Move aside mandarin fish, the scooter blennies are making a scarlet comeback
Scooter blennies are faux blennies that belong to the dragonet group of fishes in the genus Synchiropus. Over the past year, this humble genus has taken the front seat with high buzz on what appears to be a handful of strikingly red, retina burning colored specimens appearing from the northern Philippines. The most striking and intensely colored of the lot is the currently undescribed number, known for now as the “Ruby Red” dragonet.
The ruby red dragonet is believed to be a new species yet to be described. We have seen them trickling into the trade the past few months this year, where they have been commanding a higher price as far as dragonets normally fetch. Aside from the intense and uniform red coloration, this species sports a stunning pair of yellow ventral fins. In the males, the ventrals are decorated with a dark green band that is not seen in the smaller females.
Another noteworthy ID-key for this dragonet is the large spot that sits on the base of the pectoral fins. Unlike most dragonets which can be a real tough cookie to identify, this “ruby red” species is easy and quite the looker. The intense coloration has brought new found joy in keeping scooter blennies, which for years have been living in the shadows of their more colorful and psychedelic mandarin counterparts. However the excitement does not stop here. Apart from the “ruby red” dragonet, a handful of other interesting and beautiful species have started appearing and are quickly gaining attention.
Synchiropus tudorjonesi is another new and exciting species to enter the trade. Being described as early as 2012 last year, this new comer adds more variety and choices to the normally boring selection of Synchiropus dragonets. A noteworthy feature for this species is the dark broken black band that runs longitudinally along the flank of the fish. While not as intensely red as the previous species, S. tudorjonesi is just as exciting in terms of discovery and appearance in the trade.
Apart from these two, a confusing complex of dragonets are also making their appearance in more accessible numbers. These are Synchiropus morrisoni, S. moyeri and S. bartelsi. Identifying and distinguishing these three can be a daunting task, and more often than not, both males and females may need to be photographed with dorsal fins outspread, as well as identifying them meristically.
The old school days of boring brown scooter blennies are long over. With the availability of so many beautifully colored dragonet species coming out from the Philippines, its no wonder these fishes are making a bigger comeback than ever. While mandarins are beautiful and even with the new introduction of S. occidentalis from Western Australia, we give our vote to the scooter dragonets this time round. If you have a matured tank thriving with copepods, or a lush refugium awaiting some fishy new comers, take a second look at the scooter dragonets. They’re back in trend and this time with so much more to offer. A big thanks to Kevin Kohen, Dr. Matthew Wittenrich and Ong JunKai for the indispensable information and help provided with this genus.