Zebra Danio 101: Care, Size, Lifespan, Tank Mates…

Zebra Danios are very popular and enjoyable freshwater fish to keep. In fact, this is one of the species that we recommend the most! The combination of their colors, low-maintenance care requirements, and high activity level makes them a great fit for just about any aquarist.

This guide will teach you everything you need to know about Zebra Danio care. We’ll cover topics like their size, diet, tank requirements, lifespan, and much more!

Species Summary

The Zebra Danio (Danio rerio) is small and eye-catching freshwater fish that have long captivated fish enthusiasts. In fact, they’re one of the most popular pet fish in the trade! Thanks to their playful nature and high adaptability, this species is a fantastic choice for new fish-keepers and seasoned aquarists alike.

These fish are native to bodies of water throughout India and Bangladesh. Quite peaceful by nature, Zebra Danios are the quintessential community fish. In fact, many aquarists use them as dither fish to promote more social behaviors out of other fish.

But of course, Zebra Danios can also stand out on their own just fine! Active and playful, these fish quickly become the stars of tanks big and small.


Take one look at these fish, and there’s no question why this fish is named after the iconic animal from the Serengeti. Their most identifiable trait is the horizontal stripes that stretch from the gill plate to the tail.

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The stripes are typically bluish-purple in color. Depending on the lighting conditions, they may even appear black or gray. Offsetting the dark stripes are slivers of silver-gold.

A Zebra Danio freshwater fish

Some subtle hints of red create a blushing look along the top and bottom of the fish. Meanwhile, the transparent fins give it an iconic torpedo-shaped profile. The only fin that’s not clear is the anal fin, which features even more condensed stripes.

Author Note: There are many different variants for the Zebra Danio. These include albinos, Leopard strains, long-finned specimens, and more. However, the basic striped fish are the standard.

Differences between males and females are subtle. Males tend to be smaller and slimmer. They feature a more streamlined torpedo shape. Females, however, are a bit plumper and rounder.

Average Zebra Danio Size

Compared to other popular freshwater aquarium fish, this species is quite small! The typical Zebra Danio size is around two to two and a half inches long.

Author Note: They are capable of reaching lengths of up to three inches. However, those instances are rare.

Most specimens will stay small, making them a very popular nano fish. If you’re a fan of compact tanks we highly recommend considering Zebra Danios.


The typical lifespan of a Zebra Danio is between two and five years.

There are no guarantees with lifespan. Like any other pet, a Zebra Danio’s life expectancy largely depends on the level of care you provide.

Those in pristine living conditions receiving a top-notch diet are more likely to live closer to the five-year mark. However, fish in poorly maintained tanks are at a higher risk of disease and premature death.

Zebra Danio Care

Zebra Danio care is a relatively straightforward process. Thanks to their adaptable nature, these freshwater fish will easily adjust to most environments they’re put in.

That said, they do have their limits! Like any fish, Zebra Danios have their own specific preferences and needs. To give your fish the best life possible, we’ve included the most important care guidelines to follow.

Tank Size

First things first, you’ll need to choose an appropriately sized tank. 

The good news is that these small fish don’t require massive environments to thrive. The ideal Zebra Danio tank size is anything larger than 10 gallons. Of course, bigger is always better.

Author Note: A 10-gallon tank is enough to support a small group of Zebra Danios and nothing more. If you want to keep a larger community, it’s always better to bump up the space to give your fish room to live.

Water Parameters

The best course of action for any captive fish is to recreate its natural habitat as best as possible.

The natural distribution of Zebra Danios is quite vast. They can live in everything from massive rivers to small ponds. As a result, these fish have a wide tolerance range as far as water parameters go.

In fact, that’s one of the best things about this species. They’re quite flexible and can easily adjust without major problems. As long as you stick within the preferred parameter range, they should do just fine.

  • Water temperature: 64°F to 82°F (Around 76 degrees is ideal)
  • pH levels: 6.5 to 7.5 (Keep the pH as neutral as possible)
  • Water hardness: 8 to 12 KH

It’s always a good idea to invest in a reliable water test kit to make sure the conditions are optimal. Make it a habit to perform a quick test every once in a while!

What To Put Inside Their Tank

One area that you have a lot of wiggle room with is tank decor. Zebra Danios love well-decorated tanks filled with natural-looking items. They’re also quite playful and will spend their time exploring the habitat!

Start by placing a layer of tank substrate. You can use fine sand or gravel. Zebra Danios don’t spend much time near the bottom. They may venture down there every once in a while, but they’re not prone to substrate-related injuries like other fish.

A Zebra Danio shoal swimming in a decorated aquarium

We recommend using dark-colored materials. The darker coloration can make the patterns on this freshwater fish really pop!

Next, add a slew of plants. The plants are going to serve a few different purposes. First, they’ll help to improve the water quality. Live plants help provide some much-needed oxygen and nutrients.

Secondly, plants provide ample shelter. They help to diffuse the light while also giving the fish places to hide whenever they need a moment of respite.

Don’t be afraid to mix up a few different species to get a nice balance between tall, short, and floating plants. Some aquarium favorites like Java Fern and Amazon Swords are always appreciated.

Author Note: Additional decorative items like logs, fake houses, and rocks work as well. However, try to keep the middle of the tank fairly open. Wide swimming areas are better to have than an overstuffed tank with little room to roam.

Potential Diseases To Watch Out For

Zebra Danios are at risk of suffering from all the usual freshwater ailments. You have to keep an eye out for conditions like Ich, parasitic infections, fungal issues, and more.

In addition to those common diseases, Zebra Danios are susceptible to a couple of lesser-known health problems. One is called Mycobacteriosis. 

Mycobacteriosis is caused by non-motile bacteria. It spreads quickly throughout the tank, causing a range of symptoms in your fish. Zebra Danios typically experience ulcers, inflammation all over the skin, and even fin loss.

Unfortunately, Mycobacteriosis isn’t easy to treat. The best course of action is to remove infected fish and perform water changes to eradicate the bacteria. Even then, many fish don’t have a good prognosis.

Nematode infections are common as well. These parasites cause physical changes in the fish, making it appear darker. Not only that, but most fish will become lethargic and start to lose weight.

Author Note: All of these diseases are made worse (and more likely) by poor living conditions. It’s important to continually monitor the habitat to ensure that fish live in healthy, stress-free environments. Perform water changes regularly and always make sure that your filtration systems are in good working condition.

Food & Diet

When it comes to food, Zebra Danios aren’t picky at all. Natural omnivores, these freshwater fish will seek out any form of food they can find in the wild. From plant detritus to small insects that are unlucky enough to all into the water, they eat it all!

Lucky for us, captive Zebra Danios have the same flexible diet.

The easiest way to fill their appetite is with commercial foods. Flakes and small pellets can provide a nutritionally balanced meal that meets their dietary needs.

Author Note: Feed these hungry fish twice a day. Provide enough food that they can eat in two minutes. To keep water conditions in good shape, avoid overfeeding!

For tasty supplements, you can provide live or frozen food. These fish appreciate high-protein snacks like brine shrimp, bloodworms, mosquito larvae, and more. Again, avoid overfeeding here! Zebra Danios can and will gain weight if you feed them too much.

Behavior & Temperament

Zebra Danios are easy-going and playful. They’re quite active and will spend their days darting throughout the tank.

Unlike other species, these fish are not exclusive to one part of the tank. While they prefer the middle and top of the water column, they’ll venture anywhere! For this reason, many aquarists like to use them as dither fish.

One blue Zebra Danio

Dither fish help to ease tensions and make all fish in a community tank feel at-ease. They can bring out more playful behaviors in shy fish and help species prone to aggression relax. Their penchant for play encourages balance within the tank, which is a huge plus.

Zebra Danios are very active. They need a lot of exercises and will swim around the environment several times to get their energy out.

Author Note: The only form of aggression you have to worry about is fin-nipping. This species swims fast, so slower long-finned fish can become targets. As a result, it’s best to keep Zebra Danios away from any vulnerable fish with enticing fins (there are many types of goldfish that this rule applies to).

Tank Mates

The best tank mates for this species are other Zebra Danios! These are shoaling fish that need the companion of others to stay healthy. When they are kept alone, Zebra Danios become shells of their former selves.

They become shy and anxiety-ridden. Most will not survive long due to their disease susceptibility and stress, making the social element of Zebra Danio care extremely important.

Author Note: At the very least, we recommend keeping a group of at least five together. Larger groups are welcome too, but try to keep things balanced with other community fish if possible

Big shoals can get a little hyperactive. If you have other species in the same tank, a hyperactive group can quickly become a nightmare!

Beyond other Zebra Danios, these fish also play well with many other species. They’re peaceful and can co-exist with other like-minded fish. Avoid any aggressive fish or species that are considerably larger than they are.

Here are some good Zebra Danio tank mates to consider:


Zebra Danio breeding is a rather easy process. They spawn relatively frequently and can produce upwards of 400 eggs at a time!

Not only that, but they pair up and breed with the same mate every time. It’s a unique quirk you don’t see very often in the fish kingdom. After bonded pairs are divided through death or physical separation, they usually stop breeding altogether!

The best way to breed Zebra Danios is to allow pairs to form naturally. Keep several young fish together in a large group. They eventually pair off, making it easy to trigger spawning.

To breed the fish, set up a separate spawning tank. Unfortunately, Zebra Danios don’t exhibit any parental behaviors. Adults will attempt to eat eggs shortly after birth.

Author Note: A dedicated breeding tank will improve the chances of survival significantly. To improve the eggs’ odds more, use gravel. Gravel has tiny little pockets for eggs to fall into after spawning.

Condition the fish with a high-protein diet. Once inside the breeding tank, slowly raise the temperature. Spawning usually occurs around 78 degrees Fahrenheit, so it shouldn’t take long to get things started.

Females usually lay between 300 and 400 eggs at a time. Remove the adults immediately after breedings and wait for the eggs to hatch.

The tiny fish fry will emerge after about two days. They will spend some time eating the egg sac before becoming free-swimming fish. At that point, you can provide powdered fry food or infusoria. Once they’re large enough, you can move onto baby brine shrimp and flakes for sustenance.


As you can see, Zebra Danio care is a piece of cake. As long as you give them some attention and have the proper tank setup, this freshwater species should thrive.

Let us know if you have any questions that we didn’t cover in this guide. We’re more than happy to help, and love hearing from our readers!

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