The behavior of animals are observed/measured in many different ways. As modern technology increases, the use of robots have increased in the medical field, engineering, and research fields. Robots have increased and transformed pathways to scientific discovery and inquiry. More specifically, “ethorobotics” is a tool that scientists use in the field to better understand animal behavior. This type of field allows behavior to be derived into a mathematical form and then implemented into robots. The robots then interact with the animal of observation.  The goal of using this technology is to target behavioral response and to trigger animal interactions.

Many animal-robot experiments are “open-looped” where the robot is pre-programmed to implement prior chosen behaviors without being responsive to the behavior of the live subject. The robots in this control do not interact with the live subject directly, but instead the live subject is influenced just by the presence of the robot. To observe the Zebrafish, a “Closed-looped” control is used. A closed-loop control uses a 3-D replica of the Zebrafish in which a robotic stimuli can adapt to the behavior of the fish. When using this control for research, results suggest that being a replica increases the Zebrafish’s attraction and their interaction with the behavior, which is why this type of control is better to use.

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“Robotic replica of a fish” by Plos Blogs under CC by 2.0

So why do we want to observe Zebrafish Behavior?

Zebrafish are excellent model organisms:

  • They share a high degree of sequence with humans
  • Easy to care for because of their small size and easier to keep in natural conditions
  • You can easily identify genetic mutation or drug treatment
  • Reproduce often
  • Easy to introduce genetic genes

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“Zebrafish by Wikimedia Commons under CC by 2.0

How do They Behave?

Zebrafish have complex swimming patterns moving vertical and horizontal extremely fast. This type of fish is very social, and this model organism is used to research social disorders such as autism. Shoaling is a behavior observed by measuring the distance between each fish at several points or continuously. Other behaviors that are observed is swim speeds, zig-zag motions, and swim bursts.

To better understand behaviors of Zebra fish, I constructed an ethogram:

Type of behavior Behavior Description
Locomotion Burst Swimming







Erratic Movement


Swimming fast forward. Large bend angles, escape behavior


Passive sliding with out fin/body movements


Sharp changes in direction or velocity and repeated rapid darting

Mating Courtship








Male will follow or chase female in jerky swimming motion


Halting and exposing side in front of a male, swimming up and down in front of male


Male approaches female, curves body around in attempt to trigger oviposition in the female

Feeding Prey Capture









Forward slow swim and J-turns followed by capturing and ingesting prey


Searching and probing movements


Quick movements towards target with mouth opening and closing

Social Interaction Aggression








Fin raise, mouth opening, body color changing, chasing


Movement toward a second fish, increased acceleration


Non aggressive movements towards another fish

These are only some of the many behaviors of Zebrafish that are observed and researched. Using robots to observe behavior gives leverage to scientists and allows them to interact with the animal of observation. It helps us to grasp how different groups of animals react to stimuli and to better understand their interactions. By gaining a deeper understanding of animal interactions, this can have a positive impact on protection of endangered species, habitat control and population regulation.

Where Robotics Are Going In The Future

MIT researchers have developed “Soft Robotics which is a soft robot fish that can execute escape maneuvers and change in body motion just as fast as live fish. The idea of developing a soft robot was to avoid collisions with the natural environment, while still being able to observe behavior used for research.

“Autonomous, self-contained soft robotic fish at MIT” by YouTube under CC by 2.0


4 thoughts on “The Use of Robotics to Observe Zebra Fish Behavior

  1. This is fascinating! The idea of using robots to avoid the complications inherent in studying behavior between individuals in a consistent and controlled way is very intriguing! Researchers have long used mirrors, or plastic dummies or other models – but these robots add so many other dimensions to what can be studied. I also LOVE the ethogram that you constructed. Excellent work!

    Liked by 1 person

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