Top 5 Dither Fish to help Shy Or Aggressive Fish

Top 5 Dither Fish to Help Shy or Aggressive Fish

If you have timid or territorial fish in your aquarium, try calming them down with dither fish. Dither fish are outgoing and will swim in the open. The confident behavior of dither fish indicates to shy fish that there’s no danger immediately and it’s safe to get out of hiding. Dither fish can also be used to disarm and diffuse fish-bullying aggression so they don’t have to pick on one fish. Learn more about the best dither fish that can change the dynamics of your fish tank and give you a more active community aquarium to enjoy.

1. Livebearers

The livebearers are fish that can bear young and are friendly and colorful. They reproduce easily and their eggs will swim anywhere without fear. They are more likely than ever to emerge when they see the brave babies of their livebearer parents, which is why skittish fish will often be drawn to them.

If you have two angelfish that keep fighting over territory, try adding a bunch of mollies, swordtails, or other larger livebearer to break up the tension. The livebearers can swim all over the place, and will easily encroach on their personal space. The angelfish will not be able to keep every dither fish from entering their territory. Therefore, it is possible for them to give up trying hard to maintain their boundaries. The angelfish will eat livebearer fry if they are too close to their territory, but this keeps them from becoming overrun by babies.

Many livebearers have a carefree, easygoing temperament that can help semi-aggressive species like angelfish chill out.

2. Tetras and Rasboras

Both groups of schooling fish are known for their streamlined, torpedo-shaped bodies that make them fast enough to escape even the angriest tank boss. Some rasboras and tetras can be wary, as they are usually less than 3 inches in length. They tend to be braver if you increase their school size, so make sure they have at least 6-12 fish from the same species.

A schooling fish that is small and shy can be used to encourage a timid nano fish. A larger schooling fish will not be eaten if you are trying to placate a belligerent or large fish. Depending on your needs, here are some suggestions categorized by size:


Rummy nose tetras, in particular, are very tight-searing fish that swim together and change their direction as a large herd. This behavior confuses predators as they are less likely to catch a single fish surrounded by multiple doppelgangers.

Nothing is more beautiful than watching large groups of rummy-nose Tetras gracefully swimming in synchronization.

3. Corydoras

While tetras and rasboras often swim in the middle level of the aquarium, cory catfish stay down low near the floor, constantly scavenging for food out in the open. This makes them a wonderful dither fish for other bottom dwellers like Apistogramma and kribensis cichlids who want to know when it’s safe for their babies to come out and feed. Corydoras can be great members of the clean-up crew. They thrive in groups of six or more of their own species. There are many types to choose. If you have bigger fish like blood parrots that are capable of swallowing smaller corys, then go for their larger but similar-looking cousins, the Brochis catfish. In fact, you can keep livebearers, tetras, and corys all together in a community tank that is filled with lively dither fish.

Albino corydoras are one of the most sociable catfish you can find, and they love eating frozen bloodworms, freeze-dried tubifex worms, and sinking pellets.

4. Danios and Rainbowfish

Sometimes medium- to large-sized predators like Jack Dempsey and oscar cichlids can be uncharacteristically shy and prone to hiding. You will need larger, faster-schooling fish such as giant danios, Devario aequipinnatus, and hill trouts, Barilius spp. You have a greater chance of escape from their jaws. By actively darting around at a million miles an hour and breaking into everyone’s territories, these dither fish give off the message that “I’m a smaller fish, yet I find it safe to freely swim out in the open.” If you have a jumpy bala shark that tends to freak out and ram into walls, you can also try dither fish to help it settle down. Rainbowfish are a confident, colorful and calm schooling species that can help calm other more anxious species.

Hill trout have a speedy swimming ability and can travel in fast-flowing rivers. They are best when paired with slower fish to avoid being outcompeted during meals.

5. Hatchetfish and Pencilfish

You have timid fish that you want to spawn but don’t want them to eat your babies. Look out for fish that live at the top of the aquarium, such as hatchetfish or pencilfish. These surface dwellers mostly swim in the upper third of the aquarium and have tiny, upward facing mouths that prefer eating floating foods from above. This is a great place for Apistogramma dwarf Cichlids or Ram, who are protecting their babies near the substrate. Hatchetfish and pencilfish rarely come down to feed and typically won’t eat fry unless they accidentally swim up top. When you feed the aquarium, the skittish fish will see the dither fish rushing to grab a bite, so then they will feel more comfortable coming out to feed as well.

Nannostomus eques are known for swimming near the surface at a 45-degree angle, which is why they are sometimes called the diptail or hockeystick pencilfish.

Dither fish can bring out the best behavior in your aquarium by coaxing fish out of hiding, putting the tank bosses at ease, and increasing the activity level overall. Visit our Edmunds, Washington retail store or browse our favorite online fish sellers if you’re looking for fun fish.