10 Best Top-Dwelling Fish for Your Aquarium

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 …

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 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 love to drift along the aquarium’s surface in search of tiny food (such as baby brine shrimp or crushed up flakes). Avoid high flow areas near the aquarium’s top. 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. 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 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. Many of these fish are wild-caught and should be kept in groups of six or more. You can also consider treating them for white spot disease, ich, or ich.

Silver hatchetfish

3. Golden Wonder Killifish

Some surface dwellers do not need to be schooling fish. Aplocheilus linnatus, a stunning and sturdy centerpiece fish, can grow to as much as 4 inches (10cm) in length. The male is more colorful and has a brilliant yellow body with a blue-green sheen and orange edging on its tail and fins. They like many killifish prefer slightly cooler temperatures of 72-78 degrees F (22-26 degrees C). A snug lid is required to keep power cables and airline tubing from getting caught. This larger species enjoys meaty foods like bloodworms and brine shrimp, so don’t keep them with any tiny fish that can fit in their big mouths. You should keep them in close proximity to each other and put up lots of obstacles, such as floating plants, to hinder their 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 are an ambush predator and prefer slow moving waters. They also like nutrient-rich floating foods such as freeze-dried shrimp and frozen foods. You might find them aggressive towards other species, especially their own kind. If you have one butterflyfish, keep it small and have a few floating plants to shelter them.

African Butterflyfish

5. Furcata Rainbowfish

Pseudomugil Furcatus is a dwarf rainbowfish that we love. It has bright blue eyes and yellow-tipped, waving fins that look almost like pom-poms. 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

We can’t forget about the most popular beginner fish, Betta splendens. Although bettas can swim anywhere in an aquarium, they prefer to be on the third floor if the tank is properly set up. It is important to have more resting places and “perches” up top. For example, a floating log, betta tree hammock, floating plants, or live plants with board leaves reaching the surface (such as an Amazon sword, large anubias). Feed them a varied diet of frozen bloodworms, freeze-dried brine shrimp, and betta pellets. You can find more information about bettafish care and potential tank mates in our care guide.

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. Although they can swim at all levels, they prefer to hang around the top looking for food. This schooling fish prefers a group of six or more and does great in cooler water fish tanks around 72-74degF (22-23degC). Both novice and experienced fish keepers enjoy keeping a lively tank of these energetic, hardy fish.

Leopard danio

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. Get at least six to eight clown killis in a school, and feed them very small foods like micro granules, crushed flakes, cyclops, and baby brine shrimp. 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 known as Chela dadiburjori, is a new type of danio. It has a slightly rounder and more hatchet-shaped stomach than your average zebrafish. Its bright orange body features a distinctive horizontal stripe, which is made up of 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 group of livebearers are known for their unique mouth shape. The lower jaw is much longer than the higher jaw. Some halfbeak species require brackish water, so do your research and stick with the Celebes, silver, and golden halfbeaks for freshwater only tanks. 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)

You can find top-dwelling fishes you like by visiting our favorite online fish sellers and checking out what they have in stock. Enjoy nature daily, and make sure to get that tight-fitting aquarium lid.