The mandarin goby is one of the most popular marine aquarium fish, unfortunately it is not the easiest fish to keep, and definitely not recommended for beginners. One way to make the iconic dragonet more accessible is to offer them as captive bred, which ORA has done in the past, and which Biota Aquariums is offering now.
Biota Aquariums is a mainland offshoot of Biota Palau, a company headed by Thomas Bowline who is a skilled aquaculturists, having bred everything from giant clams to threadfin snappers and bumphead parrotfish. More recently Bowline and Biota have set their sights on more ornamental species of fish which are more suitable for home aquariums, and their captive bred mandarins are the stars of their new lineup.
In a random convergence of events, we just happened to set up a new reef tank mere weeks before Biota Aquariums started shipping small ornamental fish, and while Tom Bowline was traveling in our home town on other business. Tom arranged to have a shipment sent to us so he could personally inspect the quality of the fish shipped from the Biota Aquarium facility in Florida.
The first pair of captive bred mandarin gobies from Palau came in pretty small, especially compared to the wild fish we usually see freshly imported from the wild. At about 1.25 inches long, or a hair over 3cm, the fish were still somewhat pale and hadn’t fully developed their colors yet.
After such a long trip from Palau, to Florida, to Denver Colorado, the fish had managed to lose a little bit of weight during their journey. Thankfully, these being captive bred fish it was quite easy to offer them a variety of small foods and they quickly fattened up within about two weeks.
It’s been almost two months now since the pair of mandarins have been in our tank and they are beautiful, fat little gems. You might think (or hope) that being captive bred, these fish would eat pellets and flake foods but the mandarin gobies still retain some of the their predisposition for ‘good’ foods.
We’ve been able to feed the mandarin just about every kind of small frozen meaty foods including baby brine shrimp, copepods, finely chopped mysis shrimp and calanus. The calanus is still just a touch too big for their small pointed mouths but here shortly we should be able to start trying them on more dry foods like freeze-dried Calan-Eeze, once it’s been rehydrated of course.
What is exceptional about Biota Aquariums’ captive bred mandarin gobies is that they really are very eager feeders. Whereas a wild mandarin goby might be only slightly enticed to peck at small meaty foods, these captive bred specimens really have a strong feeding urge.
Being still just a hair over 1.5 inches long now, our mandarins are still a bit shy, but they do not cower away from targeted clouds of the frozen foods we offer them. We suspect that over time these fish will actually come to associate us with the dinner bell, and will eventually come to beg for food like most normal aquarium fish.
Of course what we truly love about these little gems is how perfect they have turned out. We’ve been critical of captive bred fish for defects and lack of culling before, but it seems that captive breeding artifacts are very minor or absent in captive bred dragonets, from what we can tell so far.
We have one male and one female captive bred mandarin goby from Biota Aquariums, and while they are not even halfway to fully grown, their coloration, finnage, and the shape of their face and markings are all on track to be every bit as beautiful as what we expect from wild Synchiropus splendidus.
Sustainable harvest of mandarin gobies in the wild is definitely not a concern, but wild fish can have diseases or parasites, and most onerous of all, they will be a lifelong picky eater and may take years to eat frozen foods. Having seen, fed and grown Biota Aquariums captive bred mandarins for most of the summer, we feel that these fish will not only be easier to keep for most people, but that they will also be more robust and better thrive in a home aquarium environment.
With Biota Aquariums expected to launch their all-in-one, vertically integrated starter aquarium in the next month or so, we expect the availability of several of their captive bred marine fish species to become available to resellers as well. Having had great success with our own pair of captive bred mandarin gobies, we are very confident in recommending them to any aquarists interested in getting this fish for a tank of their own.