Adult zebrafish are robustly social animals whereas larva is not. We designed an assay to determine at what stage of development zebrafish begin to interact with and prefer other fish. One week old zebrafish do not show significant social preference whereas most 3 weeks old zebrafish strongly prefer to remain in a compartment where they can view conspecifics. However, for some individuals, the presence of conspecifics drives avoidance instead of attraction. Social preference is dependent on vision and requires viewing fish of a similar age/size. In addition, over the same 1-3 weeks period larval zebrafish increasingly tend to coordinate their movements, a simple form of social interaction. Finally, social preference and coupled interactions are differentially modified by an NMDAR antagonist and acute exposure to ethanol, both of which are known to alter social behavior in adult zebrafish.
Keywords: NMDA receptors; ethanol; social behavior; visual behavior; zebrafish model system.