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HighEndOfTheLow

Highendofthelow’S Guide To Keeping Mandarins.

23 posts in this topic

My introduction to marines was through Luke. We met each other on our Biology course at uni. We got to know each other and ending up falling in love! In the following months I became “goby” and started to clean his 4x2x2 foot tank. I would watch his clown fish and his tang for hours when I went over. I decided that I would look around my local shops, (I live away from home during uni). And that’s when I saw the fish that made me decide to have my own reef tank. A tiny psychedelic mandarin appeared from underneath the LFS’s Coral in their coral tank.

The Mandarin Police

I went on so many sites to find information on Mandarins, entered so many discussions, and I encountered the Mandarin Police. These were the people that ridiculed anyone and everyone that was even considering keeping a mandarin. I was interested to know why they were being so cruel.
The main reason I discovered were because they personally struggled to keep one. The feeding of mandarins is pretty notorious. Mandarins are known to be finicky eaters. Mainly due to the fact they need to eat all the time and have fairly small mouths. In a normal reef aquarium they are often out completed by other reef fish for food. They also seen to be difficult to feed frozen food (I’ll come back to this later).

Mandarins in the wild

Both Mandarin species Synchiropus splendidus and Synchiropus picturatus live in and around the Indonesian coast up towards Japan. They are generally seen around dawn and dusk. They feed on zooplankton mainly rotifers and copepods. They tend to move around the seabed and around the rocks.
The breed at dusk and display courting dances up the water column. The Male competes for females, and normally the bigger males will win the females. Males are very territorial and will fight til the death if needs must.

Mandarins in the Aquarium

Nearly all mandarins in the trade are wild caught using a 3 spike harpoon. They are collected and then starved during transportation. Only the strongest make it to their destination country. They are often seen as perfect reef inhabitants as they non aggressive and are rarely abused by tankmates due to their slimy mucus over their skin (mandarins don’t have scales!) which is bad tasting, hence their ability to have such beautiful patterns! This mucus also gives them excellent protection from white spot- an added bonus, however they CAN get ich- it is a common fallacy that they can’t. There is also evidence to suggest that spotted mandarins also eat flatworms, although from personal experience it is very much “if there’s nothing else!”

Mandarins have been raised in captivity, however it is rare to ever raise fry as it is extremely hard work. Eggs float to the surface and must be collected as quickly as possible. They then need to be kept in suspension. The eggs hatch and then need to be fed. This is where problems arise. The eggs are only 0.8mm in diameter and the fry aren’t much bigger. Baby rotifers need to be offered as soon as the eggs hatch. 

There is so many opinions on keeping mandarins. One school of thought is that they require a huge tank with a refugium and plenty of live rock for them to survive, which in some ways is true. A well stocked refugium of pods is going to help you feed the mandarin, particularly if they do not eat frozen food.

WAIT- DO NOT PRESUME YOU CANNOT HAVE A MANDARIN IF YOU ONLY HAVE A SMALL TANK! It is just more work! I have personally keeping a mandarin in a 30L pico successfully!

Mandarins can be kept in a smaller tank. It just takes a bit more work to keep them feeding. A mandarin can do amazingly well in a species specific tank that is made to suite these slow feeders. Seahorses and Pipefish make excellent tankmates as they are all slow feeders and eat copepods.

Measures to take to keep a mandarin in a small tank

If you want to keep a mandarin in a small tank, there is a few rules I feel you should stick to. These have been formulated by my own experiences with my own mandarin, and with Luke’s pair in his old tank.

1. Choose a healthy specimen (see more on this later)

2. Ensure you have plenty of patience if you have to train your mandarin onto frozen food. Or purchase a mandarin you have observed feeding on frozen food.

3. Have a supply of pods. They are readily online. Many sites now have a subscription service.

4. Cheato macro-algae or similar will allow pods to reproduce without getting eaten, whether it’s a handful in the corner of your tank or a HOB filter full of it, it is a MUST in a mandarin tank!

5. A back up plan. Sometimes things do not go to plan. I know that if my mandarin were to go downhill, Luke has offered his sump or his display tank to feed him up until I can fix the problem in my tank. His sump is also full of pods, which is great if I need some at short notice.

6. Self-confidence. The Mandarin Police are always out in force. If you know you can support the mandarin, then you have nothing to worry about. If you have done your research and you have got your back up plan, you are being responsible. If people didn’t push the boundaries in this hobby in the past, we wouldn’t have the hobby!

Choosing a healthy specimen

If you decide to give a mandarin a go it is so important to find a good specimen before you start. A starved mandarin hardly ever comes back. If the mandarin looks thin, with a lateral line visible it is NOT healthy, and not worth your money. 

A key sign of an unhealthy mandarin is a pinched stomach. This can happen in the space of a week. 
When you go to your LFS and think you can see healthy mandarin, other things to note is whether it is male or female. Males tend to do better in captivity, and generally the bigger and fatter have the better chances, however the bigger the mandarin the more food.
The male has a bigger dorsal spike than the female and is substantially larger than a female.
Another thing and this is possibly the most important, is whether it is feeding frozen. If they say yes, then you need to know what and also see it feeding. Mandarins are greedy and will eat all the time. If there is no sign of it taking the frozen, be weary.

 

If you have any questions please feel free to contact me

 

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Agreed @@rory2005

 

The breeder trap method is one of numerous methods in training for frozen food, others include "dragonet feeding stations" or from personal preference a species only set up where spot feeding is easy with no other hungry mouths. Mandarins are active fish and hence I think the breeder net solution, although works, not necessarily the best for the fish long term as they are "little and often" feeders and like to graze all day not just when you feed them.

 

We have successfully had all our mandarins onto frozen with a pair of individuals pick at whole prawns, and they also had a fondness of scallop. They arent always quick on the uptake but the better foods on the market are certainly helping!

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great write up

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Good write up and I use an old fish trap as a feeding station for new additions...It keeps the faster fish out but the odd hermit still gets in..

DSC_0165 (1024x680) (400x266).jpg

CSC_0175 (1024x682) (400x266).jpg

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Great write up. I will be taking in a mandarin when my new tank is up and running, and dosing lots of pods

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Thank very much for the article, I'm looking forward to get a mandarin

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Hi again,

Just wanted to ask which type of sandbed and how many inches are recommended? Thx

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Deep enough to host enough zooplankton I'd say.1-2 inches minimum depending on the amount of LR you have. The more sand and rock you have for Copepods to hide and propogate the happier your mandarin will be as there will be a regenerative amount of food source. Don't underestimate how much these guys eat. They are constantly on the hunt and will decimate copepod populations in no time, especially if you have wrasse too which will also feed on copepods.

 

I used to supplement my population by a separate copepod farm, replinishing the DT population weekly which kept a single mandarin happy.

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Thank you for your answer, I'll ensure to have a nice sanbed and rocks as well as an external copepod breeder.

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Sandbed should be fine to medium as its a trait of the genus to semi bury to sleep. I have observed this in mandarins.

 

Personally in my nano i only have 1inch of sandbed. Its more personal preference, as i find sandbed worms can irritate.

 

Sent from Liz's S3

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Interesting and informative post. Thank you for sharing! Love mandarins.

 

-NP

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Interesting post thanks :)

 

I have been adding 15 packs of copepods weekly directly into my big bed of cheato in sump I'm hoping that will keep a mandarin going my tank now fallow for 3 months I will continue to add pods to the system is it possible to go over the top with adding pods or is it only a good thing if so how many should I add weekly as they now have 3 months to breed in there without fish hoovering them up.

 

Cheers

Marty

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IMO i would probably slow down on the addition now, 

 

simply put can you see pods on your rock / glass in your main display? (easier to spot at night) if so then you should be good to go and they will breed to a stable population, if you want to cause a bit of a pod explosion phytoplanton would  probably be a more economical addition to your tank now you have an established pod population.

 

Worst case scenario you can add further top ups in the future

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Thanks for the reply ill check tonight when lights out :)

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Did you have a look Marty?

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