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Care Guide for Zebra and Leopard Danios – Energetic Little Speedsters

Besides betta fish and guppies, one of the most popular beginner fish in the freshwater aquarium hobby is the zebra danio. They’re known for their eye-popping stripes, cheap cost, and adaptability to a wide range of water parameters. Plus, they are commonly used in science experiments (e.g., genetics, environmental studies, and medical research) because of their relative ease of breeding. Find out why this speedy schooling fish is so fun to keep and how to care for them in your home aquarium.

zebra danio with java fern

Zebra danio in a planted aquarium

What are Zebra and Leopard Danios?

Brachydanio rerio (formerly Danio rerio) is your typical, torpedo-shaped danio that reaches about 2–2.5 inches (5–6 cm) long, depending on the variety. The regular, wild type version has black or dark blue horizontal stripes spanning from behind the head through the entire tail. The anal fin also has matching horizontal stripes. There are many other color variations available in the pet trade, such as long fin, albino, GloFish, and leopard. Leopard danios look like a completely different species because of their light gold body covered in dark dots, but they are apparently the same Brachydanio rerio with some kind of genetic mutation or hybridization. Regardless of what type of zebra danio you get, they have very outgoing personalities and make excellent dither fish to help calm down both timid and territorial tankmates.

leopard danio

Leopard danio

How to Set Up an Aquarium for Zebra Danios

This freshwater danio comes from northern India and surrounding countries, usually found in slow-moving ponds, streams, and rice paddies full of vegetation. They would enjoy a 20-gallon long aquarium (or longer) that has plenty of plants to simulate their native habitat, but don’t forget to leave lots of open space for swimming. A sponge filter with gentle flow would be appreciated, but the tank can be unheated since they are comfortable at temperatures of 65–75°F (18–24°C). Because of the seasonal monsoons, they are used to rapidly changing parameters and can easily handle pH of 6–8 and soft to hard water.

What fish can live with zebra and leopard danios? They may fin nip if their school isn’t big enough to keep them entertained, so get at least 5–6 fish and avoid pairing them with slower swimmers (e.g, betta fish) that may be bothered by their hyperactivity or get outcompeted during mealtimes. More suitable tank mates include rainbowfish, livebearers, barbs, and loaches.

GloFish zebra danio

GloFish zebra danio

What Do Zebra Danios Eat?

In the wild, zebra danios are used to eating all sorts of small crustaceans, insects, worms, and other tasty microorganisms. In captivity, they are very easy to feed and will consume all sorts of tropical fish foods that are small enough to fit in their mouths. We like feeding our danios a balanced diet of fish flakes, nano pellets, freeze-dried foods, frozen bloodworms, and live baby brine shrimp. The key is to offer a variety of options to avoid nutrient deficiencies and to spread out the food so that everyone in the tank gets a bite.

long fin zebra danio

Longfin zebra danio

How to Breed Zebra Danios

As mentioned before, one of the reasons that zebra danios are used in scientific research is because they are quick to sexually mature and can release 100 or more eggs per spawning. You will need at least one fish of each sex, so look for a slender male and a thick-bodied female with a round abdomen. To trigger breeding, increase the amount of food you feed them and look for chasing behavior during courtship. Given how fast they are, the danios will happily eat all of their eggs before you can spot them unless the tank has a huge, dense mass of java moss or other spawning material as cover. Another method is to cover the tank bottom with a layer of large pebbles or glass marbles so that the eggs can slip between the cracks and avoid predation. Some breeders recommend using cooler water changes to imitate rain from the monsoons or lowering the water to just a few inches above the marbles like a shallow riverbank.

pair of leopard danios

Females tend to be thicker, while males are thinner in profile.

Once the eggs have been laid and the females no longer have swollen bellies, remove all the adults and prepare to feed the fry. In the beginning, they should be given tiny foods such as infusoria, live vinegar eels, and powdered fry food less than 100 microns in size. After two weeks, switch to live baby brine shrimp so that they will grow fast and strong. For more details on best practices for breeding zebra danios, see our article on How to Breed and Raise Egg-Scattering Fish in Your Aquarium.

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