10 Best Top-Dwelling Fish for Your Aquarium
Bottom dwellers are quite popular because they cruise around the bottom of the fish tank and clean up any food scraps from the ground. To balance out your aquarium, try adding some top-dwelling fish that will feed from the surface and fill the upper third of your fish tank.
1. Brown Pencilfish
Nannostomus, also known by the hockeystick and diptail pencilfish, is an inexpensive surface dweller. Their common names came from their slanted swimming style in which the head points toward the surface and the tail dips down at a 45-degree angle. They like to drift along the surface looking for tiny foods (like crushed up flakes or baby brine shrimp), so avoid having high flow near the top of the aquarium. As a docile schooling fish, they feel most comfortable in a group of six or more brown pencilfish and readily get along with other peaceful community fish of similar size. For more information, read our full article on pencilfish.
2. Silver Hatchetfish
Gasteropelecus Sternicla is a great choice for those who naturally gravitate towards oddball fish. Their body is shiny silver, narrow, and curved like the blade part of a hatchet. They are known to swim around the surface of water, with their fins extended like wings and looking for small food floating above. Like most surface dwellers on this list, they can jump well and will always find the smallest crack in an aquarium to jump from. They are often wild-caught fish. Make sure to get at least six silver hatchetfish. Also, consider proactive treatment for ich and white spot disease.
3. Golden Wonder Killifish
Some surface dwellers do not need to be schooling fish. Aplocheilus Lineatus is a beautiful and hardy centerpiece fish, measuring up to 4 inches (10 cm). The male is more colorful and has a brilliant yellow body with a blue-green sheen and orange edging on its tail and fins. Like many killifish, they enjoy slightly cooler temperatures between 72-78degF (22-26degC) and require a snug lid without any gaps around the power cables and airline tubing. These larger fish enjoy meaty foods such as bloodworms and brine shrimp. They should not be kept with small fish. Also, they can be a little aggressive towards each other, so keep more females than males and introduce lots of obstacles (like floating plants) to block line of sight.
Golden wonder killifish or striped panchax
4. African Butterflyfish
Pantodon buchholzi, another bizarre surface dweller, is a small version of an arowana. Its large wings and spiky fins make it look like a tiny arowana. Growing up to 5 inches (13 cm) in length, the freshwater butterfly fish belongs in a 30-gallon or larger aquarium with no small tank mates. As an ambush predator, they prefer slow-moving waters and a nutrient-rich diet of floating foods like freeze-dried krill and frozen foods. They can be aggressive towards other surface-dwelling species, especially their own type. Keep them small with a dense group of floating plants for shelter.
5. Furcata Rainbowfish
Pseudomugil fucatus is our favorite dwarf rainbowfish. They have bright blue eyes with yellow-tipped fins and look like little pom poms waving in air. They can eat almost any fish and are very fast, so they shouldn’t be mixed with long-tailed or slow-tailed guppies. These rainbowfish can be a bit more expensive than the average fish of 2 inches (5 cm), and they have a shorter life span of only 2 to 3 years. You might consider buying six schools and breeding them with spawning mops, separate fry grow-out tanks and separate fry grow-out tanks. For more info, see our detailed care guide on forktail rainbows.
6. Betta Fish
We can’t forget about the most popular beginner fish, Betta splendens. While bettas are technically able to swim in any aquarium, they will prefer the upper third of the tank if it is properly set up. The key is to create more “perches” and resting posts up top, such as a floating betta log, betta leaf hammock, floating plants, or a live plant with board leaves that reach the surface (like an Amazon sword or large anubias). Give them a variety of food, including freeze-dried brine shrimp, betta pellets and frozen bloodworms. Our complete care guide contains detailed information about betta fish care and possible tank mates.
Dumbo halfmoon beta fish
7. Common Danio
“Common” danios refer to zebra, leopard, blue, and other fast-paced danios with a narrow, torpedo-shaped body. Although they can swim at all levels, they prefer to hang around the top looking for food. This schooling fish likes to be in a group of six or greater and thrives in cool water fish tanks at 72-74 degrees F (22-23 degrees C). Beginner and veteran fish keepers alike enjoy keeping an action-packed tank full of these hardy, energetic fish.
8. Clown Killifish
Epiplatys annulatus is a colorful nano fish with striking vertical bands, piercing blue eyes, and a flaming tail of orange, yellow, or red that inspires its other nickname “rocket killifish.” Like other killifish, it needs a close-fitting top to prevent escape and can live in cooler temperatures from 74-76degF (23-24degC). Unlike the golden wonder killi, clown killifish are much tinier and stay less than 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) in length. You should have at least six to eight clown killers in your school. They need very small food like microgranules and crushed flakes. Although they don’t have an annual life span, they can be kept alive for up to three years. To collect eggs, you can keep them in a tank that is only one species.
Female and male clown killifish
9. Orange Hatchet Danio
Laubuka dadiburjori, formerly known as Chela dadiburjori, is a new type of danio. It has a slightly rounder and more hatchet-shaped stomach than your average zebrafish. The shiny orange body is distinguished by a horizontal stripe that runs down one side and contains several black spots. They are similar to common danios and will swim close to the surface. For a rarer species, you can purchase six or more to enjoy their quick chases around the tank.
This group of livebearers is known for its unusual mouth shape where the lower jaw is longer than the upper jaw. Some halfbeak species prefer brackish waters, so make sure you do your research. If you are looking for freshwater only tanks, the Celebes silver and golden halfbeaks will work best. Although they can eat smaller fish and their own eggs, they grow large enough to be able to consume them. Provide plenty of floating plants as well as cover to improve fry survival and to reduce male squabbling. Sometimes they don’t get enough food at the wholesalers or fish stores, so fatten them up with plenty of small, meaty foods like daphnia and bloodworms.
Celebes halfbeak (Nomorhamphus liemi)
If you spot a top-dwelling fish you like, check out our preferred online fish vendors and see what they have in stock. Enjoy nature daily, and make sure to get that tight-fitting aquarium lid.