Zebra Danio – Care Guide, Breed Profile, Tank Conditions

The zebra danio has long been a favorite of home aquarium keepers. Their silver to gold colored body and bold symmetrical stripes provide your tank with a svelte, attractive addition.

They originate from India and naturally occur in a wide variety of water types. They are found in extremely fast-moving waters, as well as those that have almost no movement at all.

They are able to acclimate and thrive in nearly any kind of water condition.

Well-suited even to a new fishkeeper, the zebra danio can be a low maintenance and hardy addition to a wide variety of tanks. They do quite well when being kept with other fish. Their flexibility in terms of their tank setups makes them an excellent choice for filling out a variety of home aquariums.

Close up of a Zebra Danio against a white gravel background
© Mirko Rosenau – stock.adobe.com

If you’ve been looking to bring home zebra danios, you’ll need to know how to meet their needs, what kind of tank environment to give them, how to care for them properly.

In this article, we detail best practices when it comes to zebra danio care. We cover everything from the size of tank they need to the kind of company they should keep, required water parameters to diet – and everything in between.

Overview and Statistics

The following helpful table will give you a brief outline of their need and preferences.

CharacteristicDetails
Common name(s):Zebra danio, zebrafish, striped danio
Scientific Name(s):Brachydanio rerio
Family:Cyprinidae
Origin:India
Care Level:Easy
Temperament:Peaceful
Adult Size:3 inches
Color Form:Blue, purple, white, yellow
Lifespan:5 years
Minimum Tank Size:10 gallons
Typical Tank Setup:Well-planted with open swims
Tank Level:All levels
Diet:Omnivore
Water Conditions:Freshwater, 64–75° F, KH 8–12, pH 6.5–7.5
Tank mates / Compatibility:They are a schooling fish. They enjoy being part of a community tank and do well with the following tankmates: barbs, plecos, rainbows, and gouramis. For best results, try to keep fish of similar size together.

The zebra danio loves a well-planted tank. Their native waters frequently have plenty of plant growth and open spaces. Your aquarium inhabitants will appreciate it if you can capture those elements in your tank.

Well loved by aquarium enthusiasts for their hardiness and vibrant presence, they prefer to be kept with other fish. They are a classic choice for a community tank.

They love to swim—wide open space for them is crucial to their happiness and well-being. You’ll get to reap the benefits of enjoying their displays.

Their popularity means they’re readily available for purchase and easy to find. Now predominantly farm-raised for selling, you can most likely find them from any local fish supplier.

Appearance

They are a small, slim fish. They will be gold or silver in color with purple/blue stripes down the length of their body.

Their gender is easy to determine. The males are gold and quite slender. Females, on the other hand, are silver and have a fuller, more rounded body.

Both males and females are quick-moving with small fins.

Behavior and Temperament

They are a schooling fish. They must be kept in groups to be happy and healthy. Without being in a school of their own kind, you can expect them to succumb quickly to stress and illness. You will need to plan on keeping them in groups of at least five.

They are quite active and playful. They are regular swimmers and frequently on the move. They do well in tanks that provide them with plenty of opportunities for playing, hiding, and fast-paced group swims.

Zebra danios are peaceful fish, that get along well with others. Without a true school, though, you may witness them exhibit aggressive behaviors, like fin nipping. To avoid this, be sure to give your danios plenty of company.

Also, they will frequently pair off. They are monogamous and will choose one mate for life.

Habitat and Tank Requirements

Providing the optimal living quarters means replicating their natural habitat as closely as possible. To do this, you’ll want to include plants, open swims, and even some waterflow.

They can tolerate a wide variety of water types, which means the parameters you go with in their aquarium can depend more on the other fish you have in your tank.

What Size Tank is Best for Zebra Danios?

While they aren’t a large species, they are very active swimmers. They enjoy and need space to swim. You’ll also need to plan on keeping at least a small group of danios together. With this in mind, you should provide your zebra danios with at least a 10-gallon tank.

If you’re going to keep a larger number of fish or a multi-species tank, you will need a larger aquarium.

Remember that aquariums aren’t all the same shape, with some thinner and taller, and others shorter and wide. In the case of zebra danios, lateral swim space is very important, so opt for a shorter, wider tank that gives them more side to side swimming space, even if it means it’s not as deep.

Water Type and Parameters

They are a freshwater species. They are resilient and incredibly tolerant. In their natural environment, you may find them in all kinds of waters.

However, optimal living conditions will have your water temperatures between 64 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, a KH between 8 and 12, and a pH between 6.5 and 8.5.

While they can be found in areas with little water flow, they quite enjoy having some current to play in. This can be achieved through your selection of a filter that provides some movement in the water.

What Substrate Should You Use in Their Tank?

They enjoy having a heavily planted tank, to mimic what they’d find in their natural habitat. While plain sand or gravel can be used with success, your plants will grow better with the use of a specialty substrate.

These specialty bases are designed to provide your plants with the nutrients they need. And healthy plants will help to promote healthy fish.

If you have particular sand or gravel you would like to layer on top of your base substrate for aesthetic purposes, this will work well. Selecting a darker substrate will help showcase the zebra danio’s striking coloration.

Filtration Requirements

Zebra danios prefer clear water with some movement. A good filtration system that provides plenty of current is ideal for replicating their natural habitat. A good canister filter would be best.

You will want to perform regular water changes to keep the habitat clean. Plan on 25 percent water changes every one to 2 weeks, depending on what other species you keep with them.

Should the other fish in your tank need a filter with less water flow, consider adding a decorative bubbler to your tank. This can help give your danios some enrichment without disturbing your other fish.

Lighting Requirements

They have no special lighting needs and can do well with natural light, or standard aquarium lighting. Nonetheless, some owners do report their zebra danios seem to prefer diffused light.

If you feel your danios are hiding from the light, you can add some floating plants to lessen the light intensity. It’s likely they will not object to the lighting, though.

Plants, Decorations, Swims, And Open Spaces

In their natural environment, they are surrounded by plants. A heavily planted tank is ideal for them, as long as this can be accomplished without compromising swim space.

If you’re working with a smaller tank, it’s best to err on the side of open swims. You can include floating plants or short plants to avoid compromising your open areas.

They are an active and playful fish and will enjoy swimming around and through items. Elaborate tank setups with many decorations and ornaments will be well-received.

If housing with community fish who do not like water movement, an air-circulating decor piece is a great compromise between needs.

How Many Zebra Danios Can You Have Per Gallon?

You will need to plan on keeping at least a group of five for your first 10 gallons of tank. With this ratio in mind, you can plan on adding one zebra danio for every two gallons of water in your tank.

If you are housing your fish in a community tank, the old rule of thumb is to allow one gallon for every inch of fish you have in the tank. While this can be a good general barometer for you, it does not take into account the waste load of particular species. It also doesn’t account for the vertical space your fish occupy.

If there is any doubt, you should always plan on understocking instead of overstocking your tank. As long as your fish are in their required school, there are no negative health ramifications for understocking.

If you overstock your tank, though, your fish may become stressed, aggressive and unhappy. This is a recipe for illness and loss and can lead to a shortened life expectancy.

Diet and Feeding

Zebra danios are omnivores. In their natural environment, they would have access to both meat and plant food sources. Proper care will replicate a similar, well-balanced diet for your fish.

What do They Eat in the Wild?

They would have access to plants, insects, algae, worms, and crustaceans in the wild. Most of what they come across can be considered a food source.

What Can You Feed Them in Your Home Aquarium?

At home, you’ll want to plan on feeding them a commercially available fish food. These foods are nutritionally balanced and designed to provide your fish with all the nutrients they need for optimal health.

A flaked food is a great option. This should be used as their main food source, but brine shrimp and bloodworms can be a great addition to their diet. These will add some variety to their meal times and provide them with needed meat protein.

What Human Foods Can They Eat?

Like many other omnivores kept in home aquariums, the zebra danio enjoys blanched vegetables. Zucchini, cucumber, spinach, and shelled peas are favorites. If you don’t have fresh vegetables available, frozen vegetables can be used.

Always remember to remove any uneaten produce after 24 hours. This will help keep your tank clean and healthy and protect your water parameters.

How Often Should You Feed Them?

You can plan on feeding them once or twice daily. Feed them only what they can consume in two minutes and remove any excess food after. This will prevent them over-eating, and also lessen the effect of uneaten food decomposing in and dirtying your tank.

Do They Have any Special Care Requirements?

They do not have any special care requirements. They are a hardy and resilient species, suited even for the inexperienced keeper.

While they are technically a cold-water fish, keeping their water too cold may leave them susceptible to stress and disease. To keep them in their best health, consider keeping their waters in the middle of their preferred range.

Compatibility With Other Fish and Tank Mates

Zebra danios are highly social. They are peaceful and enjoy being in groups. Not only should they have a school of their own kind to live with, but they also enjoy being kept in community tanks with other species.

You’ll want to plan on keeping fish about the same size together. This will help prevent smaller ones from being eaten by larger fish—even friendly, social fish sometimes need a snack.

Zebra danios do especially well with plecos, rainbows, barbs, and gouramis. Be aware that if the aren’t kept with enough of their own kind, they might show aggression and fin-biting behavior toward others.

Can You Keep Multiple Zebra Danios Together?

Yes. You should absolutely plan on keeping multiple together. This is a fish that does well in a school.

You should expect to always have at the very least five zebra danios together. Additional community fish in a large tank can be an ideal environment for them.

Buying Advice

They are a popular aquarium fish and can be readily sourced from your local fish supplier. However, farm-raising zebra danios for selling purposes has decreased the robustness and quality of the fish, compared to their wild counterpart.

Purchasing from a breeder who specializes in the breed you’re interested in will frequently give you the best stock. Though this may come at an increased price point, a better quality stock will mean better quality offspring and longer life expectancies.

In general, they aren’t expensive. They can cost you less than two dollars each. If you’re unable to source them locally you can purchase them online and have them shipped to you.

When shopping for your fish in person, always choose them from clean tanks that aren’t overcrowded. Never buy one from a tank with dead or diseased-looking fish in. It’s best to stay away from tanks that have listless or lethargic fish in, as others in the tank may be ill as well, just not yet displaying symptoms.

Once you have your zebra danios home, follow quarantine protocol to ensure you don’t bring disease into your existing tank. Even healthy-looking fish can be harboring an illness that hasn’t made itself known yet.

Breeding

Zebra danios are relatively easy to breed in a home aquarium setting, although it does usually require some involvement from you.

If you are intentionally breeding them and want to see your fry reach adulthood, it’s best to plan on using a breeding tank. Using round marbles as the substrate can help protect your eggs from the adult fish. And in general, a gentle sponge filter is a great option for a breeding tank.

Your fish will have partnered into breeding pairs. It’s important to remember these are monogamous pairs, so successful breeding will require you to put a true pair in the breeding tank together.

If they haven’t been breeding, you may have success triggering breeding behavior by separating your male and female for a short while. Once reunited, the female will lay her eggs scattered through the tank. These eggs are non-adhesive and will find their way to plants and the substrate.

It’s important that the adults then be removed from the tank, as they will consume the eggs if they come across them.

In about two days, these eggs will hatch. Your new zebra danio fry will not be free swimming at this time. In a few more days, after they’ve fully absorbed the egg yolk, they will become free swimmers. At this time, you can begin to feed them.

You’ll want to keep your fry separate from larger fish until they grow to be closer in size. Once that happens, you may transition the fry to your regular tank.

Interesting Facts and Trivia

  • The females can produce 300–400 eggs at a time.
  • They are capable of regenerating their fins, their retinal neurons, and even their heart muscle.
  • These fish are frequently used for genetic and developmental studies because they are able to model the way diseases behave in humans—including Alzheimer’s, congenital heart disease, and kidney disease.
  • They are a part of the minnow family.
  • The females can spawn every two to three days after reaching sexual maturity at about four months.
  • Light exposure can encourage spawning and they frequently spawn in the early morning.
  • Their embryos are transparent and ideal for research and studying.
  • Their embryos can even regenerate their brain.
  • They produce a slime-like coating that helps protect their body from disease.
  • In 2011, scientists started sequencing the zebra danio genome.
  • They can consume alcohol—when they do, those that have imbibed will swim around very quickly, encouraging their sober friends to follow them.
  • Tuberculosis and influenza studies have used zebra danios as their subjects.
  • Zebra danios have even ventured out to space for scientists to study.
  • There are currently over 600 labs in the world dedicated to studying the species.
  • 70 percent of human genes are also found in zebra danios.

Summary

The zebra danio is an interesting and fun fish to add to your tank. It’s attractive and playful and can add a little zip and color to a community.

They are hardy and relatively easy to take care of. Just make sure they have an appropriately sized tank with plenty of swimming room and live plants. They’ll entertain you for hours if provided with a source of water movement. They’re peaceful fish and can easily be assimilated into your community tank.

We hope you’ve found the information given here helpful. Now that you know what’s needed to provide the best zebra danio care, you’re ready to embark on a new adventure with your tank.

Have you enjoyed keeping zebra danios in your home aquarium? What’s your experience been like with them? We’d love to hear your stories—leave us a comment below.

Happy fish keeping!

B Hamilton

Hey there! I'm Brian, a lifelong enthusiast and fish keeper with a wealth of knowledge and experience on freshwater aquariums, that I love to share on this site. If you have any questions or need any help, please do ask in the comments section below, I'd love to hear from you and will help where I can.

Leave a Comment