Mandarin Goby Care

The mandarin goby is a small, colorful fish that is popular for its unusual look and vibrancy. They are carnivores that feed on tiny crustaceans that live on rocks and sand.

Mandarin gobies are also known as dragonets and are an aquarium enthusiast’s dream.

But they can be tricky fish to take care of.

Mandarin gobies can have a hard-to-please appetite. They need specific living conditions and thrive around established coral reefs. Ideally, you need to recreate a habitat as close to their natural habitat as possible.

The following is a detailed guide to taking care of a mandarin goby and ensuring you give it a happy, long life in your fish tank.

mandarin goby photo


Mandarin gobies are by no means easy fish to take care of. Many fish tank owners may be attracted to their colorful exterior and want to have these beauties in their aquarium.

But the truth is, these fish require a lot of care and many factors need to align together in perfect symmetry for these fish to be happy and healthy. The first main factor is their living condition.

The following things are what you will need to care for when bringing a mandarin goby home:

Tank Size

These fish are best kept in reef-type tanks where they have ample space and cool corners to hide. The tank should be appropriately large – mandarin gobies like to have some space to swim around and feel the openness.

Depending on the specific species, the minimum size of the aquarium should be at least 30 gallons. An average adult mandarin goby can grow up to four inches (again, depending upon the species), so make sure there is ample space for all the gobies you put in your fish tank.

Remember that if your mandarin gobies are sharing their tank with other animals, these otherwise docile creatures may become territorial due to lack of space.

Water Temperature

The water temperature of the tank should be anywhere between 72° and 82° Fahrenheit (22-25’C).

It is important to maintain this temperature and check the filter and temperature daily to catch and fix any aberrations beforehand.

This is a flexible range so it should not be very hard to maintain this temperature. But anywhere outside this range can be detrimental to the health of your fish.

Water Composition

The water composition is as important as the water temperature. The composition entails taking care of the salinity and pH level of the water. The ideal water composition should be the following:

  • Salinity: 1.023-1.025
  • pH Level: 7.9-8.4
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Before you introduce your mandarin gobies into a larger fish tank with other fish, you will need to give them some time to adjust. Even healthy gobies need to be quarantined so that they can have the best integration experience after. To quarantine the fish:

  • Do not use a tank smaller than 20 gallons.
  • The water temperature and the water composition should be the same as that of the main tank.
  • Add a sizable chunk of established coral from the main tank to the quarantine tank.
  • Ensure your goby is getting ample food as gobies, though picky about food, are big eaters.
  • Most importantly, plan your quarantine in advance so you are not pressed for time later. The quarantine tank should ideally just be a smaller replica of the main tank, imitating the same conditions, only in a different environment.

If you are looking to pair mandarin gobies, be careful about the pair you choose. Gobies can be quite territorial towards their own species.

So while in a larger tank, two same-sex gobies may get along nicely, but it is still a risk you may have to take. Combinations of male and female gobies may work better for both small and large tanks.

Gobies are quiet but sociable fish that can potentially get along with all your tank inhabitants, provided you pair and integrate them strategically.


Once the quarantine period is over, integrating the gobies is the next big step. You have to do this slowly and carefully to avoid shocking your goby. While these fish are generally docile, they are not big fans of new faces. So they need to warm up to the new presence in their tank.

When integrating gobies, begin by filling one chosen side of the tank with food pods. Place the goby on top of these pods, away from the other inhabitants of the fish tank. The goby will be comfortable when there is ample food and a place to hide.

Gradually, they will feel more confident about exploring the tank and interacting with the other inhabitants in a peaceful and friendly manner.

Feeding Mandarin Gobies

mandarin goby photomandarin goby photo

As mentioned before, mandarin gobies like to eat. A healthy diet for mandarin gobies include copepods, a type of small crustacean. Mandarin gobies can often also be encouraged to eat pellets and frozen brine shrimp.

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The key thing to remember is that gobies like to eat constantly. So ensure there is an endless supply of food. This can be tricky to maintain and can be expensive. The following is a pattern you can try:

Live Copepods

Live copepods are living crustaceans similar to what is available in their natural habitat. Your gobies will love an ample supply of live copepods. You can grow them in a refugium. If you do not have a refugium you can always buy these at a local pet or fish supply store. In fact, by buying it at a store you can ensure that the pods are live, active and in good density.

While copepods are the main source of nutrition for mandarin gobies, after a point the fish will consume all the copepods and will slowly start starving. So the fish tank requires a healthy supply of other elements that will keep the population of copepods thriving. Which brings us to the next section — phytoplankton.


You should also supplement your tank with a healthy dose of phytoplankton. Dosing your fish tank and live reef with phytoplankton means you can help keep the natural population of food in the fish tank thriving.

Gradually, your live rocks will be able to support copepod colonies by themselves, reducing the need to feed as regularly. You will still need to add copepods to the tank but only to supplement the natural copepods being produced by the live rocks.

Other Supplements

While some might say mandarin goby fish will outright reject frozen food and other supplements, a varied diet is actually quite an effective way to keep your goby happy. You can use supplements liberally in your fish’s diet.

While they are carnivores, they can still be open to a wide variety of items in their diet. So while captive mandarin gobies may enjoy live copepods the most, they can and will relish other supplements too.

To strike a healthy balance, you can try small worms, baby snails, etc. This boost in nutrition will keep them healthy and vibrant.

While they are called supplemental, these foods can actually be used quite regularly and in any amount. Do not worry about overdoing it; mandarin gobies are good eaters and will graze throughout the day.

Signs of Healthy Mandarin Gobies

A healthy mandarin goby likes to explore the space it is in, going from rock to rock in search of food. They are generally docile but friendly fish, though they also like their own space. So ample hiding spots in the fish tank are a must.

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If you don’t see your goby for days because it is lurking in a hiding spot, do not worry. This behavior is characteristic of a healthy goby.

Healthy male mandarin gobies have an elongated first dorsal spine and displays brighter colors than their female counterparts. Both male and female gobies may release a toxic mucus to avoid predators.

Healthy mandarin gobies also have clear eyes and a healthy appetite. Their fins will be intact and undamaged. The first sign of any damage to the fin and you should consider that a red flag.

Warning Signs

There are many other red flags you should look out for. The first sign of anything untoward or any disease, you should quarantine the fish and treat them separately, before the infection or disease is passed on to the other inhabitants of the fish tank. The following are some warning signs you should be mindful of:

  • Discoloration on the fins or on the body
  • Loss of appetite
  • Spots or signs of fungus on the body or on the goby’s mouth
  • The goby swimming erratically
  • Signs of listlessness or fatigue (healthy gobies are very active fish)
  • Loss in weight
  • Cloudy eyes
  • Damaged fins

Common Health Issues

There are some common health issues mandarin gobies may experience. But if you maintain the hygiene of the tank, these health issues can be avoided. These common health issues are:

  • Fin Rot: Fin rot can be caught when you start to notice the fins are disintegrating or getting frayed. The base of the fin may start turning into a deep red color. The way to treat this is to improve the quality of the water. You should also consult an aquatic veterinarian to seek the right kind of treatment.
  • Marine Ich: When cysts start appearing on the fin, gills and the scales of the fish, there’s a good chance it is a case of marine ich. The goby’s breathing may be more troubled and you may also start noticing mucus on the skin or a paleness.

Final Thoughts

What has been described above is a basic guide to mandarin gobies. While some details may differ depending on the species of goby you get, the basic requirements remain the same. A healthy goby is a happy goby!

Photo by David Robb

Photo by David Robb

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