One of the most flamboyantly colored fishes you will see on a tropical coral reef (and there is a lot of competition for that title) is the mandarin fish. This small reef dweller lives among finger corals, where it hides deep between the safety of the coral fingers. The mandarin fish like both living and dead, algae-covered, corals. They are usually found in rather shallow water, only around 10 meters deep.
Mating every Sunset
The best time to observe mandarin fish is around sunset. Then, the males come out and cruise over the coral blocks where they hide during the day. Once they encounter a willing female, both fish rise up into the water column, and mate. The whole act only takes seconds. Sometimes nearby cardinal fish eat the fertilized eggs of the unlucky couple right away. On one occasion I have seen a group of three male mandarin fish in a “pose down”, where they spread their fins to show how big they are, most probably competing for a territory.
When you dive with us at Salaya, we can show you mandarin fish during night/dusk dives at a dive site near the Bahura resort, a short boat ride south of us.
A Splendid Dragonet
The scientific name of the mandarin fish is Synchiropus splendidus – the taxonomist who first described it (a certain Albert William Herre in 1927) thought that it was a splendid fish, and I agree! It belongs to the fish family of the dragonets.