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 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 distinctive swimming style is slanted, with their head pointed towards the surface while the tail dips at a 45 degree angle. They enjoy drifting along the aquarium’s surface to find tiny foods, such as crushed flakes and baby brine shrimp. Avoid having too much flow at the 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

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. They are great jumpers, and will find any crack in the aquarium’s top to jump out of. 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

All surface dwellers don’t have 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 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. These larger fish enjoy meaty foods such as bloodworms and brine shrimp. They should not be kept with small fish. 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 is another oddball surface dweller that looks like a miniature arowana with large wings and spiky fins. 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.

African butterflyfish

5. Furcata Rainbowfish

Pseudomugil furcatus is one of our favorite dwarf rainbowfish with bright blue eyes and yellow-tipped fins that look like little pom-poms waving in the air. They’re very fast and eat almost anything, so don’t mix them with slower fish like long-tailed guppies that might get outcompeted during mealtimes. 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. 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). 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 betta 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). Beginner and veteran fish keepers alike enjoy keeping an action-packed tank full of these hardy, energetic fish.

Leopard danio

8. Clown Killifish

Epiplatys annulatus, a colorful nanofish with striking vertical bands and piercing blue eyes is known for its bright colors. The clown killifish is smaller than the golden wonderkilli and measures less than 1.5 inches (3.8cm). You should have at least six to eight clown killers in your school. They need very small food like microgranules and crushed flakes. 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. Its bright orange body features a distinctive horizontal stripe, which is made up of several black spots. Like the common danios, they like to swim near the surface, will eat almost anything, and can live in cooler water temperatures. For a rarer species, you can purchase six or more to enjoy their quick chases around the 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 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. Their size allows them to eat small fish and their own fry. To increase the survival rate of your fry and reduce squabbling between males, provide plenty of floating plants and cover. 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.