After the loss of the Pintail wrasse the tank looked empty of movement, I still had 5 fish but most of the time Rei the Yellow wrasse is the only one that's really visible. The Possum and pink-streak wrasse flit in and out of the rock work, the tiny Nudus goby lives in a burrow and the Rainford's goby markings are so subtle that it kind of blends in with its surroundings.
So what to add? I have a rather long wish list of fish that I'd like to keep but as I ran through it most of them were not a good fit. Grows too big, not compatible with current occupants, may eat corals, may eat shrimp, difficult to feed etc... In the end I kept coming back to the same two choices, a Spotted Mandarin (I love these fish!) and/or a firefish. The main issues with these were could I keep a Mandarin well fed in the long term and did I have enough hiding spots for the firefish to feel secure? I decided to go all in for a Mandarin, I have kept a male/female pair of Spotted Mandarinfish before now but my previous tanks were a lot bigger, if I was going to make it work in this tank some extra preparation was going to be needed especially since I have other pod hunting fish already in residence.
Firstly I set up a culture of Tigriopus sp. copepods in the kitchen, this soon became two cultures a back up in case either one crashed. Then, as I read around some more, I started to wonder if the Tigriopus pods would be sufficient. It seems that Tisbe sp. copepods are the recommended snack of choice for Mandarins. Well if that's the case then I needed a culture of those too. Unfortunately although these pods are readily available to buy in the USA they are absolutely not it the UK. I couldn't find a single current supplier of those pods in the UK or in Europe for that matter. So after considering long and hard I decided to throw caution to the wind and order from Algaebarn in the US. The order was placed on a Friday and the pods dispatched the following Monday. They were due to be delivered Wednesday but due to import paperwork 'stuff' they were held up in customs. Finally the package was cleared and they were delivered one day late on the Thursday (so 4 days in transit in all). To my very great relief the pods were alive and active. They had been packed well with an icepack and a cosy looking sleeping bag to protect them.
Once I had both species of copepods on the go I started to search for the perfect fish. I have seen many Mandarins in the shops during my travels in various states of health and they rarely look fat. Over a period of about a month I visited four different shops, the first three didn't have S. picturatus in stock (plenty of S. spendidus and scooter bennies) but the last one had a single Spotted Mandarin specimen. Sadly it was in the worst possible condition ever sat alone in a tiny acrylic box with no rocks or sand, it was just skin and bones poor thing. That shop should really be ashamed of itself, it was my first visit to there and I will certainly never be going back. Feeling disheartened I turned to online stores and discovered one supplier had Spotted Mandarins in stock AND had some Helfrich's firefish in too. The filefish were on offer, I think these fish are gorgeous and I couldn't resist. An order for one Spotted Mandarin, Synchiropus picturatus, one Helfrich's firefish, Nemateleotris helfrichi (and a couple of snails for good measure) was placed with Masterfisch.
The fish and snails arrived on time and looked great, they had been packed well. Phew! The Mandarin was a good weight, a male I think, he still needed a bit of fattening up but was not over thin either. After careful acclimation I nervously introduced the new stock with the lights out. My number one worry at this stage was how the Yellow wrasse would react, by switching off the lights it makes him vanish into the sand for a while hopefully giving the new guys a bit of breathing space to find their bearings. The Mandarin simply sank to the sand and, surprisingly, the firefish stayed out swimming around the front of the tank. For the entire time the lights were off the Mandarin did not move once. Once the lights were switched back on again he sprung to life and began exploring his new home. When Rei the Yellow wrasse emerged from the sand, to my very great relief, he totally ignored both new fish. I worried that the firefish would be scared and take to the rocks but it did not. So far so good!
For the next few days the Mandarin scoured the tank for copepods and it's easy to see how a small tank can be depleted of food in a very short time. On day 3 to my delight he began eating frozen food, yay! The bigger worry at this point was the firefish he would take in food and spit it out again, however he absolutely devoured the live Tigger pods so I began adding them every day more for him than the Mandarin. It soon became clear that my pod production was never going to cope with being harvested so frequently. I had read how successful outdoor cultures of copepods can be with very little effort so I went about setting up two outside (now there are 3!). The other fishy occupants were loving the live copepod feeds too most particularly the Possum and Pink-streaked wrasse. so much so I wish I'd started feeding them before.
It's been 6 weeks now since the new fish were introduced and both have settled in a treat. The Mandarin , called Kandinsky, has put on weight and now eats practically everything you put in front of him. Gamma mysis, PE mysis, lobster eggs, brine shrimp, calanus, he's not so keen on fish eggs or pellet but he has 'tested' them out. With perseverance he may come to relish those too. I did start out with a feeding station that I built out of acrylic. It had holes either end for entry/exit with a feeding tube in the top for ease of access but to be honest it wasn't terribly successful. Kandinsky loved it but so did the hermit crabs and Nassarius snails. I would often find a member of the CUC upside-down inside the feeder and they didn't seem to be able to right themselves on their own so I gave up. I feed him direct with a pipette and leave the Nanostream pumps off whilst he takes in his fill. I did also hatch some baby brine on one occasion when the pop cultures were low but it didn't elicit such an enthusistic response so I didn't culture any more. I may try again in the future if needed. Spike, the Helfrich's firefish adores the live copepods and lobster eggs, he also eats mysis, brine shrimp etc. Interestingly he did eat small pellets for a while when he wasn't so keen on the frozen food but seems to have gone off them now.
For the first 4 weeks I added live pods almost every day. Tigriopus during the daytime (6 days/week) and Tisbe pods at night (1 addition/week). I could not sustain this level of feeding beyond that (I supplemented with bags of pods from the LFS a few times as it was) and have reduced it to 3 or 4 doses of Tigger pods and one of Tisbe now. The Tisbe pod culture is doing well but harvesting is somewhat challenging, lol. They are so small, I know there are plenty jigging about in the culture tank but after harvesting it looks like I've caught nothing in the net. I've been pouring the 'dust', down a tube directly onto the sand to give them the best chance of survival (before the Mandarin finds them, lol). I do worry that by adding them at night when the sun corals are fully extended a lot might be captured and consumed whilst the Mandarin is snoozing. Talking of which I never realised it before but Kandinsky sleeps right out on the sand at night. He flicks a few grains over his body and just lies there right out in the open. Do all dragonettes sleep like this I wonder?
It's been almost 8 weeks since introduction, fingers crossed that Kandinsky and Spike continue to do well.
Hi, my name is Lisa and I live in Derby, UK. I am a self-confessed reefaholic!