Sea-burbia: A dance at dusk, mating mandarinfish at Mabul.

Sea-burbia: A dance at dusk, mating mandarinfish at Mabul.

As the sun dips over the horizon, spilling a dim glow over the waters of Mabul, it sets the scene for romance as Mandarin Fishes come out looking for love. Or more correctly, lust.

Shy and reclusive creatures, these tiny fishes that measure up to only 6 cm are hard to spot. They dart away from light and sudden movements, preferring to stay within the shelter of shallow reef and rubble beds.

At dusk, the ladies come out! Groups of three to five females gathered at their usual spot along the reef, waiting for males to come their way. The males, familiar to these females pick up spots know where to find them. Once there, they display courtship behavior, hoping to attract females.

Size may not matter to us, but it does to them! Female mandarin fishes prefer larger and stronger males, hence the bigger ones get the first draft for the night.

To spawn, a female joins the male, resting on his pelvic fin, and the pair rises slowly above the coral reef about 1 meter up. A beautiful and delicate sight, as they work towards their climax. At the peak of their rise, a cloud of eggs and sperm is released and the mandarin fishes disappear in a flash.

Males continue to roam the night, mating with several females throughout one evening, going on a sperming spree.

A fish you would imagine while on an acid trip, the mandarinfish is a psychedelic dream made real in the reef. Bold neon blue is the background for an assemble of swiggles, waves and dots of purple, green and orange. A mix match of pattern and colours that evoking images of silk and the striking colours of robes worn by the Imperial Chinese Officers ( aka Mandarin) seen here on the right. Which is how it got its name.

The vivid colours and pattern that adorns its smooth and scale-less body makes it one of the most beautiful reef fish native to the pacific.

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