Zebrafish (Zebra Fish)

Danio rerio

Last updated: May 27, 2024
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© Ian Grainger/Shutterstock.com

Used extensively in scientific research


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Zebrafish (Zebra Fish) Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Actinopterygii
Order
Cypriniformes
Family
Cyprinidae
Genus
Danio
Scientific Name
Danio rerio

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Zebrafish (Zebra Fish) Conservation Status

Zebrafish (Zebra Fish) Locations

Zebrafish (Zebra Fish) Locations

Zebrafish (Zebra Fish) Facts

Prey
Insects, brine shrimp, crustaceans
Main Prey
Insects
Name Of Young
Fry
Group Behavior
  • Social
  • shoal
Fun Fact
Used extensively in scientific research
Estimated Population Size
Hundreds of millions or billions
Biggest Threat
Climate change or pollution
Most Distinctive Feature
Vivid stripes
Distinctive Feature
Upturned mouth
Other Name(s)
Zebra danio
Optimum pH Level
Neutral
Incubation Period
72 hours
Average Spawn Size
200-300
Habitat
Freshwater streams and ponds
Predators
Oscars, gars, catfishes, knifefishes, spiny eels
Diet
Omnivore
Favorite Food
Brine shrimp
Special Features
Can regenerate damaged tissue in its eyes
Location
South Asia

Zebrafish (Zebra Fish) Physical Characteristics

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Summary

Also known as the zebra danio, the zebrafish (Danio rerio) belongs to the minnow family Cyprinidae. This freshwater fish is one of the most popular freshwater aquarium fish due to its hardy nature, vivid colors, and reproductive capacity. Originally from southern Asia, you can now find zebrafish in private and public aquariums worldwide. Zebrafish have undergone extensive testing and research and were even used to create genetically modified fish such as the fluorescent-colored GloFish. 

5 Zebrafish Facts

zebrafish-zebra-danio

The

Danio rerio

‘s stripes make it stand out despite its small size.

©iStock.com/MATTHIASRABBIONE

  • When a zebrafish’s eyes get damaged, it can grow new retinal cells to repair its sight. 
  • Zebrafish can survive water temperatures from 54 degrees Fahrenheit to 101 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  • Female zebrafish can spawn every 2 or 3 days and lay hundreds of eggs at a time. 
  • Zebrafish are utilized extensively in scientific studies on topics ranging from biology and genetics to stem cell research and regenerative medicine. 
  • Male zebrafish tend to select females with more pronounced stripes as mating partners. 

Zebrafish Classification and Scientific name

A macro shot of a zebra danio tropical fish.

Zebrafish (

Danio rerio

) belong to the carp and minnow family Cyrpinidae.



©Ian Grainger/Shutterstock.com

The zebrafish belongs to the order Cypriniformes, which includes minnows, carps, and loaches. The word Cypriniformes is formed by the combination of the Greek word κῠπρῖνος (kuprînos), meaning “carp,” and the Latin suffix –iformes, meaning “having the form of.” In other words, all Cyprindids are “carp-like” fish. Zebrafish belong to the carp and minnow family Cyrpinidae. The family contains over 3,000 known species, including the “true” minnows, carps, barbs, and barbells. 

The zebrafish is a member of the genus Danio. That said, the grouping of danionid fish remains hotly debated. Zebrafish share evolutionary ties with numerous other danios, particularly those in the genus Devario. Other the years, scientists have classified zebrafish into various taxonomic groups, with most experts now placing the fish in its current genus. The word Danio stems from the Bangala word dhani, which means “of the rice field.” It gets this name because zebrafish historically lived in shallow ponds and waterways, including rice paddies. Meanwhile, the zebrafish gets its common name from its striking striped pattern, which resembles the stripes of a zebra

Zebrafish Appearance

Along with the tetra and goldish, the zebrafish (Danio rerio) ranks as one of the most recognizable fish seen in home aquariums and pet stores. As its name implies, the zebrafish sports uniform horizontal stripes along its sides. These stripes represent the stripes on a zebra, hence its name. The stripes run from the edge of the gills to the end of the caudal fin. Although both males and females sport dark blue stripes, their alternating colors differ. Typically, males possess gold stripes, while females sport silver or white stripes. Additionally, males have gold bellies and sport gold near the edges of their fins. Meanwhile, females possess white bellies. 

In terms of shape, zebra appear fusiform, with bodies that measure thickest near the belly and taper near the head and tail. That said, males tend to look more torpedo-shaped than females, which often have distended bellies when they carry eggs. Zebrafish have upturned mouths and can have short or long fins, depending on the variety. On average, most zebrafish measure between 0.7 and 1.5 inches long. However, large specimens can grow up to 2 inches long. 

Zebrafish Distribution, Population, and Habitat

zebra danio fish isolated white

Zebrafish (

Danio rerio

) can thrive in a wide variety of environments.

©Grigorev Mikhail/Shutterstock.com

Native to freshwater habitats in South Asia, wild zebrafish are found in numerous countries, including India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Bhutan. The highest concentrations of zebrafish live within the Ganges and Brahmaputra River basins. Outside these basins, they range as far north as the southern Himalayans and south as the Eastern and Western Ghats. Some evidence suggests that zebrafish may live in Myanmar, but these reports are dated and likely referred to related species that resemble zebrafish. Today, you can also find wild zebrafish across Colombia, Malaysia, and the United States. Within the U.S., zebrafish have been introduced into the waterways of several states, including California, Florida, and New Mexico

Danio rerio can thrive in a wide variety of environments. In the wild, they tend to live in clear, slow-moving waters. They occur frequently in shallow waterways such as streams, ditches, canals, ponds, lakes, and even rice paddies. Habitats that zebrafish frequent normally contain a decent amount of vegetation. Substrates can vary from sandy or muddy to pebbly or gravely. Zebrafish prefer water with a neutral or basic pH balance. They mostly live in water temperatures ranging between 64 to 93 degrees Fahrenheit. That said, they survive temperatures between 54 degrees and 101 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Zebrafish Predators and Prey

Numerous predators target zebrafish in the wild. Some of its most common predators include garfish and snakeheads. Other predators include knifefish, catfish, Oscar, Indian leaf fish, and spiny eels. Additionally, some birds prey on zebrafish, such as kingfishers and herons. When they spot predators, zebrafish show alarm via one of several noticeable cues. These include increased agitation and aggression, decreased appetite, and the release of specific pheromones. They can even adjust the dark blue color of their pigment cells to help them evade potential predators. 

Zebrafish are omnivores that eat a wide variety of organisms. Their diet consists mainly of zooplankton, phytoplankton, aquatic insects, and insect larvae. While they mainly eat in the water column, they will also feed on terrestrial insects and arachnids. On occasion, zebrafish may also prey on small crustaceans and worms. Those zebrafish kept as pets are often fed a diet of live or frozen brine shrimp, dried fish flakes, and worms. 

Zebrafish Reproduction and Lifespan

Zebrafish (Danio rerio) aquarium fish

The average zebrafish (

Danio rerio

) lives in captivity for around 2 to 3 years.

©Kazakov Maksim/Shutterstock.com

Zebrafish rank among the most prolific breeders in the animal kingdom. Generally speaking, zebrafish reach sexual maturity at are 3 months old. Zebrafish are asynchronous spawners, meaning they spawn repeatedly throughout the spawning season or throughout the year. However, females only ovulate and spawn when in the presence of males. Given the right conditions, female zebrafish can spawn a clutch of eggs every day. That said, most females typically spawn once every 2 to 3 days. On average, each clutch usually contains between 100 and 300 eggs, although some clutches can contain up to a maximum of 1,000 eggs. Zebrafish embryos develop extremely quickly. In just 72 hours, embryos develop from a single cell into a fully developed fry. 

Experts have devised ingenious methods to get zebrafish to spawn in aquariums and laboratory conditions. Zebrafish spawning peaks during the morning. Male zebrafish will actively pursue females and appear to show sexual selection for females with “good stripes.” Typically, these in-demand females feature more pronounced markings than other females. However, in large groups, males become less picky and tend to just mate with the first possible female. 

The average zebrafish lives for around 2 to 3 years in captivity. Exceptionally long-lived specimens can live up to 5 years if given the proper care. 

Zebrafish in food and cooking

Due to their small size, zebrafish are not used in food or cooking. 

Zebrafish Population

In the past few decades, zebrafish have exploded in popularity both as pets and for use in scientific research. Research labs may carry tens of thousands of zebrafish, and pet stores often carry dozens or hundreds at a time. No data exists on the total population of zebrafish around the world. That said, given their popularity, the total zebrafish population likely numbers in the hundreds of millions or even billions. Some studies indicate that wild zebrafish may be at risk due to climate change and pollution. However, zebrafish remain common in the wild at this point in time. As such, the IUCN lists the zebrafish as species of Least Concern

Zebrafish FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Are zebrafish carnivores, herbivores, or omnivores?

Zebrafish are omnivores and eat a wide variety of foods. They primarily eat plankton, phytoplankton, insects, worms, and small crustaceans. 

Why do zebrafish eat their young? 

Zebrafish lack parental instincts. As a result, females often eat their fry to replace essential nutrients lost during spawning, such as protein. They may also attack their fry due to stress. 

How can you differentiate between male and female zebrafish?

Generally speaking, male zebrafish are more slender and torpedo-shaped than females and feature gold coloring on the belly and fins. Meanwhile, females appear fatter when carrying eggs and normally feature little to no gold on their bellies. 

Why do some zebrafish possess long fins and others don’t?

Zebrafish have been bred extensively in labs and for the pet trade. As a result, numerous varieties exist. In the wild, most zebrafish possess short fins. However, certain genetic traits have been selected over years of breeding to produce long-fin varieties. 

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Zebrafish (Zebra Fish) FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Are zebrafish carnivores, herbivores, or omnivores?

Zebrafish are omnivores and eat a wide variety of foods. They primarily eat plankton, phytoplankton, insects, worms, and small crustaceans. 

Why do zebrafish eat their young?

Zebrafish lack parental instincts. As a result, females often eat their fry to replace essential nutrients lost during spawning, such as protein. They may also attack their fry due to stress. 

How can you differentiate between male and female zebrafish?

Generally speaking, male zebrafish are more slender and torpedo-shaped than females and feature gold coloring on the belly and fins. Meanwhile, females appear fatter when carrying eggs and normally feature little to no gold on their bellies. 

Why do some zebrafish possess long fins and others don’t?

Zebrafish have been bred extensively in labs and for the pet trade. As a result, numerous varieties exist. In the wild, most zebrafish possess short fins. However, certain genetic traits have been selected over years of breeding to produce long-fin varieties. 

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Sources

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