In imperial China, there were civil officials known as mandarins who wore distinctive and colorful robes. The mandarinfish (Synchiropus splendidus) gets its name from its distinctive and splendid coloration.

Mandarinfish live in the warm waters of reefs and lagoons from southern Japan to Australia. They are bottom-feeders equipped with special pelvic fins for “walking” on the bottom. Instead of scales, mandarin fish are covered with a layer of smelly and bitter slime to discourage predators and also to prevent diseases. Because of their beauty, mandarinfish are popular in the aquarium trade, but they are difficult to keep. They prefer their usual diet of small, live crustaceans as opposed to aquarium food.

The mandarinfish is one of only two vertebrates that display a blue color from skin pigments. (The other is the closely related psychedelic mandarin, Sychiropus picturatus.) In birds with blue feathers, their color is not from pigments but structural color created by light interference patterns. Structural color is also used by some butterflies and even plants. These fish have blue chromatophores–cells that contain blue pigments. They also have orange swirls and a blue-green face and red eyes. In some variations within the same species, the orange is replaced with red.

You can’t look at this fish without thinking that a creative artist has been at work. We believe that the original Creative Artist designed the mandarinfish.
© Roland Earnst

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