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Choosing a Dragonet

The small dragonet fish is a member of the perciform order, the same order that includes the aggressive barracuda. But don’t look for a brazen attitude in this fish – it is famous for burying itself in sand when nervous or agitated.

The dragonet is part of the family Callionymidae, and they inhabit the bottom of reef areas, sea grass beds and other rich coastal environments. Their natural habitat includes the waters around the Pacific and Indian oceans. The best-known member of this family in the aquarium trade is the mandarinfish.

Reaching just 5 to 6 inches, dragonets are as finicky and slow as they are shy when it comes to food. In an aquarium, you should make sure another fish doesn’t bully them out of their meal, particularly if they are the new fish on the block.

Although not aggressive with other species, they do not tolerate one another well, especially when they are both male. With other fish, they generally mind their own business, and they do well with other timid fish.
They are good for reef tanks, especially if fed well. They generally leave your invertebrates alone, although there have been reports of them being eaten by large anemones, captured when they swam too close. They prefer a reef-rubble-like environment with abundant live rocks and sand.

Feeding and Special Care

Feed them live brines, mysids, tubifex worms, or copepods. They may also eat frozen meaty foods if some attempt is made to train them, but because they are such finicky eaters, they should be fed live foods.

These little creatures are known to bury themselves in the sand when frightened or startled, so be sure to provide an area with sand deep enough to accommodate this behavior.

All dragonets are highly sensitive fish and require care from someone who has had a little experience in keeping less hardy fish. They do very well in small reef-tanks as they can roam about the crevices and hunt for small crustaceans.

They are generally happy under any decent water quality circumstances but run into problems when they are kept with other very aggressive or nosey fish. Being timid, dragonets will withdraw and succumb to disease or other malnutrition-related problems.


The most popular sold are the common mandarinfish (Synchiropus splendidus) and the spotted mandarinfish (Synchiropus picturatus). These species usually have various shades of striking orange and green with bands edged in deep black, and blue markings on the fins. These fish are endemic to areas in the world where the coral reefs are suffering under pressures such as pollution, over fishing and poor fishing practices. For this reason, there is some concern as to their survival.