10 Best Top-Dwelling Fish for Your Aquarium

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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. You can balance your aquarium by adding top-dwelling fish to the tank that will feed from the surface.


1. Brown Pencilfish

Nannostomus eques is a cheap and simple surface dweller that we will be starting our list with. Also known as the hockeystick, diptail pencilfish or hockeystick, Their slanted swimming style, with the head facing the surface and the tail at 45 degrees, is what gave them their common names. 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. They are docile schooling fish and will be most at home in groups of six to eight brown pencilfish. They also enjoy being around other peaceful community fish their size. You can read the full article about pencilfish.

Brown pencilfish

2. Silver Hatchetfish

If you naturally gravitate toward oddball fish, take a look at Gasteropelecus sternicla. Their bodies are shiny silver and narrow with curved edges, much like hatchet blades. They tend to surf around the water surface with their fins out like little wings, looking for small foods floating up top. They are great jumpers, and will find any crack in the aquarium’s top to jump out of. Because many of them are wild-caught specimens, make sure you get a group of at least six silver hatchetfish that are not malnourished, and consider proactively treating them for ich or white spot disease.

Silver hatchetfish

3. Golden Wonder Killifish

All surface dwellers don’t have to be schooling fish. Aplocheilus lineatus is a gorgeous (and hardy) centerpiece fish that gets up to 4 inches (10 cm) long. The male is brighter and has a yellow body and blue-green sheen. It also has orange edging and tips. They prefer cooler temperatures, between 72-78degF (22-25 degC), and require a tight lid that does not allow for any gaps around power cables or airline tubing. This species is larger and prefers meaty foods, such as brine shrimps and bloodworms. Don’t keep them around 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 strange surface dweller, looks almost like an arowana. It has large wings and spiky feet. The freshwater butterfly fish can grow up to 5 inches (13cm) in length and should be kept in an aquarium of 30 gallons or more with no other small tank mates. They prefer slow-moving water and a rich diet of frozen foods and freeze-dried Krill as ambush predators. They can be a little aggressive towards other surface-dwelling species (especially their own kind), so either get just one butterflyfish or keep a small group with a dense mass of floating plants as shelter.

African butterfliesfish

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. Our detailed care guide for forktail rainbows has more information.

Forktail blue-eye or furcata rainbowfish

6. Betta Fish

Betta splendens is the most popular beginner fish. Yes, bettas will technically swim all over the aquarium, but if your tank is set up correctly, they do prefer to hang out in the upper third level. 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). You can feed them frozen bloodworms, freeze dried brine shrimps, and betta pellets. Our complete care guide contains detailed information about betta fish care and possible tank mates.

Dumbo halfmoon beta fish

7. Common Danio

“Common” danios can be zebras, leopards, blues, and other fast-paced danios that have a narrow torpedo-shaped body. They can swim at all levels but tend to hang out near the top, actively looking for any type of food to drop in. 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). This fish is great for both novice and experienced fish keepers.

Leopard danio

8. Clown Killifish

Epiplatys Annulatus is a nano-sized fish that can be seen with its striking vertical stripes, bright blue eyes and flashing tail. It can also live in temperatures between 74 and 75 degrees F (23-24 degrees C). Unlike the golden wonder killi, clown killifish are much tinier and stay less than 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) in length. At least six to eight clownkillis should be kept in a school. Give them small foods such as micro granules or crushed flakes, baby brine shrimp, and cyclops. While they are not annual killifish, they do have a shorter life span of around three years, so you can try to breed them in a species-only tank with spawning mops or floating plants to collect the eggs.

Male and female clown killifish

9. Orange Hatchet Danio

Laubuka dadiburjori (formerly called Chela dadiburjori) is a different kind of danio with a slightly rounded, more hatchet-shaped belly compared to your typical zebrafish. The shiny orange body is distinguished by a horizontal stripe that runs down one side and contains several black spots. Similar to the common danios they prefer to swim close the surface and can survive in colder water temperatures. If you’re looking for a rarer danio to try, get six or more in a pack, and enjoy their speedy chases around the fish tank.

10. Halfbeak

This particular group of livebearers is well-known for their unusual mouth shape. The lower jaw is shorter than the upper. Some halfbeak species need brackish water. Do your research and choose the Celebes and silver halfbeaks for freshwater tanks only. They do grow large enough to eat smaller fish and their own fry, so provide lots of floating plants and cover to increase fry survival rate and minimize squabbling among males. They sometimes don’t have enough food from the fish shops or wholesalers so make sure they have plenty of small meaty foods such as bloodworms and daphnia.

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 the outdoors every day and ensure that your aquarium lid is tight fitting.