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Dragonets – Beauties with Specialized Palates

Hi everyone, Jason here!  Reefs can be described in so many ways.  They have every color imaginable, and creatures different in such drastic ways all living in closely intertwined communities.  Some are the hunters and some are the prey.  You could explore the same section of the reef everyday and there is a decent chance of discovering something new, whether a new creature or a specific behavior that allows so many creatures to coexist in a specific area.  Reproducing these niches cause a rather difficult situation when trying to put these rare and exotic creatures into the confined area of a home aquarium. 

 Green Mandarin Dragonette One of our more frequently sought after fish are the Dragonets.  We usually carry three or four different species of them.  The most common two are the Green Mandarin Dragonet (Synchiropus picturatus) and the Blue Mandarin Dragonet (Synchiropus splendidus).  These fish are extremely colorful and very entertaining to watch when placed in an adequate aquarium.

The Dragonets are a challenging fish to keep in the home aquarium.  It is not as much an issue of how hardy they are but rather their diet which can make them difficult to keep.  Unlike most fish available to the aquarium trade, they are not easily enticed to eat prepared foods, mostly because they do not recognize these processed items as food.  In the wild, they hunt small crustaceans called the copepods.  They usually require a tank that has been established for about a year, with at least 90 pounds of live rock to provide a population of copepods.  The naturally occurring copepods provide prey for the active hunting lifestyle of the dragonet.  Some aquarists try feeding live black worms in an attempt to wean them off of copepods with occasional success, but this will require regular purchase and maintenance of live black worms. This practice works for a short time, but ultimately, black worms do not contain enough nutrition to act as a substantial food source.  If it were not for their constant hunt for food and limited food source these fish might be easier to keep. 

Blue Mandarin Dragonette If you are able to provide a sufficient copepod/amphipod population, Dragonets can do well in the aquarium with most other fish.  However, when it comes to being kept with other Dragonets there can be an issue (besides exausted food sources).  A pair consisting of a male and female will usually get along without aggression, but if you put two males in an aquarium (unless it is very large) they may fight, as they are very territorial.  You can differentiate between a male and a female by their size and the elongated dorsal fin.  The male will be more robust than the female, and he’ll have a long extension from the dorsal fin that the female lacks.  Dragonets have been known to breed in captivity, but there is usually an extremely low success rate.  The male and female will rise up into the water column side by side to release the eggs and sperm.  Typically, they are more likely to show this behavior under actinic lights which simulate dusk or dawn lighting. 

If you have the well established reef to sustain them, and you want a show-stopping little fish, a Dragonet may be the way to go! 


Until next time,



  1. avatar

    Great article! I don’t feed blackworms to my fish at all. I can’t really find any actual nutritional info for them. The only people I know who recommend them are people that sell them or breed them, but their position on the issue is biased. I do know they’re difficult for a lot of fish to digest, and if you feed them on a regular basis, you can expect health issues with your fish.

  2. avatar

    Agreed. There are far better foods for both freshwater and saltwater fish in today’s market like Dt’s and even live copepod cultures you can buy to feed directly or seed the tank or refugium. These foods are much more appropriate, black worms have been a “go to” live food for years. With enough established live rock you can easily establish a sustainable population of copepods in my opinion, which is a MUCH better option.

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