Question – Can You Get Me Mandarins?

Female Synchiropus splendidus like this can be hard to find, and are not generally in good exceptional condition (like this one here) when fresh through the chain of custody.

Question: Hi Matt. At some point I’d like to get a pair of both green and target mandarins for my macroalgae aquarium, is that something you can make happen?

Answer: Absolutely that’s something I can get. Whether I *should* be the one to get them for you or not is another story.

The first question would be “how conditioned do you want them?”. As you know I literally wrote the how-to when it comes to training Mandarins to eat prepared foods. (see Rethinking Dragonets, http://www.reef2rainforest.com/2011/11/01/coral-magazine-table-of-contents-novdec-2011/ ) That’s a process that can take months of effort, and up here in Duluth would also require me to personally produce adult brine shrimp (or order it in, in bulk). I could certainly do this for you, but the cost would be commensurate to the amount of resources I have to put into it.

Rethinking Dragonets outlines my training protocol for weaning wild caught mandarinfish onto prepared aquarium diets. You can read it as a CORAL Magazine Subscriber via the digital archives, or buy the back issue online.
Rethinking Dragonets outlines my training protocol for weaning wild caught mandarinfish onto prepared aquarium diets. You can read it as a CORAL Magazine subscriber via the digital archives, or buy the back issue online.

Of course, a fully conditioned, trained onto prepared foods, that’s the kind of mandarin I’d really want to be selling, but as you might be able to pick up on, financially it would be prohibitive for me to do it since I’m not set up for doing it routinely (I have thought about making this a staple item that I just regularly create and provide, which would make it a more affordable product, but it’s not part of the current business model).

Therefore, in reality the best mandarins I can probably personal offer would honestly be simply flipping fish, basically just ensuring that you get non-emaciated specimens straight through the chain of custody as fast as I can so that you get the best fish to start working with. This counters the typical wisdom, but it is how we get things like Harlequin Filefish or Moorish Idols settled into captivity…the faster they get from the ocean to their final destination, the better…either that or they go through a big stop somewhere along the way to get fully conditioned (which is why a Sustainable Islands Moorish Idol from Sustainable Aquatics would retail to you for about $150).

Overall, the retail prices on wild Mandarins (Synchiropus splendidus) would run anywhere from about $25 to $45 per fish, largely dependent on size; Spotted Mandarins (S. picturatus), based on my options for getting them, would be more at around $30 to $50 a shot. Spotteds aren’t currently as accessible to me as the greens at the moment.

I’ll be frank – while I can get you these fish, any LFS in town can probably do the same for you, and it might, maybe, cost you less. All you’d really want them to do is order the fish in and you get them straight away, in the bag, without hitting their tanks. They are going to have no better or worse luck than me when it comes to getting the sexes correct, as that ultimately resides with the wholesaler (unless they’re going to the wholesaler to personally pick fish…me…I can’t do that ordinarily).

Female <em>Synchiropus splendidus</em> like this can be hard to find, and are not generally in good exceptional condition (like this one here) when fresh through the chain of custody. Conditioning this spawning-ready female took months of meticulous husbandry.
Female Synchiropus splendidus like this can be hard to find, and are not generally in good exceptional condition (like this one here) when fresh through the chain of custody. Conditioning this spawning-ready female took months of meticulous husbandry.

So ultimately it’s your call – I’ll gladly take your business if you really prefer to support me over your favorite local LFS, but in this case, I think your favorite LFS can do just as good a job, if not maybe even better than getting them through me, online, shipped (technically if you order the fish in and pick them up on arrival day, it’s one less stop, one less trip, for the fish.). You’re best off having the fish go through as few hands as possible before getting to you, and then investing in a solid QT system (if you don’t have one) where you can train your new arrivals, and making sure you’ve located a good source of live adult brine shrimp for the training process.

Follow-up Question: If you were to jump through the hoops, could you give me a ballpark of what you would charge for the four fish in theory, trained onto prepared foods? If there is a certain type of fish that needs efforts to produce captive bred ones, I’d say mandarins are close to the top. My personal thoughts of course.

Answer:  So..this response is more a thought exercise than anything else. But you asked a provocative question, so here’s a provocative answer.

This is a total ballpark – $1000. Basically $250 a head. Here’s the thinking.

  1. I have to get the fish, but not every fish is going to make it, in theory. So right off the top, I’m doubling the number of fish I have to buy.
  2. I’m also going to have to work hard to get both males and females…my vendors should be able to do so, but mistakes happen.
  3. I may literally have to go hand pick these in the Cities (Minneapolis / St. Paul) if I want to do it right. There goes a day of my time just to get the fish if I have to go that route, unless I tie it into a trip to the Cities for some other reason.
  4. I have to either set up adult brine shrimp culture, or I have to find a line on a steady supply of adult brine delivered to my door. This is a major investment in either direction.
  5. I have to set up and maintain a dedicated system for the project of training 8 fish, presuming 4 make it and I can actually cash out. This means the system isn’t available to me for other projects or for holding any other fish. To give some perspective, that same amount of space can house maybe 50 clownfish, and depending on the types…well…it could represent thousands of dollars in income (in theory). Or I have it tied up with 8 segregated mandarins that aren’t going to sell for a few months.

So again…that’s a total crazy off the cuff ballpark. Frankly, even at $1000, I’m not sure I could really justify doing it! Perhaps that hits home just how important your role as the actual hobbyist is when it comes to accomplishing these types of projects. When I trained my mandarins, they were literally “by my sides”, a labor of love. To do it as a business, pragmatically, it couldn’t be a one-off thing to be financially viable, it would instead have to be something I fully commit to as a part of my business model. The fact that a place like LiveAquaria doens’t even offer trained mandarins speaks to the amount of time that really goes into producing them.

A well-conditioned breeding male Green Mandarin, Synchiropus splendidus. I got into Mandarins under the rumor that they were useful in controlling "Red Planaria" in marine tanks. Never saw them eat those, but it did set me down a path of truly revisiting how these fish should be cared for in captivity.
A well-conditioned breeding male Green Mandarin, Synchiropus splendidus. I got into Mandarins under the rumor that they were useful in controlling “Red Planaria” in marine tanks. Never saw them eat those, but it did set me down a path of truly revisiting how these fish should be cared for in captivity.

But of course, that also begs the question – can I really even do it when the fish are in the basement? It may sound crazy, but most days I’m down there once. On a good day twice. A project like this? Suddenly I don’t have the option, I must be down there 3-4 times a day. This is why I stopped working with Oxymonacanthus. I found once I had kids I wasn’t able to really devote the time and attention needed. The fish didn’t thrive without the 5-6 time per day feedings. Now, some said “well, you could have used an auto feeder” and they would’ve been right…once the fish were trained onto prepared foods (specifically pellets). But getting them trained? That’s a long way off.

So while I throw out all these numbers, what I really think that points to is that those $75-$100 captive-bred Mandarins from ORA…those were actually a steal. It’s a shame poeple didn’t realize that when they were available.

What do you think about that response?

Matt Pedersen

<p>Matt Pedersen is the founder of www.MiniWaters.fish, and has been an aquarist for 34 years. He was the 2009 MASNA Aquarist of the Year, and is a Sr. Editor for CORAL and AMAZONAS Magazines. He is a co-author of the book “Banggai Cardinalfish”, and is an accomplished marine fish breeder, with notable successes including his work with the Lightning Maroon Clownfish and being the only person in the world to have spawned and reared the Halrequin or Orange Spotted Filefish, Oxymonacanthus longirostris.</p>

One thought on “Question – Can You Get Me Mandarins?

  1. Beau says:

    Matt

    Thanks for the perspective. Just as an FYI if it takes you 3 months to train the fish and you are spending 1 hour per day caring for them you are just paying yourself $11/hour and that doesn’t include goods costs?

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