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, also known by the hockeystick and diptail pencilfish, is an inexpensive surface dweller. Their distinctive swimming style is slanted, with their head pointed towards the surface while the tail dips at a 45 degree angle. They like to drift along the surface looking for tiny foods (like crushed up flakes or baby brine shrimp), so avoid having high flow near the top of the aquarium. 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. 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 surf on the water surface like tiny wings and look for small foods 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

Not all surface dwellers 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. This species is larger and prefers meaty foods, such as brine shrimps and bloodworms. Don’t keep them around 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. 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. 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 are fast and will eat anything. Don’t mix them up with slow fish such as long-tailed guppies or other slower fish. The rainbowfish have a longer lifespan than most fish, and are more expensive than average fish. Our detailed care guide for forktail rainbows has more information.

Forktail blue-eye or furcata rainbowfish

6. Betta Fish

Betta splendens, the most common beginner fish, is not to be overlooked. While bettas are technically able to swim in any aquarium, they will prefer the upper third of the tank if it 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 Betta Fish

7. Common Danio

“Common” danios refer to zebra, leopard, blue, and other fast-paced danios with a narrow, torpedo-shaped body. They are able to swim at any level, but they tend to hang out near top where they are actively searching for food. 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). 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). 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 & 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. For a rarer species, you can purchase six or more to enjoy their quick chases around the tank.

10. Halfbeak

This particular group of livebearers is well-known for their unusual mouth shape. The lower jaw is shorter than the upper. 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. 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.