.

Tank Decorations and Environment

To create a comfortable and natural environment for your Mandarin Goby, fill the tank with live rock and sand to provide hiding spots and encourage the growth of microorganisms for the fish to feed on. Aim for at least 75 pounds of live rock in a mature tank that has been operational for over eight months. A living-sand substrate should be at least two inches thick and consist of 1 to 2 mm grain sand.

Standard tank lighting is suitable for Mandarin Gobies, as their eyes function well in dimmer conditions. However, avoid excessively bright lighting and provide a consistent day-night cycle with 9 to 14 hours of daily light to promote algae growth.

Feel free to add artificial decorative structures such as caves or plants to enhance the tank’s visual appeal and provide additional hiding spots for your Mandarin Goby. Choose smooth or rounded objects to prevent damage to the fish’s delicate protrusions and spikes.

Related: Lionhead Goldfish Care

Diet and Feeding

Mandarin Gobies are picky carnivorous eaters with a high metabolism. They thrive on a diet of microorganisms such as copepods, amphipods, ostracods, polychaete worms, artemiacyclops, protozoans, gastropods, Mysis shrimp, and other small crustaceans. Tank-raised Mandarin Gobies are generally more accepting of frozen or bottled foods, while wild-caught fish may refuse such offerings.

To ensure a steady food supply for your Mandarin Goby, establish a stable colony of copepods in the tank or use a copepod breeding box. If you choose to feed your fish directly, provide small portions two to three times per day, with each meal lasting one to two minutes.

If your tank includes companion fish with overlapping dietary needs, adjust the copepod population or monitor feedings to ensure all fish receive proper nourishment.

Behavior and Temperament

Mandarin Gobies are shy, mellow, and non-aggressive fish that spend their time searching the tank floor for food. Their vibrant coloration makes them easy to spot in a tank, and they are known to explore every nook and cranny of their environment. They may take time to adjust to new tank inhabitants, so monitor interactions closely after introducing new fish.

Tank Mates

When selecting tank mates for your Mandarin Goby, avoid housing them with significantly larger or aggressive fish, as they may struggle to compete for food. Suitable tank mates include:

  • Coral Beauty
  • Firefish
  • Pajama Cardinal
  • Clownfish
  • Green Chromis
  • Royal Gramma Basslet
  • Seahorse
  • Watchman Goby
  • Small Damselfish
  • Smaller marine shrimps, snails, and crabs

Remember to consider the size of your tank and the availability of food when introducing new tank mates. Mandarin Gobies are territorial towards their own species, so it’s best to keep a single goby or a male/female pair in a tank.


Breeding Mandarin Gobies can be challenging, as females are selective and require specific conditions. Males perform a mating display, attempting to entice females into a “dance” where both fish release their reproductive material. Housing a pair together does not guarantee breeding, and matched pairs can be expensive and difficult to find.

If successful breeding occurs, it is essential to isolate and protect the young fish by using a breeding box or separate tank, allowing them to mature safely.


The Mandarin Goby is a magnificent addition to any saltwater aquarium due to its unique appearance and fascinating behavior. Although they require advanced care and a well-established marine environment, with dedication and attention to detail, your Mandarin Goby can thrive for years. We hope this comprehensive guide has provided you with the knowledge needed to successfully care for your Mandarin Goby, and we wish you the best of luck on your aquarist journey.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *