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The dance of the mandarinfish


A twilight dive is the perfect time to witness one of the most fascinating events in the marine world, the mesmerising courtship dance of the mandarin fish.



The mandarin fish, named after the robes of an Imperial Chinese Officer, with its bright and bizarre patterns of blue, green, purple, yellow and orange, is by far one of the most beautiful and interesting fish in the ocean. What makes them interesting is not only their patterns of psychedelic hues, but also their lack of scales, hover-like swimming style and their nocturnal mating rituals.

Mandarinfish are shy and reclusive during the day, preferring to live in protected, shallow in shore reefs under coral beds and rubble. They are usually found in pairs or groups in tranquil lagoons throughout the Western Pacific and in the Coral Triangle of biodiversity, which includes Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Indonesia and Australia.

Just before sunset these magnificent fish come out from hiding to engage in a mesmerising mating ritual. Groups of 3 to 5 females make their way to a particular region of the reef and wait for males to visit and display their courtship behaviour, in the hopes of attracting a female. Once the female has chosen her mate the two of them will come together, resting their pelvic fins together. After having aligned themselves the mating ritual begins as the two of them rise, side by side, approximately 1m above the reef, releasing sperm and eggs into the water. After having successfully completed the mating ritual they will separate abruptly while their eggs float away along with the current, taking approximately a day to hatch into 1mm long larvae.

Witnessing the psychedelic mating ritual of the mandarinfish requires a little patience, timing and luck yet if you’re fortunate enough to see this mesmerising courtship dance you will not be disappointed.

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