One for all and all for one: the importance of shoaling on behavioral and stress responses in zebrafish

Zebrafish. 2013 Sep;10(3):338-42. doi: 10.1089/zeb.2013.0867. Epub 2013 Jun 26.


Zebrafish has been increasingly used in behavioral studies, but data can present high variability. Most studies have been performed using isolated zebrafish, despite their interactive nature and shoaling behavior. We compared adult zebrafish behavior and cortisol levels after exposure to novelty as well as sensitivity to Pentylenetetrazole (PTZ)-induced seizures in animals tested individually or in groups of three (triplets). In the exploratory behavior task, data from single fish and triplets were not significantly different, but single fish data were more disperse in latency, to enter and time spent in the tank upper part, and crossings. In the light-dark task, time in the light zone and crossings were not different between groups, but latency to enter the dark zone and data variability were. We also observed that the latency to reach stage III seizures induced by PTZ was higher in triplets, but data dispersion was not different from single fish. Finally, cortisol levels of fish individually exposed to a novel environment were higher and more variable than triplets, while both groups had higher levels than unmanipulated animals. Thus, when tested individually, zebrafish are more stressed and present more variable behavior due to disruption of their natural shoal strategies. These features can be beneficial or detrimental depending on study aims and should be considered when designing, analyzing, and interpreting zebrafish behavioral data.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anxiety
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Male
  • Pentylenetetrazole
  • Social Behavior*
  • Stress, Psychological*
  • Zebrafish* / blood


  • Hydrocortisone
  • Pentylenetetrazole