Top-Dwelling Freshwater Fish for your Aquarium - Planted Tank Mates
Opaline and Pearl gourami fishes swimming with other compatible tank mates.

Top-Dwelling Freshwater Fish for your Aquarium


Choosing top-dwelling freshwater fish for your aquarium can be a fun task with many options.  Their size, temperament and water requirements can all vary.  Some can be skittish and are prone to jumping out of the water.  Others may have glamorous fins and are susceptible to fin nipping from mid and bottom dwellers. Then there are labyrinth fishes that hang near the surface and occasionally come up to gulp air. There’s a lot to consider when selecting fish that occupy the upper levels of your aquarium.  Besides the popular guppy, here’s a list of other top-dwellers and tips for keeping them safe with your community.


Dwarf Gouramis are great mid to top dwelling fish.  They’re often the centerpiece to the community and kept as a single.  These are labyrinth fishes like bettas and can become territorial against their own kind, especially males.  They are peaceful when kept as a single gourami in a community with other smaller nano fishes.  Sometimes a pair of male and female could work, but a wider tank with ample space is required.  If kept in groups, be sure to have a high female to male ratio and a very large tank with other larger fish around.

Gold and Opaline Gourami


If you’re looking for unique top dwellers that school, consider hatchetfishes for your community tank.  They have an oversized chest that tapers at the tail, similar to a wide blade and handle like a hatchet or ax, hence the name.   While their body is flat and narrow, their fins flare out on the sides like a butterfly. They dart around the top of the tank in groups and are known to jump through the smallest gaps in a lid.  Be sure to infill every opening in your tank lid and provide food that takes a while to sink as they only eat from the top.

Marbled Hatchetfish


Silver Hatchetfish – available on Amazon

Betta Fish

Betta fish are beautile top dwellers.  They come in a combination of colors, patterns and unique types of tails.  Contrary to what you see in retail pet stores, they require at least a 5 gallon tank.  What’s correct about retail stores is how they are kept single and separated.  Betta fish are aggressive and territorial, especially the males.  You can never keep two in the same tank for long term.  They do well with nano community fish and depending on personality, some are peaceful with dwarf shrimp as well.

Red Betta with Pearl Gourami in background


There are over 1,000 different types of killifish found throughout the world.  Clown Killifish are one of the most popular in the hobby.  Their nano size of about 1.5” is packed with color making them a popular top-dwelling freshwater fish for your aquarium.  However, don’t let theri nano size fool you.  They’re generally peaceful community fish but males can get aggressive with one another.  Always have a higher female ratio of 3:1 when kept in groups.  

Clown Killifish


Orange Australe Killifish


Various species of halfbeaks can be found in salt water, brackish and freshwater habitats.  Freshwater halfbeaks are known for their distinctive appearance, which includes an elongated body, pointy beak-like mouth with a long lower jaw.  Most common on the freshwater aquarium trades are the Wrestling Halfbeak (Dermogenys pusilla) and Celebs Halfbeak (Nomorhamphus liemi).  Most other halfbeaks sold in the market are commonly mistaken under these two species, so it can be confusing to delineate.  They’re purely top dwelling fish that prefer more of a wide tank than tall, so provide plenty of swim space.  Like gouramis, they’re generally peaceful but males are aggressive towards each other, especially Wrestling Halfbeaks which have been used in sports betting. 

Celebes Halfbeak


Wrestling Halfbeak


Rainbowfish come in a variety of colors and sizes.  Nano size ones like the Celebes Rainbowfish can sort of look like a silver and yellow tetra.  Then there are larger ones like the Boesemani that can get to about 4” in size and are vibrant in color.  For the most part, they like to occupy the upper regions of the tank and prefer harder water conditions.  Although most are hardy and can handle a wide range, an alkaline PH of 7-8 is optimal, especially if breeding.

Celebes Rainbowfish – available on Amazon


Boesemani Rainbowfish – available on Amazon

All Things Considered

Take cover!  Or on a more serious note, consider a lid or mesh cover for your tank.  It’s great to add top-dwelling freshwater fish to your aquarium, but most tend to be jumpers, especially when startled.   Adding top dwellers to your community can be a balancing act.  Consider the width of your tank for active swimmers and if there are any aggressive fin-nipping tank mates.  Also, provide pellets, flakes and slow sinking food to give your top-dwellers time to eat.  Last but not least, tall plants make a great habitat for most freshwater top-dwellers.  Try not to overcrowd the top region and provide plenty of space to explore.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to top
Click outside to hide the comparison bar