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. For balance, add top-dwelling fish. These fish will feed from the water surface and fill the fish tank’s upper third.


1. Brown Pencilfish

A cheap and easy surface dweller to start off our list is Nannostomus eques, also known as the hockeystick or diptail pencilfish. 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 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. They can be docile and social schooling fish. They feel at ease in groups of six or more brown pencilfish. For more information, read our full article on pencilfish.

Brown pencilfish

2. Silver Hatchetfish

Gasteropelecussternicla may be the oddball fish that you gravitate to. 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. 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 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. 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, 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. 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 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 are fast and will eat anything. Don’t mix them up with slow fish such as long-tailed guppies or other slower fish. 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. 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. 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. 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. Feed them a varied diet of frozen bloodworms, freeze-dried brine shrimp, and betta pellets. For more information on betta fish care requirements and potential tank mates, read our complete care guide here.

Dumbo halfmoon Betta Fish

7. Common Danio

Common danios are zebra, leopard and blue danios. They have a narrow, torpedo-shaped, fast-paced 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 prefers a group of six or more and does great in cooler water fish tanks around 72-74degF (22-23degC). 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). The clown killifish is smaller than the golden wonderkilli and measures less than 1.5 inches (3.8cm). 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 & 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. 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. Sometimes they can’t get enough food from wholesalers or fish shops so feed them lots of small, meaty foods, such as daphnias 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. Take in nature every day, but make sure you have the right aquarium lid.