The scooter blenny (Synchiropus spp.) gets its name from the behavior of “scooting” around the sand on the ventral fins. Combine the activity with vibrant colors, and they’re a favorite with aquarists – at least those that can cope with the blenny’s demanding needs. Because while they’re labeled blennies, they belong to the dragonet group of fish, and that means you could find yourself scrambling to keep them fed and happy.
Table of Contents: Scooter Blenny Care
Maybe you want to jump down to figure out what that complicated feeding strategy is all about. With these handy links, you can do so. But if you’re intrigued about the scooter blenny, in general, you’ll find everything you need to know in this handy article.
- Common Names: Scooter blenny, Scooter dragonet, Ocellated dragonet, Red scooter dragonet, Red scooter blenny, Starry dragonet, Stellate dragonet
- Scientific Names: Synchiropus ocellatus, Synchiropus stellatus
- Size: 5 inches (12.7cm)
- Minimum Tank Size: 30 Gallons (114L)
- Reef Safe? Yes
- Care or Experience Level: Difficult
- Preferred Diet: Carnivore
- Original Part of the World: Indo-Pacific
As you’ll find with any dragonet species, the scooter blenny features a large head and prominent ventral fins on a relatively small body. The silhouette makes them instantly recognizable – especially with those big eyes perched on top of their head. The position protects their vision when they bury themselves for the night and when they forage through the sand for their preferred copepods. As for the fins, they make ideal “legs” for the blennies to scoot, waddle, and hop around.
The scooter blenny is a popular snack for plenty of fish on the reef, so they’ve adopted a camouflage pattern to their scales. You’ll see black and white designs over most of their bodies. It’s only around their head and eyes that you’ll see splashes of blue (S. ocellatus) or red (S. stellatus).
And if you want to tell a male from a female? It’s a cinch. They’re sexually dimorphic – in a relatively straightforward manner. Males come in a longer length and sport an enlarged dorsal fin “flag.” They use it as a “flag” to intimidate rivals and as part of the courtship ritual to attract females.
You can attempt to spot a scooter blenny throughout the Indo-Pacific region – with an emphasis on “attempt.” While lively in their explorations for food, they’re also on the small side – not getting much beyond 5 inches (12.7cm). Knowing they’re on the menu of other (larger) predators on and around the reefs, they duck into sand beds whenever they sense a protentional threat in the area. All you can see are those little eyes poking out of the substrate.
Unfortunately, their quick “scoot” isn’t enough to grant them more than a couple of years of life – at best. And that isn’t extended when they move into the captive marine tank. Due to their complex care, you don’t see the scooter blenny surviving for more than two years or so.
Observant divers may glimpse a scooter blenny or two over reefs around Fiji, Indonesia, the Marquesan Islands, the Solomon Islands, or southern Japan. The fish remain active throughout the day in a scurrying hunt to track down food. They thrive on copepods and rotifers – which is the key to setting up your reef tank to keep a scooter blenny happy and healthy.
Live rock and a deep bed of live sand? They’re your friend (rather, a scooter blenny’s friend). You’ll provide hiding places, so your scooter feels safe and has somewhere to retreat. But (more importantly) you’ll provide a constant supply of the tiny arthropods the fish need to stay fed. And the more live rock you can provide? The better. Remember, the scooter blenny is an active fish. You want to give them plenty of places to hop around and explore. It will keep your fish engaged with the tank, but it will also provide YOU with entertainment as you watch them scooting through the aquarium.
Don’t neglect the sand, though. Even if you opt to skip live sand, you want a deep sand bed. The scooter blenny likes to bury itself in the sand when nervous and when it’s time for light’s out. Caves and overhangs are fine, but you want to support all aspects of their biology. Plus, that habit is what keeps away most of the parasites that afflict other saltwater fish. Scooters don’t struggle with pests BECAUSE of their chosen sleep spot. Sand beds may require more work on your part, but it’ll result in a healthier fish.
Scooter Blenny Tank Size
You have some flexibility when it comes to tank size for a scooter blenny. It depends on how many fish you plan to stock, the ratios you’re considering, and your anticipated feeding strategy. At a bare minimum, you can get away with a 30-gallon (114L) tank. This is comfortable enough for a male scooter blenny with 2-3 females.
If you want to house two males, you’ll need to up your space. The scooter blenny doesn’t set up territories the way other fish might, but they WILL fight for the females. To prevent injuries, you’ll need to give everyone room to “retreat to their corners.” If you don’t, you could see one male harassed to the point of stress (or death). As such, you’ll want to consider going up to 55 gallons (208L).
Then there’s the question of feeding (which we’ll go into more detail in a minute). The scooter blenny ranks as a problematic species to care for due to its dietary needs. One of the best solutions is to keep a refugium. It’s simpler and requires less time and work than target feeding. But it means you’ll need a sump tank. So you’re looking at a 50-gallon (189L) sump in addition to your tank. That puts you at a water total of around 100 gallons (379L) – if you stay with the 55-gallon approach. (A lot of math, yes, but it’s why you want to think these things through before bringing home a scooter blenny)
Regardless of the size of tank you go with, make sure you get a tight-fitting lid. The scooter blenny not only hops, but it also JUMPS. And the leaping power in this little fish is enough to propel it OUT of the water. And if they don’t have sand to bury themselves in (or they’re scouting for food near the top of the aquarium), they’ll bolt for the surface.
Are Scooter Blennies Reef-Safe?
Luckily, while you’re calculating tank and sump sizes (and tracking down the appropriate cover for your aquarium), one thing you WON’T need to fuss with is your scooter blenny decimating your corals. Scooters are completely reef-safe. The only tiny invertebrates they’re interested in decimating are of the crustacean variety. So you can keep them in a reef tank without a second thought.
And while they DO scoot around the tank, they aren’t perchers in the way of hawkfish. So you won’t see the potential damage to the coral polyps. Given the option, they’d rather hang around on the sand, anyway.
Scooter Blenny Diet
Now we come to the “worst” part of managing a scooter blenny (or any dragonet, really). While carnivores, their tiny mouths are adapted for sifting through sand and scouring rocky terrain searching for microfauna. And their absolute favorite food in the entire world? Copepods and amphipods. These are the microscopic (or almost microscopic – they resemble tiny clouds in the water) crustaceans that populate live rock and live sand in a reef tank. And they’re the predominant populations in refugiums.
You’re thinking, “Okay, that doesn’t sound THAT bad.” But there’s a twist with the scooter blenny. They’re NOT fast eaters. With a hopping gait, it takes them time to bounce around after their meals. And while they’ll happily decimate the pod population within your tank, they can quickly starve if you don’t keep things stocked appropriately. Because trying to get them to switch to a commercial food is NOT in the cards.
Now, you CAN target feed a scooter blenny if you’re up to the challenge. It requires a consistent feeding schedule to prevent starvation, though. Aquarists find success with vitamin-enriched brine shrimp, though mysis shrimp are more nutritious.
- Purchase a small turkey baster you plan to ONLY use for target feeding. (You can’t double up and use it for Thanksgiving)
- Desensitize your scooter blenny to the sight of the baster.
- Once they stop panicking and fleeing at the sight of their “target,” choose your food.
- Move the baster within a couple of inches of your scooter. Release ONE piece of food.
- As soon as they finish eating, release another piece.
- Continue until they lose interest (i.e., they’re full).
Always offer food until your scooter moves away. This will keep them FULL. And that’s important because you can end up with a scooter blenny hunger strike. It’s nothing personal, just a quirk of the species in captivity. (And why they’re so tricky to manage) But as long as you stay on top of target feedings, they shouldn’t suffer harm from their strikes.
Scooter Blenny Behavior and Tank Mates
The scooter blenny does equally well alone as it does in small groups. The “harem” group will prevent issues from arising as males will attempt to battle for dominance. Without a set territory, they have no problem scooting around the entire tank, and that’s the root of the problem.
When two scooters see each other, they hop close. “Flags” go into the air to demonstrate dominance. Females are left alone. But if two males see those impressive dorsal fins, a challenge is declared. Each will expect the other to run off, bowing down to the “dominant” male. And if no one does? They’ll start biting at tails. You don’t want bites to end up infected. And that’s why allowing for space (and hiding places) is so important. In close quarters, a bully can continue to harass the “loser.”
Otherwise, the scooter blenny is peaceful. They won’t interfere with any of your other fish. And you can keep scooters with mandarin dragonets – provided you have enough copepods to go around. The two species won’t engage one another. It’s just a matter of preventing starvation as they both have that specific menu.
You DO need to consider the predation part of the equation, though. Scooters show up on the preferred dining list for plenty of other popular saltwater fish. And you don’t want to go through all of the trouble of caring for a scooter blenny just to watch it disappear down a stomach. As such, lionfish and sea anemones shouldn’t get combined with a scooter blenny. That’s too much of a risk.
Breeding the Scooter Blenny
With that prominent dorsal fin, it’s easy to pick out a male scooter blenny from a female. And breeding this “hoppy” fish? It’s not complicated. They’re pelagic spawners in the wild, migrating incredible distances in search of the perfect current to disperse their eggs. But with the proper setup, you can induce the behavior in your reef tank.
Obviously, you need to make sure you have well-fed scooters. And you can’t have any aggressive fish waiting to swallow the eggs (or your blennies). You should also look to keep the following water conditions:
- Temperature: 75-80F/23.8-26.6C
- pH: 7.7-8.3
- Ammonia: 0ppm
- Nitrite: 0ppm
- Nitrate: 0ppm (or as close as possible)
- Phosphate: >1ppm
Spawning takes place in the evening during sunset (or when you turn the lights off). Scooters start a courting ritual by pairing up on the deep sand bed. You’ll see them linking their fins together as they swim around. (Does it get cuter than that?) They then swim toward the surface, remaining as close as possible, with their fins locked. Just before the top, they split and go back to the substrate. This can happen multiple times. But on a final rise, they release the eggs and sperm.
You should use a kreisel to collect the eggs for their development. It allows them to incubate in safety from any curious fish looking for caviar. And it’s a clean incubator. The eggs hatch around 12-16 hours later, and the fry finish absorbing their yolks another 36 hours after that. As you might guess, scooter blenny fry require the same attention to detail with food as their parents. You’ll want to go for tiny, protein-dense foods. Top options include:
- Brine shrimp
- Mysis shrimp
As the fry have even TINIER mouths, you’ll need to step up your water changes to prevent waste from building up. It can get challenging to balance 25-50% daily changes with NOT draining the food supply the fish need. But you can’t let the water grow foul if you want your baby scooters to survive. And trying to get them to take other foods? It won’t work.
Once the scooter fry reach 1 inch (2.5cm) long, you can introduce them to your community reef tank. As long as you don’t have any aggressive “predators” around, anyway. Clownfish happen to find that size snack-worthy. So if you have hungry fish-eaters around, wait until the scooters reach 2 inches (5cm) before you transfer them.
Pros and Cons
Aquarists love the hopping antics of the scooter blenny. They’re one of the most active reef fish you can find. But you need to weigh the pros and cons of these dragonets before you rush to bring one (or more) home.
- Scooter blennies are resistant to marine ich and other parasites, courtesy of their habit of burying themselves in the sand to sleep.
- With no set territories, your scooters will hop and “scoot” around all of the levels of the tank, making an engaging and active display.
- It takes some prep and planning, but it IS possible to breed the scooter blenny in captivity.
- As a dragonet, the scooter blenny feeds on microfauna, making it extremely difficult to manage for most aquarists. You’ll need a refugium or practice target feeding.
- With a peaceful demeanor, scooters often end up bullied by larger fish species, resulting in stress.
- While resistant to many common parasites, you can still end up with a scooter blenny that succumbs to problems. And they DON’T tolerate copper as a medicated treatment. You’ll need to look for alternatives.
For More Information
The scooter blenny presents plenty of challenges for the aquarist. And even those with experience can find themselves struggling to keep the fish fed and happy. So whether you’ve decided to admire them from afar or want to have as much knowledge under your belt as possible, let’s dive into some more info!
This YouTube video shows the courtship ritual of the scooter blenny:
Want to know about some of the best scooter blenny tank mates?
Need a crash course on the equipment you’ll need to keep your scooters happy and healthy? We’ve got you covered:
The scooter blenny packs plenty of personality into a little fish. They hop around after copepods with eager abandon. And when those flags snap up? You can’t help but laugh. (Even if it IS a defensive action) But they’re not easy to keep fed. So make sure you have a game plan ready before you bring this speckled fish home. It’ll keep your scooters happy and scooting through the reef tank for years to come.
- Fenner, B. “Mandarins, Psychedelic ‘Gobies,’ Dragonets, Scooter Blennies…YAH! Family Callionymidae.” WetWebMedia.
- Schultz, Henry C. 2005. “Mandarin Medley.” Reefkeeping Magazine.
- Wittenrich, M.L. 2010. “Breeding Mandarins.” Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine.