Synchiropus is an immaculate genus famed for the unorthodox juxtaposition between cute and freaky. Their martian like faces with huge bulging eyes and pursed lips coupled with their undulating fin movements make for a highly peculiar animal. In the aquarium context, few species illicit icon status quite like S. splendidus, otherwise known simply as the mandarin fish. A couple of other relatively unknown members run the gamut of unavailability, but one species stands out as being an illusory ghost that makes its appearance in sporadic cycles.
Synchiropus colloquially houses two groups of fishes, differentiated by the layman based on morphology and coloration. The Mandarins, which include S. splendidus, S. picturatus and S. occidentalis, are known for their colourful visually psychedelic markings which consists of whorls, circles and other sinuous shapes in highly contrasting colours of green, blue and orange. Scooters on the other hand are more sombre in coloration, usually in various shades of red and brown. These are also patterned in more cryptic designs, usually festooned with flowery or patchy markings that break up their shape and outline.
Synchiropus circularis is a lesser seen species both in the wild and in the trade, with an unusual blend from both sides of the Synchiropus genus. Its coloration recalls that of the scooters, with a more sullied green-brown as compared to the baroque appearance of the more impressive mandarins. However it does also develop the contrasting sinuous markings, albeit slightly attenuated when compared to S. splendidus and the likes. In mature specimens, the markings break up into circular rings and spots, giving it its specific name of “circularis“.
S. circularis in its unusual appearance and coloration, bridges the gap between the mandarins and the scooters. It comes in two colour forms, and has been known to spawn regularly with S. splendidus, although it is unknown whether or not the product is viable.
In the trade, S. circularis is exceedingly rare and only shows up very sporadically and intermittently. They are most often seen only as by catch, showing up as accidental “impurities” amongst regular scooter blennies or mandarin fish. Even so, they appear only singly where they almost always go unnoticed and slip through the cracks in the supply chain.
Earlier last week when we were in Bali, we took a quick look at the fish facility of Bali Aquarium and were surprised to find this little female specimen hiding amongst an assortment of other species. Although primarily dealing with cultured corals, and beautiful ones at that, Bali Aquarium has branched out to include dealings with fish. We’ve seen some nice promising stuff going on, with appearances of Terelabrus, Odontanthias and other deeper water species. This rare dragonet find puts Bali Aquarium on the shortlist of suppliers to watch, and we’ll be sure to see some more surprises in the future.