Normal table of postembryonic zebrafish development: staging by externally visible anatomy of the living fish

Dev Dyn. 2009 Dec;238(12):2975-3015. doi: 10.1002/dvdy.22113.


The zebrafish is a premier model organism yet lacks a system for assigning postembryonic fish to developmental stages. To provide such a staging series, we describe postembryonic changes in several traits that are visible under brightfield illumination or through vital staining and epiflourescent illumination. These include the swim bladder, median and pelvic fins, pigment pattern, scale formation, larval fin fold, and skeleton. We further identify milestones for placing postembryonic fish into discrete stages. We relate these milestones to changes in size and age and show that size is a better indicator of developmental progress than is age. We also examine how relationships between size and developmental progress vary with temperature and density, and we document the effects of histological processing on size. To facilitate postembryonic staging, we provide images of reference individuals that have attained specific developmental milestones and are of defined sizes. Finally, we provide guidelines for reporting stages that provide information on both discrete and continuous changes in growth and development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Weights and Measures / methods
  • Bone Development / physiology
  • Bone and Bones / physiology
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian
  • Extremities / physiology
  • Health Planning Guidelines
  • Life Cycle Stages / physiology
  • Phenotype
  • Skin Pigmentation / physiology
  • Statistics as Topic*
  • Zebrafish / anatomy & histology*
  • Zebrafish / embryology
  • Zebrafish / growth & development*
  • Zebrafish / physiology