Ok that title might be a little bit misleading. I’m actually going to present you with a species of fish known as dragonets, which include the psychedelically colored mandarinfish, so named because their vivid colors are reminiscent of the robes an Imperial Chinese ruler might wear.

Our dive guides brought us to a site called Trikora, which had a plethora of cool critters to stare at in awe. That is probably why it was one of the busier sites we visited. Most of the dive sites we hadn’t had to share with other divers, but unfortunately, this site had another group of large sand-kickers with big cameras. We kept our distance for the majority of the dive, but at the end, our guide brought us over to the same area they were in, under the jetty. We seemed to be waiting our turn to look at something. What could it possibly be?

The other group finally moved on and our guide ushered us over to a small patch of coral. There in the nooks and crannies, were the little, colorful mandarinfish, so picturesque but so difficult to photograph. Apparently they are not fans of the sun, and prefer to stick to the shadows.

This was the best photo I could manage of one of several mandarinfish. (Synchiropus splendidus

Mandarinfish have no scales, but are instead covered in tiny spines which they use to inject a toxic mucus into any potential predators. It is also said that this mucus has an incredibly foul smell. So you may want to think twice before sneakily putting that cute little guy in your pocket to take home, because instead you’ll end up with a stinky ball of mucus as a pet.

The mandarinfish is also unique because it is one of only two fish in the world that produces its own blue pigment. That’s right, all those other blue fish in the ocean are just posers. They only wish they could be blue, and instead have to rely on optical illusions and microscopic layers of colorless crystals layered in a way that reflects blue light back to the onlooker.

Mandarinfish are often mistakenly called mandarin gobies, but gobies are another family of fish entirely. The mandarinfish really belongs to the family of fish called dragonets, which are small, bottom-dwelling fish with protruding lips, the same kissy lips we use when we try to make a fish face.

This little guy we actually found in Manado, and couldn't figure out for the longest time what exactly it was. Come to find out its a relative of the pretty mandarinfish! Bartels' Dragonet? (Synchiropus bartelsi?)

Orange & Black Dragonet. The males have the longer first dorsal fins that are erected intermittently whilst darting across the bottom. (Dactylopus kuiteri)


Fletch found this little guy crawling around on the sand. I don't know how either, because he was about the size of a grain of rice. He was just darting across the sand, inhaling little granules of something too small to see, like a miniature vacuum cleaner.

 Juvenile Orange & Black Dragonet (Dactylopus kuiteri)



So there you have it. If you ever wanted to know which fish in the ocean were secretly vacuum cleaners or balls of mucus, now you know. Makes you wonder if one of them cleans up the messes that are inevitably left behind by the other one.