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 slanted swimming style, with the head facing the surface and the tail at 45 degrees, is what gave them their common names. 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. 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. For more information, read our full article on 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 tend to surf around the water surface with their fins out like little wings, looking for small foods floating up top. 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 lineatus is a gorgeous (and hardy) centerpiece fish that gets up to 4 inches (10 cm) long. The male is more colorful with a bright yellow body, blue-green sheen, and orange edging around 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. This species is larger and prefers meaty foods, such as brine shrimps and bloodworms. Don’t keep them around small fish. They can also be aggressive towards one another, so make sure to keep them with more females than men and add lots of obstacles (like floating plant) to prevent line of 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 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. The rainbowfish have a longer lifespan than most fish, and are more expensive than average fish. You can find more information in our care guide for forktail Rainbows.

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. You need to provide more “perches”, or resting posts, up top. This could be a floating betta log or betta leaf hammock, floating plants or a live plant with boards 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 are zebra, leopard and blue danios. They have a narrow, torpedo-shaped, fast-paced 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). 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 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. 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.

Male & 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. 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. 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 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. 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)

You can find top-dwelling fishes you like by visiting our favorite online fish sellers and checking out what they have in stock. Take in nature every day, but make sure you have the right aquarium lid.