Social behavior in zebrafish

Tools for

Social behavior in zebrafish

Being social animals, zebrafish are an interesting model for studying psychiatric disorders that affect social behavior, such as schizophrenia and autism. Related symptoms are an important target in pharmaceutical and behavioral therapies.

Typical studies focus on group size effect, coloration and patterning effects, gender, and fish size, or more specifically on the actual behavioral elements in pharmaceutical and environmental research.

Tools for Social behavior in zebrafish

Shoaling and sociability

Shoaling is a straightforward expression of social behavior in zebrafish. It is assessed by measuring the distances between each fish continuously or at several points in time. Though this is seemingly easy, it can be a cumbersome task if done manually. 

Alternatively, other studies focus on individual social behavior (ex. in a two or three-chambered set-up). Fish are presented with a range of social stimuli (real fish, video images or animations) and the behavior of the fish is recorded.

Zebrafish collage

Challenges in research

The study of zebrafish behavior can include a lot of parameters and assessing these is a lot easier with the right software. Video tracking collects anything from straight-forward inter-fish distances to detailed swim behaviors for you in an efficient and reliable manner.

Watch the movie about zebrafish research at a glance and request a free demo!


Automated methods

EthoVision® XT video tracking offers you automated methods: it detects and tracks fish in a group from a live video feed or video file and measure inter-fish distances continuously in order to assess shoal density or the shoaling tendency of one individual. Typically used parameters include the average distance between fish, the distances between the nearest and farthest neighbor, and the duration of proximity. All these parameters are automatically calculated and visualized alongside your other data in EthoVision XT.

css ruud van den bos zebrafish tank

Easily measure specific behaviors

More specific behaviors such swim speed and swim bursts, zig zag motions, distance to social stimuli, path shape, etc., are also easily measured with EthoVision XT. 

This software even controls other programs and hardware. You can set up a video screen next to your tank, and include the start and stop of a video in your EthoVision XT protocol - for example you can program your video to start at a certain time point or trigger with the fish showing specific behaviors.


Free white paper

Social behavior in zebrafish

Social behavior is a hot topic in neuroscience research because it is often affected in psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and autism. Social dysfunction can have a severe impact on daily functioning, making these symptoms the target of behavioral therapies. Of course, rodents are often used for these types of studies, but some paradigms have successfully been translated to zebrafish studies as well.

Download the white paper to learn how EthoVision XT can benefit your research.


"Because of the large sample sizes, using an automated software is really the only way to realistically analyze and quantify data."

Dr. Christina Semeniuk, associate professor at the University of Windsor, is studying the behaviors of multiple fresh water fish species in the Great Lakes. Together with her research team, she tries to find means and ways to be able to see how animals are doing. 

EthoVision XT is helping her Masters and PhD students and her lab as a whole with reliability.


Social buffering

We cope better in an unpleasant situation if we are not alone. Several animals also demonstrate this adaptation, such as zebrafish.

Faustino et al. (Scientific Reports, 2017) tracked freezing behavior and erratic movements of zebrafish in detail, and found that zebrafish handled an aversive stimulus better if they are not alone.

Video tracking from both side and top view

With the use of two cameras, fish were video monitored from the top and from a side view. EthoVision XT was used to track the animals and extract xyz coordinates. From these tracks detailed analysis of freezing behavior and erratic movements was performed to assess fear behavior in the zebrafish.

two zebrafish


Faustino, A.I.; Tacão-Monteiro, A.; Oliveira, R.F. (2017). Mechanisms of social buffering of fear in zebrafish. Scientific Reports,


Relevant blogs

How to mark zebrafish without compromising their behavior

How to mark zebrafish without compromising their behavior

How to mark zebrafish without compromising their behavior? They may have just found the answer to this at the University of Toronto. Cheung et al. tried out a method using subcutaneous injection with dyes.
Tracking zebrafish in 3D

Tracking zebrafish in 3D

Recognizing the lack of hands-on education, Dr. Kalueff has started organizing zebrafish behavioral neuroscience and phenotyping workshops. The workshops ran just before and after the SfN annual meeting, October 2012.
Breathe easy, a novel approach to monitoring respiratory activity in zebrafish

Breathe easy, a novel approach to monitoring respiratory activity in zebrafish

Researchers from the University of Heidelberg used DanioScope in a novel way to objectively measure breathing in zebrafish embryos and larvae.
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