Mandarin dragonets are known for being finicky eaters. In the wild, mandarins primarily eat tiny crustaceans called copepods. In order to successfully keep them in a home aquarium, it’s long been thought they need to be kept in a large aquarium so they never deplete the copepod population. In more recent years, there have been successful reports of training mandarins to eat frozen food or even pellets. In this article, I will go over multiple methods of training a mandarin to eat pellets. It can be a challenging process, and it may not necessarily work for every mandarin; however I think this could be a solution for someone who is struggling with getting their mandarin to eat anything other than pods.
Disclosure: A mandarin fish can be difficult to keep and is not considered a beginner fish. Pellet training does not happen overnight, and may never happen with your fish. Also, it should be noted that although many people call them mandarin gobies, they are actually in the dragonet family and not related to gobies.
The other thing to note, is that sadly some mandarins come into the fish stores already super skinny and would be difficult to revive. Some of the reasons are the way they were caught from the wild, or the length of time they were in transport. I would recommend making sure it’s a healthy looking mandarin before bringing it home. Ideally you can find a captive bred mandarin. While they come with a higher price tag, they generally already eat prepared foods, and are typically healthier. The little guy to the left was a captive bred mandarin I saw at a local fish store.
This method that I came up with is the one that I’ve had the most success with. Using this method, I was able to get a mandarin to eat pellets in around 1 month. This I did with a female mandarin, which have been known for being easier to train on pellets than males.
- I kept her in a separate small aquarium (2.5 gallon) where she was the only inhabitant. This was not her permanent home, which is why I was ok with it being so small.
- Once I got her in the aquarium, I started by feeding her live brine shrimp. She was very skittish at first and hid as soon as she saw me.
- I had her tank at my desk where I work so she would have the chance to get used to me and not be so nervous every time she saw me.
- When I fed her the live brine shrimp I would feed them out of an eye dropper. After a week or two, she became used to the eye dropper and recognized it as where food came from.
- I got her to regularly eat live brine shrimp directly out of the eye dropper. This took a lot of patience and you have to slowly squeeze the water out of the eye dropper to make it so the brine shrimp come out slowly. This allows the mandarin to catch them right away. Once she started pecking at the eye dropper I knew I could try switching the food.
- Now that she was readily pecking at the eye dropper trying to get the brine shrimp before I even squirted them out, I tried other foods. She didn’t like frozen brine shrimp, but she did eat frozen bloodworms right out of the eye dropper. I decided to try pellets, but the problem was they kept falling out of the eye dropper when I would put them in the tank before she had a chance to peck at them.
- So I took an eye dropper and cut a small slit into it wide enough to fit a pellet and hold it in place underwater. When I went close to her with the eye dropper and BAM! she ate the pellet right off the eye dropper. I since improved the eye dropper by cutting more of it off and melting it to bend the tip into a 90ish degree angle. It’s not the prettiest thing, but it works. This made it more of an eye dropper scoop than a normal eye dropper.
I have tried this method, but never had much success with it. I still wanted to include it here, because I do know that others have had success. Since I wanted to provide the best chance for you to pellet train your mandarin, I wanted to include any possible ways.
- Before you get your mandarin fish, you’ll need a Fish Net Breeder. It’s essentially a box with fine net, you can get it at many local pet stores.
- Also, make sure you have access to live brine shrimp before you begin pellet training, and I would also recommend picking up a bottle of Selcon. Selcon is a vitamin supplement for fish.
- Assuming the tank is set up and is a stable environment, place the net in the tank making sure it stays at the top and will separate the mandarin fish from the display tank.
- Before the mandarin will eat pellets you need to get him eating something other than pods, and an easy switch is the live brine shrimp. Brine shrimp on there own aren’t super nutritious, which is why I would recommend enriching them with Selcon. To do this have the brine shrimp in a separate container and add a few drops of Selcon. Leave them for about an hour and you’ll notice the water go from cloudy to, less cloudy. This means the brine shrimp have eaten the Selcon which now makes them very nutritious when the mandarin eats them. You could actually feed your mandarin enriched brine shrimp if you are unable to get him onto frozen or pellets and he would live a happy and healthy life, it just becomes expensive and can be a pain to feed.
- Once the mandarin fish is eating the live brine shrimp, should take minimal effort on your part, you can begin slowly introducing frozen brine shrimp. The key to tricking your mandarin is leaving the water pumps on while feeding him in the net, this way the live brine shrimp and pushed up against the net, along with the frozen ones. I would recommend soaking the frozen in Selcon as well to give them a similar taste.
- When your mandarin fish begins eating frozen brine shrimp you will want to wean him off the live brine shrimp until you have him eating all frozen. From there you can slowly introduce other frozen foods, like mysis shrimp. Making sure you are soaking the different foods in Selcon helps trick the fish with similar scent and taste.
- To make the switch to pellets it’s a matter of introducing something that is similar looking to pellets, and for that you can use ROE, also known as fish eggs. While these aren’t the easiest thing to come by, you can sometimes find them at an Asian Market, or you could pick up a bottle of Dr. G’s Caviar Max. Make sure to soak them in Selcon just to make scent and taste similar.
- When your mandarin is eating the ROE, the next step is introducing pellets. Soaking them in Selcon for a minute should help with tricking the mandarin. You don’t want them to get mushy. I use Formula One Pellets when feeding my mandarin. When you see your mandarin eat a pellet for the first time, it’s a great feeling.
- Once the mandarin is eating the pellets you shouldn’t have to soak the pellets in Selcon, although you can for extra nutrition or if you notice the mandarin not eating them.
If you are struggling to get your mandarin to eat frozen anything, sometimes squirting frozen food in a small clump of chaeto can trick the mandarin. This hasn’t always worked for me, but I have had mandarins eat frozen food that was in chaeto, maybe because it looks like it’s hiding within the chaeto. I’ve done this with frozen bloodworms and mysis shrimp successfully.
Once your mandarin is eating prepared foods, you can release your mandarin in your display tank. Unless you have a species only tank, you may need to find some way of feeding your mandarin the pellets without the other fish eating them first. One way of doing this is adding a glass jar with an opening big enough for the mandarins, but small enough to prevent other fish from getting in. With getting mandarins to eat new foods, sometimes you have to find ways to trick them. Once they start eating something though, they usually will continue. I hope this article helps someone out there trying to get their mandarin fish to eat prepared foods. Let me know your experiences. Do you have a different way you’ve successfully trained your dragonet to eat prepared foods?