The Beauty of Dragonets


One of the highlights of observing fish as a diver is to find a dragonet. Dragonets are small bony fishes which live between corals or in the sand and are found in tropical, sub-tropical and temperate oceans. There are 191 species of dragonet currently listed on Fishbase, including the well-known mandarin fish.

Mandarin fish, Synchiropus splendidus, hide in coral rubble and mate at night time above the corals for just a few seconds, releasing fertilized eggs into the water. Male competitors will sometimes engage in a display contest to gain mating rights; showing off their sizes via their outstretched fins.


Dragonets are small fishes, often at home in the rubble or sand.


A sand dragonet, a tiny fish, well camouflaged, hiding under the sand with only the eyes sticking out.


Mandarin fish, Malapascua island, Philippines




Male mandarin fish during a display contest, showing off their size.


This juvenile was approximately 2 cm length


Mandarin fish hiding amongst coral

The video below showcases the unusual locomotion used by some sand-living dragonets. They tend not to swim, as it uses more energy than crawling, and may prefer crawling to also reach their prey, tiny invertebrates, more easily and without being seen. They use the spines of their pectoral fins, almost like fingers, when crawling. When they swim, the pectoral fins (now transformed into crawling appendages) aren’t of much use anymore, and so they mainly use the pelvic fins for swimming.

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About Author

Klaus M. Stiefel is a fish biologist, popular science writer, underwater photographer and scuba instructor. Growing up in Vienna, Austria, he is now based in the Philippines. His main interest among the fish fauna of the coral triangle are the many gobies.

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