It begins just before sunset on what can sometimes be the gloomiest spot on the reef. However, if you have the patience, the shallow areas under the pier or in the rubble is where the magic will soon happen. Timid and cryptic during the daytime, the mandarinfish (Synchiropus splendidus) start to come out for their nightly mating ritual around dusk. It usually begins with short glimpses of color under the broken corals. The males become bolder and more focused on attracting females; you start to see more movement as they start fighting for position. The alpha male biting the cheek of another male to warn him off. Just like a peacock strutting around, mandarinfish males show off too. To attract the females the males display courtship behavior to entice the females and show them they are worthy. Competition is fierce as they erect their first dorsal fin and flash bright vivid colors of orange, yellow, blue and green.

At this point, If you’ve seen this courtship before, and you’re like me, somewhere in the back of your mind Marvin Gaye starts to sing: “So come on, come on, come on, come on baby stop beatin’ round the bush, hey let’s get it on, let’s get it on…”

Meanwhile the females are watching in the background and deciding, by some unknowable equation, which male will be the lucky one tonight. Suddenly a pair rises into the water column, comes together briefly in a quivering embrace. They’re aligned cheek-to-cheek and rise slowly above the reef. Just as suddenly, they separate, leaving behind a cloud of, well you know what the cloud is.

Images speak a thousand words…

Watch our guest’s video below, the ritual happens quite quickly, but if you are vigilant and patient, watching fish behavior can be exciting. Don’t worry about being a voyeur, if you don’t shine the torch on them too much they don’t care if you watch. After they separate, if you look up in the right hand corner you’ll see a small cloud of future mandarinfish.

As you can see, mandarinfish are easily one of the most beautiful fish in the ocean. Seeing their mating ritual live, is on every savvy diver’s bucket list.

As a liveaboard dive operator, finding a population of mandarinfish in the area where you dive is golden. Because they mate every night around sunset it is not necessary to chart the phases of the moon or the temperature of the water or any of the other factors that govern the mating schedules of marine. It’s easy…they mate every night. All you need are guides who are experienced at finding the groups of fish and who know how to manage the dive to maximize the experience.

Mandarinfish Fun Facts

  1. Mandarinfish are Poisonous.
    The mandarinfish contains two types of secretory cells in its colorful epidermis. One that produces a thick mucus coating to protect it from the elements, and another that produces a toxin to protect it from predators. And not only is this toxic mucus coating dangerous, particularly if it makes it into a predator’s open wound…
  2. They Smell Bad.
    “Every scientist and book [who] talks about the mandarinfish makes mention of its strong, unpleasant smell,” says Esther Inglis-Arkell at io9. That stink is not incidental. The mandarinfish needs the smell, and the spines, because it lacks one of the most basic protective measures in the marine world.
  3. No Scales.
    Mandarinfish don’t have scales like other fish.
  4. True Blue.
    They create their own pigment. The mandarinfish is one of just two confirmed species in the world that can produce its own blue coloring, unlike other fish that use optical illusions to reflect color.
  5. Has Two Sets of Jaws.
    In the throat of mandarins is a second set of jaws (pharyngeal jaws). It is used to crush and masticate hard-shelled prey, such as the shells of snails and small hermit crabs. These pharyngeal jaws are connected to robust muscles that widen the breadth of the diet of these fish.
  6. Females release up to 200 eggs.
  7. Ejaculates in hopes of offspring.
    Some males left out of the mating, will dart up into the water column and release sperm in hopes they will randomly fertilize the females eggs.
  8. Mandarinfish can live up to 10-15 years.
  9. Males can mate with up to 3 females per night.

We are fortunate to have a good mandarin site on most of our itineraries. On a recent trip, guests watched repeated mating events between different pairs. Remember it’s important to have guides who know where, when and how these magical little fish behave. Click here for more information on Komodo and it’s world famous destinations.

Special thanks to Christian Bersier. Without his x rated fish porn video, we wouldn’t have been able to bring it to you live!