I will always have a special affection for dragonets. When I saw a tank-raised dragonet on the Sustainable Aquatics availability list, it caught my attention – I had to ask more. It was not one of the commonly kept species that we all think of either, but something new. SA is calling it the “Little Sand Dragonet”, Callionymus parvus. They’re not available in great quantities, and since they are part of the Sustainable Island division, it’s hard to say what future supplies could be like. And the funny thing; at first search, Callionymus parvus didn’t seem to even exist?! I didn’t know what a mystery fish this would turn out to be!
FishBase.org doesn’t even turn up anything resembling “parvus” in the species list of valid and invalid names for the genus Callionymous. I was stumped, which led me back to SA asking for more information.
Chris Turnier, VP of Sales & Marketing for Sustainable Aquatics, had an interesting response. “I just double checked the source I used for identifying this fish (Tropical Pacific Reef Fish Identification by Gerald Allen, et al), thinking I had it misspelled or something, but these cool little fish are in there and luckily spelled correctly.” Hmm. Chris followed up by mentioning, “There is almost no information about them on the net”.
It took some additional digging, but I got lucky when another fish-database, Fishwise, had a hit on the species name Callionymus parvus. This led me to two additional names; the original description as Paradiplogrammus parvus, and a listing for C. parvus being a synonym of Callionymus enneactis, which it turns out IS listed in FishBase, where the species carries the name “Mangrove Dragonet” What a wonderful tool the internet becomes, allowing us to unravel such taxonomic mysteries! Still, we have yet to figure out if Turnier’s identification of the species is correct, and clearly the photos shown on FishBase won’t help, as it shows two species, one of which is known to be a Dragonet from the genus Synchiropus!
Thankfully, with a collection of names to search, it opened up new resources and even more names. With the species name C. enneactis, I came across multiple references for this species being called the “Mosaic Dragonet”. Looking at the limited photos I could find, I’m thinking Chris is spot on; Wild Singapore shows an number of photos that match the Sustainble Aquatics image. There are some great larger images (example #1 and #2) in Wild Singapore’s Flickr albums.
So, identification perhaps somewhat settled for now (until someone comes along and says all these fish are some OTHER brown and white Dragonet), why is this cool? Well first off, here’s a chance to own something rare and unique that won’t cost you an insane amount of money! Plus, they’re tank-raised Dragonets, which means they’re going to be easier to care for than any wild caught specimen. Turnier tells me “We procure these super cool sand skimmers from Bali, but they are found throughout the Asian Pacific. They eagerly eat brine soaked in spirulina and will hunt for tiny invertebrates throughout the day. I am sure, given enough time, we will eventually tempt them over to our Hatchery Diet Pellet food.” They way I look at it – you could buy a the common Scooter Blenny (Synchiropus ocellatus) that every other hobbyist keeps, or you could get something similar, but yet totally different and not nearly as commonplace! Just because it’s “another camo-patterned dragonet” doesn’t mean it should be simply dismissed!
Then there is the “Super Cute” factor…at least that’s how SA described them on their in-stock list! Matt Carberry, president of SA, gives a description that emphasizes their differences from the common Mandarins and Scooter Dragonets. “They have a more elongated “lizardfish” body shape than that of the standard dragonette. Their dorsal rays are pretty spectacular; it’s just hard to get a shot when they extend them.”
Chris Turnier is perhaps in love without realizing it. “I personally think they are a fascinating fish. I love watching them flash each other with their subtly colored dorsal fin…they usually cruise around as temporary pairs, annoying each other with signals from their 1st dorsal fin spike… It probably takes a true reef geek (like all of us), to love a fish like this, lol. If you just take a quick glance at a reef system that they inhabit you most certainly will miss them.”
Indeed, the Little Sand Dragonet could be your next hidden gem. It also sounds like you could try to get a male female pair if Sustainable can supply them, and perhaps better still, a small group might do well on a sandy bottom, so you can watch the complex social interactions that Chris described.
For the fish breeders out there, take note. These, like all Dragonets, should be sexually dimorphic – Turnier believes that the males may have longer dorsal rays than the possible females in their group. And since all the easily obtainable species firsts for Dragonets have been snatched up, anyone looking to be the first to breed a species that no one before them has done, well, here’s a Dragonet that assuredly, no one has spawned and reared yet! Although be on notice – Dr. Matthew L. Witterich is the first to crack a Calliomynus species, with the Lancer Dragonet – C. bairdi – being bred just last year (2011). You might just have some competition!
UPDATE – not even 24 hours after this Reef Builders release, Dr. Wittenrich has to spoil all the fun – he informed us that the species first has already been claimed…by researchers in Japan! See their story in the journal article “Larval and juvenile development of the dragonet, Paradiplogrammus enneactis , reared in a laboratory” – back in 1997! Small technical debate point…they only let them grow to 35 days based on the abstract; some of those “successes” of mine I call “near successes”. Maybe there’s some wiggle room, although the foundation is definitely there!