The Leopard Danio is a great starter fish and a delightful addition to any community aquarium!

The Leopard Danio is a very striking and easily recognized variety of Zebra DanioDanio rerio. This handsome little fish only reaches about 2 1/4 inches (6 cm) in length and is spotted rather than stripped. This ‘leopard with spots’ has an overall brownish-gold metallic color stippled with many bluish gray spots. A variety has also been developed with long, flowing fins is called the Longfin Leopard Danio. In either form, this fish is eye-catching and every bit as active and hardy as its progenitors, making it a great fish for any fish keeper.

One of the most popular and commonly available danios, the Leopard Danio has been a long-time staple in the freshwater hobby, but it has an unusual background. It was first described as Brachydanio frankei by Meinken in 1963. The name was later changed to Danio frankei, but the actual origin of this fish is simply unknown. Some claim that it came from India or Thailand, but no type locality was ever known. Others say that the Leopard Danio is a mutant strain developed in Czechoslovakia from the Zebra Danio while still others speculate that it is a mutant strain of the Dwarf Danio or Spotted Danio Danio nigrofasciatus. Ultimately, a fertile offspring from crossing B. rerio with B. “frankei led to this fish now being generally accepted as a B. rerio variety.

These attractive little fish are hardy and prolific breeders, so they are a great choice for the beginning aquarist. They do well in most community tanks and are a great addition to any collection of danios. Their behavior is pretty typical for danios–friendly enough, but active and fast-moving. These schooling fish should be kept in a group of at least 3, ideally 10. A school of danios can be housed with most any community fish as long as the danios will not be eaten and the other fish are not startled by swift movement.

A school of these small, lively fish is well suited to a smaller aquarium. A 10-gallon tank is the smallest needed to house a school, but 20 gallons is optimal. Their aquarium needs, care, and feeding are the same as their parentage. Like all Zebra Danio varieties, they can withstand an impressive range of water temperatures and conditions and will generally do just fine without a water heater. They can be comfortable in temperatures down to the low sixties (F), but even though they are not finicky about water conditions, it’s best to not keep your aquarium at any extreme.

To create an attractive effect in your aquarium, try a mixed school by combining the pretty Leopard Danio with some regular Zebrafish. A mix like this will provide a nice contrast of swift-moving, darting color. Mixing even more varieties like the Golden Zebra Danio, Albino Zebra Danio, and Longfin Blue Danio works equally well and creates a really exciting effect. Don’t be surprised if the school spends a lot of time in the water flow of the filters or pumps as this is reminiscent of the swift-moving waters found in their natural environment.

For Information on keeping freshwater fish, see:
Freshwater Aquarium Guide: Aquarium Setup and Care

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Cypriniformes
  • Family: Cyprinidae
  • Genus: Danio
  • Species: rerio
Leopard Danio – Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner
  • Size of fish – inches: 2.4 inches (5.99 cm)
  • Minimum Tank Size: 10 gal (38 L)
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy
  • Temperature: 64.0 to 75.0° F (17.8 to 23.9&deg C)
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Zebra Danio Danio rerio (previously Brachydanio rerio) was described by Hamilton in 1822. They are found in Asia from Pakistan to India and as far as Myanmar. The Leopard Danio was first described as Brachydanio frankei by Meinken in 1963. That was later changed to Danio frankei. There were claims that it originated in India or Thailand, but no type locality was ever known. It is now generally accepted and recognized as a B. rerio variety, with B. “frankei” being considered invalid. No known wild populations of this variety exist.

For a long time, this danio’s taxonomy was debated and divided. Some said it was a mutant strain developed in Czechoslovakia from the Zebra Danio D. rerio. Others further speculated it could be a mutant strain of the Dwarf Danio or Spotted Danio Danio nigrofasciatus (previously Brachydanio nigrofasciatus). Crosses of the Zebra Danio and B. “frankei” produced fertile offspring, which suggested they could be the same species. More recently, a British aquarist, Dr. George Cust, strengthened that notion when fertile second generation interbreeding hybrids showed a genetic ratio of 3:1 Danio rerio to D. frankei.

In nature, the Zebrafish prefer the lower reaches of streams, canals, ditches, and ponds. However, their habitat varies depending on the time of year. During the wet season, they are found in large numbers in seasonal pools and rice paddies where they feed and spawn. Then the adults migrate back to faster moving waters, and the young follow when they reach maturity. The substrate of the clear, freshwater streams is normally rocky and shaded, while the still waters are silty with dense vegetation. In the wild, these fish are considered micropredators and feed on worms, small aquatic crustaceans, insects, and insect larvae.

  • Scientific Name: Danio rerio
  • Social Grouping: Groups
  • IUCN Red List: NE – Not Evaluated or not listed – There are no known wild populations of this variety.


The attractive Leopard Danio, as well as the Longfin Leopard Danio, has a slender, compressed body and a barbel at the end of each lip. The longfin variety sports long, flowing fins and an extended tail. These small fish reach lengths of only up to about 2 1/4 inches (6 cm) in the aquarium. Their progenitors, the Zebrafish, are thought to be primarily an annual species in the wild. But captive-bred varieties can have a lifespan of 3 to 4 years, and some have lived up to 5 1/2 years with proper care.

Longfin Leopard Danio, Danio rerio Variety Longfin Leopard DanioLeopard Danio, Danio rerio Variety Leopard Danio

The Leopard Danio is a spotted version of the Zebra Danio. It has a golden or brownish background color with many bluish gray spots, both on the body and on the fins. When they swim at the top of the aquarium close to the light, their gold bodies are very reflective, giving them a metallic appearance.

  • Size of fish – inches: 2.4 inches (5.99 cm)
  • Lifespan: 4 years – They have an average lifespan of about 3 1/2 years, though some have lived up to 5 1/2 years with proper care.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

Leopard Danios are a great choice for beginning aquarists and are great companions in a community aquarium. They tolerate water condition changes without too many issues and can even be kept without a heater. They are usually very easy to feed and get along with most tankmates. These fish will feed on just about anything that is offered, as long as it floats at the surface where they can readily consume it.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner

Foods and Feeding

Since they are omnivorous, these fish will eat most any prepared or live aquarium fare, though the food does need to float at the surface. They especially enjoy chasing after tubifex worms, whether living or freeze dried. A balanced diet for them would include flake or pelleted foods, plant-based food, and occasional live prey. As with all danios, these fish are quite active and have high nutrient requirements, so select a flake food that will provide for their needs. These fish will do best when offered food several times a day, but offer what they can eat in 3 minutes or less at each feeding. If you feed only once per day, provide what they can eat in about 5 minutes.

  • Diet Type: Omnivore
  • Flake Food: Yes
  • Tablet / Pellet: Yes
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet
  • Vegetable Food: Some of Diet
  • Meaty Food: Some of Diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day – Offer only what they can consume in 3 minutes or less with multiple feedings per day.

Aquarium Care

These fish are not exceptionally difficult to care for provided their water is kept clean. At least 25 to 50% of the tank water should be replaced once a month. If the tank is densely stocked, 20 to 25% should be replaced weekly or every other week. Aquariums are closed systems, and regardless of size, all need some maintenance. Over time, decomposing organic matter, nitrates, and phosphate build up and water hardness increases due to evaporation. Be mindful during maintenance that these fish will jump, so keep a close eye on them.

  • Water Changes: Monthly – If the tank is densely stocked, water changes should be done every other week.

Aquarium Setup

The Leopard Danio is fairly hardy and will adapt to most aquarium conditions. This schooling species will spend most time in the top and middle regions, particularly if there is open water or water current. Though a school of danios can be kept in a smaller aquarium, they will do best in about a 20-gallon size. Provide good filtration and keep the tank covered to prevent jumps.

These fish are most effectively displayed in tanks with subdued lighting and a dark, fine gravel or sand substrate. They like a well planted aquarium, and a variety of plants will make them feel safe. Dense, tall plantings around the sides and back are great, but these fish prefer open water in the middle of the tank for swimming.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 10 gal (38 L) – Though a school of danios can be kept in a smaller aquarium, they will do best in about a 20 gallon size.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: Yes
  • Substrate Type: Any
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate – normal lighting
  • Temperature: 64.0 to 75.0° F (17.8 to 23.9&deg C)
  • Range ph: 6.0-8.0
  • Hardness Range: 2 – 20 dGH
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Moderate
  • Water Region: All – They will spend most of their time in the top and middle regions of the aquarium, particularly if there is open water or some current.

Social Behaviors

This Zebrafish makes a good community fish. It gets along well with others of its own kind and most other community species. Danios really need to be kept in a group of at least 3 individuals to feel comfortable, but they will be happiest in a school of 5 or more. A pecking order may emerge in the school, and they may tease each other and even engage in harmless fights, but nothing will come of it.

Select tankmates with a similar temperament that can keep up with the fast paced lifestyle of this fish. Danios have been known at times to harass other fish, and tankmates that need a calmer environment can become stressed. Don’t keep them with fish that can eat them or fish that demand a peaceful aquarium. Also, fish with long, flowing fins are a temptation too great for any fin nipper to resist, so choose tankmates carefully.

  • Temperament: Peaceful – They are good community fish with other fish that are also fast-moving.
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Yes – They are best kept in groups of 5 or more.
    • Peaceful fish (): Safe – These are very lively fish, so pick tankmates that will not be bothered by their energy.
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
    • Safe – Large schools of these very active fish may make calmer tankmates nervous.
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Safe – not aggressive
    • Plants: Safe

Sex: Sexual differences

Males are slimmer with a more streamlined body shape, while mature females are plumper.

Breeding / Reproduction

Leopard Danios are very easy to breed, and it may even occur on accident. Two fish will form a breeding pair, which they often keep for life. If you wish to retain the young, the breeding tank should be empty except for a 2-inch layer of large glass marbles, 1/2 to 1 inch in diameter. Add the female to the tank and let her settle for about a day before adding the male. When they are both in the tank, adding a few cups of cold water will cause the courtship to begin.

If conditions are favorable, the female will release her eggs in open water, and the male will fertilize them. The eggs will then sink to the bottom and fall through the marbles, out of their parents’ reach. Fry will emerge from the marbles after about 7 days. At that time or before, parents should either be removed or kept constantly well fed. See the description of breeding techniques in Breeding Freshwater Fish: Barbs. Also see Fish Food for Fry for information about types of foods for raising the young.

  • Ease of Breeding: Easy

Fish Diseases

Leopard Danios are extremely hardy, and disease is not usually a problem in a well-maintained aquarium. The finnage of the longfin variety can be extra sensitive to fin rot and other diseases. Fins may also be damaged during normal activity. If they develop large tears, it may be wise to add a fin repair medication. With any additions to a tank, such as new fish, plants, substrates, and decorations, there is a risk of introducing disease. Properly clean or quarantine anything that you want add to an established tank so as not to upset the balance.

These fish are very resilient, but knowing the signs of illness, and catching and treating them early, makes a huge difference. An outbreak of disease can often be limited to just one or a few fishes if dealt with at an early stage. The best way to proactively prevent disease is to give your fish the proper environment and a well-balanced diet. The more closely their environment resembles their natural habitat, the less stress the fish will have, making them healthier and happier. A stressed fish is more likely to acquire disease. For information about freshwater fish diseases and illnesses, see Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments.


The Leopard Danio and Longfin Leopard Danio are both readily available and inexpensive. They can be found in pet stores, online, and through mail order.