It’s just before the sun disappears and most of us divers feel like having a beer, when the actual magic on the reef happens. Mating Mandarin Fish are something all divers should experience at least once during their stay in Lembeh. It’s when one of the most beautiful and stunning fish appears briefly to mate around sunset time in order to avoid any bright light.
This turns out to be an issue if you’re photographer of course because pictures are best taken when there is a lot of light. Luckily there is a few tricks which can be applied and the fact that the “Lembeh Mandarin Fish” are not shy at all really helps!
So what’s so special about this fish and what makes it such a popular photography subject? For one, the bright and many colors with varying wavy lines make this little tropical fish a true beauty. The psychedelic colors and extreme coloration gave the Mandarin Fish its name: it resembles the robes of an Imperial Chinese Officer – a Mandarin.
Secondly, Mating Mandarin Fish and their ritual is amazing to watch. Just before sunset, a couple of females will gather around the bigger males and once successful with its courtship behavior, the female will then rest on the male’s pelvic fin. Together and belly to belly, they will rise up in the water column and release sperm and eggs about a meter above the reef before quickly disappearing again in the coral.
It takes about a day for the fertilized eggs to hatch, exposed to the currents without any parental care. After 2 weeks the larvae state fish or plankton will then settle on the reef in their habitat which is mostly staghorn coral or smaller rocks in the shallows.
We are lucky to have an extremely popular Mandarin Fish site here in Lembeh where we can see mating Mandarin Fish on a regular basis. Dive resorts follow a schedule and rotate through the week to not overcrowd the site and a maximum of 6 divers per boat are allowed. So hopefully we’ll be able to keep this unique spot for some more time and everybody can enjoy the mating Mandarin Fish!