Mandarin Dragonet

I’ll be honest with you. A large part of the reason I purchased this entire tank setup off Craigslist was that the tank had a Mandarin Dragonet in it. I knew what I was getting myself into with this fish and that the previous owner had no business having it in the tank. I think he was new to the hobby and figured if he had a running nano tank for a year that he would have a pod population that could sustain a Mandarin, but that is just not the case. From my research, it would be challenging to maintain a pod population in a nano tank this size even with a makeshift refugium. So, let’s start talking about this fish and my strategy for keeping it happy and healthy long term


The Mandarin Dragonet is not a fish that a beginner should start with. Honestly, I had no business getting this fish with my level of experience, but I figured short term I could throw money at the problem and I was willing to do that. Wild-caught Mandarin (like mine) are grazers and hunters of small copepods. They are also not aggressive eaters, so if you have other fish in your tank they will not under any circumstances compete for food. This is why I told myself I would not buy any other fish for this tank and I am glad I made that deal with myself and stuck to it. It’s honestly hard enough getting my Mandarin to try new foods with a pig of a clownfish in the tank with him. My clownfish eats everything in sight, but I can sneak food to my Mandarin easy enough because he is the only other fish in the tank, but it still is challenging some days. This is another reason I don’t have any shrimp in my tank. I’m very concerned that even shrimp would out complete the Mandarin and I need him to eat.


Throwing Money at the Problem: Alae Barn sells 5,280 copepods in a jar for $34.99. I started off by buying two jars a month just to try and keep my Mandarin alive and I was spending more than that really because I was also buying tisbe pods at my LFS at least twice a month also at around the same price. So, we are at $140.00 a month conservatively. Not something I want to maintain long term, but it’s money I was willing to spend in the short term to learn and see if I could train my Mandarin to eat frozen food. It’s impossible for me to know how many pods my Mandarin can eat in a day and how many of them are pulled out of the tank by my filtration. Even if I add them to the tank with all the pumps off to give them the best chance to find a place to hide. It’s also (I assume) dependent on the size of your Mandarin. Let’s just say my approximately 2” Mandarin can eat 500 copepods a day. In a perfect world that’s 35.28 days. 6,000 tisbe Pods plus the copepods 5,280 x2) divided by 500 a day. He could be eating more than that, and I honestly am clueless about how many are getting filtered out of the water column. Also, my clown is a pig and he will eat the Tisbe pods even if I put them in after lights out. 🙂 So, this is my triage plan to keep the Mandarin alive while I try to get him to eat frozen food. Again, I assume this is why a wild-caught Mandarin is not a beginner type fish and why you really need to do the research and understand what you are getting yourself into. I went into this with my eyes wide open, so I was ready for the challenge. I wonder, even with a captive bread Mandarin how hard it is to exclusively feed them frozen if you have other fish in the tank. I assume as passive as mine is that he would ALWAYS be outcompeted for food if I had more than just a clownfish in the tank.

Feeding Frozen/Pellet: The good news is frozen foods are not that expensive. Still, the price adds up when you are trying foods that a fish does not like and moving on. I guess the only consolation is that my clown likes everything and so I guess until these foods expire he is covered and will enjoy some variety. Below is a list of the first round of my feeding journey and lasted a few months or so. I was cycling the foods to see if he was interested in any of them.

  • Reef Nutrition TDO Pellet Food (Fail)
  • Hikari Frozen Mysis Shrimp (Fail)
  • Hikari Frozen Brine Shrimp (Success)

He showed zero interest in the pellet foods even when mixed with the frozen. It’s both comical and frustrating at the same time to watch a fish ignore food completely like it does not even exist. He also showed zero interest in the frozen Mysis shrimp. I purchased the brine shrimp knowing it’s nutritional value was low, but although at the beginning he was not eating it he was acknowledging it. He would acknowledge it was food or at least that was my observation and he would act like he was going to eat it and then lose interest. I took this as a positive sign and shifted to feeding only frozen brine shrimp full time. I was giving my clown some TDO pellet food to distract him and supplement the brine shrimp since it’s not nutrient-dense. After about a week he finally ate some brine shrimp. SUCCESS…He ate a piece of shrimp. Over the next few weeks, I was about to observe him going from eating 1-3 little frozen brine shrimp a feeding to 12-15 on a good day. It was an amazing feeling seeing him eat, but it was a bit of a hollow victory since brine shrimp is fairly poor as far as nutritional value goes.

Fish Eggs and Selcon: I first attempted adding fish eggs to the brine shrine. While my fat and happy clownfish loved it, my Mandarin could care less, but he was still eating the Brine and when I started soaking the brine in Selcon he was not deterred at all. So, another win. Brine shrimp with Selcon is better than brine shrimp without Selcon.

  • Fish Eggs (Fail)
  • Selcon (Success)

Cyclopod+ and Rotifers; I had high hopes for these foods, but as of this post he is ignoring them altogether. So, we are back to Brine Shrimp with Selcon. I’ll continue to try and cycle these foods in to see if he develops a taste for them. They are so small that when he picks at stuff on the sand I have no idea what he is eating and unfortunately, he is not eating any of them floating in the water. So, more attempts are needed to see if this is something he likes.

The journey continues. He has lasted three-plus months in this tank and seems to be thriving. His color and fins look great and he seems very active. So, I am doing something right so far… I think.

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