What Do Dither Fish Do For Angelfish?

What Do Dither Fish Do For Angelfish?

Dither fish are a great way to make friends with your aquarium inhabitants. These outgoing creatures swim around without worrying about territorial disputes or bullying, which makes them perfect for calming your shy fish!

Their calm demeanor will also allow your angelfish to get more active because there’s no immediate danger threatened by these curious drifting figures of prey (and protector).

This article will dig deeper into the best dither fish to change your aquarium’s dynamics and provide a more active community tank to enjoy.

When Should I Include Dither Fish?

If your aquarium fish are excessively shy or if you’re just starting out with a new tank, dither fish can be a great way to increase activity and break the ice (literally).

These species are community fish that will get along with any tankmate, no matter the size or species. Whether you have a freshwater or saltwater aquarium, these social butterflies will help reduce stress levels and make everyone feel more comfortable.

In addition, dither fish is a fantastic way to teach your more aggressive fish a lesson in manners. Because dither fish don’t have any particular territory, dither fish can help show your grumpy fish that it’s okay to share the tank with others.

Here is a youtube guide talking about What are Dither Fish and How to Use Them

Dither Fish vs. Target Fish

Dither fish are a type of community fish that helps make your aquarium feel more active and social. Dither fish are an indicator for the other shy fish that it’s okay to come out and play since there is no immediate danger.

These fish are not aggressive and don’t establish any particular territory, which makes them perfect for beginners or those who want to create a more relaxed environment.

Target fish, on the other hand, are a bit more high-maintenance. These fish are typically bigger in size and establish their own territories within the tank. Dither fish can be aggressive with other tankmates and may even eat smaller fish.

These fish take care of the mated pair of cichlids’ protective aggressions by diverting them away from one another.

In other words, when there are only two cichlids in a tank, dither fish might be more likely to fight since there’s no one else to take out their aggression on.

Adding target fish gives the cichlids something to focus their aggression on other than each other, which can help reduce stress and fighting.

Small Dither Fish Species


Tetras are a species of characin, one of the most diverse species in the world. The huge Pacu, the ferocious Piranha, and the well-known Neon Tetra are all characins.

Characins are schooling fish that make excellent Dither and Target Fish as a whole. However, tetras are tiny fish that should not be used as Target Fish unless their tankmates are likewise tiny and the aquarium is big enough and not cramped.

These species are carnivorous and require a variety of prepared flakes, properly sized pellets, and live and frozen meals.

Foods high in carotenoids, such as brine shrimp and bloodworms, can help to enhance their coloration.

  • Average Length: 1-3 inch
  • pH Requirements: 0-7
  • Water Column: Middle level
  • Species to Consider: Neon Tetras,Cardinal Tetras, Glowlight Tetras, Diamond Tetras
  • Special Considerations: Tetras originate from South America, and dither fish are commonly found in tropical climates. Tetras are more adaptable in captivity than captive-bred Tetras, although some might be harmed by cold or alkaline water.
  • Our Recommendation: Neon Tetras

There are several reasons why we prefer neon tetras as well as other aquarium hobbyists. Dither fish is inexpensive, appealing, and resilient.

Because dither fish have been captive-bred for decades, dither fish can survive in a wider range of water conditions than Cardinal Tetras.

Neon tetras will take any given prepared or frozen food provided and the majority measure under 1½ inches.

Neon tetra fish
Neon Tetra fish


Danios are a little fish different from others in the same family, the Cyprinidae, which includes goldfish, koi, and barbs. Dither fish come from Southeast Asia and are almost entirely cultivated nowadays.

They’re peaceful schooling fish that mix well with other species that aren’t likely to eat them, and will happily eat whatever is offered to them including flakes and pellets.

Many of the more popular Danios come in a variety of color morphs, such as albino and leucistic types and some of them are cool water tolerant and may be kept in unheated aquariums.

Additionally, dither fish is simple to breed when well fed and maintained in groups, releasing their eggs in tangled aquatic plants.

  • Average Length: 1-2 inch
  • pH Requirements: 0-7.5
  • Water Column: middle to upper water levels
  • Species to Consider: Cardinal
  • Special Considerations: Zebra Danio, Pearl Danio, Glowlight Danio, Celestial Pearl Danio
  • Our Recommendation: Zebra Danios

Zebra Danios are immensely popular for good reason. Dither fish come in several color morphs, from albino and leopard-spotted to a unique, genetically engineered “GloFish” that fluoresce in red, green, and yellow.

Dither fish is hardy, available in pet stores around the world, and add just the right amount of action to the middle and upper water column.

Multicolor Zebra Danio Fish
Multicolor Zebra Danio Fish by inndiamart


Hatchetfish are characins that school together. Dither fish come from South America and have a thin, hatchet-shaped body that has a special function.

These species can swim swiftly through water and even make assisted glides to capture flying insects from the air and avoid predators. Their broad chests are packed with powerful muscles similar to a bird’s breast.

Obviously, attempting to replicate this behavior in an aquarium would be ineffective, no matter how big your aquarium is, so a tight-fitting lid is required.

They hang solely near the surface, waiting for insects or flakes to splash into the water. Because dither fish are surface dwellers, dither fish make excellent dither fish without crowding the middle water column where most fish reside.

  • Average Length: 1-3 inch
  • pH Requirements:0-7.0
  • Water Column: Upper
  • Species to Consider: Marbled Hatchetfish, Silver Hatchetfish, Black Winged Hatchetfish, Common Hatchetfish
  • Special Considerations: Hatchetfish are jumpers and rather skittish. Avoid tapping on the glass or quickly disturbing the surface of the water as dither fish will naturally take to the air when frightened. This also means dither fish should not be used as Target Fish.
  • Our Recommendation: Marbled Hatchetfish

The most popular hatchetfish is the Marbled Hatchetfish, which accounts for about 60% of the market. They are also one of the least sensitive species, making them one of the most commercial.

Hatchetfish, in particular, are sensitive to poor water quality. They should never be put into an aquarium during the cycling process and should always be maintained in groups of six or more.

Invertebrate prey items such as mosquito larvae, fruit flies, and blood worms are preferred by all Hatchetfish.

Surface Dweller: Common Hatchetfish | Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine
Hatchetfish by tfhmagazine


Guppies are among the most well-known species in the aquarium world, and it’s easy to see why it’s familiar to most aquarists.

They are low-maintenance gish that can withstand a wide range of water conditions and will eat whatever you give them.

Also, they are livebearers, so they will give birth to live young as opposed to laying eggs. This is one of the main reasons they are so popular in the aquarium world since this process is relatively straightforward.

The fry are too small and can be eaten by other aquarium inhabitants, so it’s best to set up a breeding tank if you want to raise them.

  • Average Length: 1-2 inch
  • pH Requirements: 5-7.8
  • Water Column: Lower to Middle levels
  • Species to Consider: Endler’s Livebearer, Common Guppy,
  • Special Considerations: Guppies, or Million Fish, are one of the most common types of fish available. They will breed continuously as long as they are well-nourished. Raising young requires a separate tank and specific diets for their tiny mouths, but it is simple to do and pays off handsomely.
Guppy fish
Guppy fish

Medium Sized Dither Fish Species


Barbs are heavier and chunkier in shape than Danios. They’re all fast-swimming, schooling fish with a variety of popular aquarium fish among them.

They come in several color morphs and many other species are naturally intense in color.

Most Barb males are slightly smaller but more intensely colored than females. This is especially true of Black Ruby and Cherry Barbs.

While Cherry Barbs are excellent small Dither Fish, most of the other species are large enough to act as Dither or Target fish for medium-sized Cichlids and other aggressive species.

Make sure you provide at least 20 gallons of space for these fish as Barbs are active, chunky fish that school and thus have a significant bioload.

  • Average Length: 2-5 inch
  • pH Requirements: 0-7.5
  • Water Column: Middle
  • Species to Consider: Tiger Barb, Gold Barb, Black Ruby Barb, Rosy Barb, Spanner Barb, Denison Barb, Cherry Barb
  • Special Considerations: Barbs aren’t aggressive but have a tendency to nip at the tempting, flowing fins of slow-moving fish like Bettas, Guppies, and Angelfish. This will cause stress and leave routes for infections to take hold.
  • Our Recommendation: Black Ruby Barb

Black Ruby Barbs are not as popular as their cousin the Tiger Barb but they really should be.

Males need to be kept with females in order to show their best color, taking on an intense purple and ruby red color mixed with iridescent spangles.

Black Ruby Barbs are on the small side, rarely growing past 2 inches. They are also peaceful and rarely nip fins.

Barb fish
Barb Fish

Giant Danio

Most Danios are small fish suitable for even nano aquariums. Giant Danios are the exception; males regularly reach 3 inches and females can top 5 inches! This makes them excellent Dither Fish for medium-sized aquarium fish.

Giant Danios should be kept in spacious, long aquariums of at least 55 gallons at maturity as they tend to race back and forth continually.

You should have at least 6 of them to feel secure; even Dither Fish needs Dither Fish!

Like all Danios, Giant Danios will accept anything offered and are very undemanding in terms of water chemistry.

  • Average Length: 3-5 inch
  • pH Requirements:0-7.5
  • Water Column: Middle to Upper water levels
  • Special Considerations: Long-style aquariums are preferred to squat designs. This gives Giant Danios room to swim without having to make constant abrupt turns.
Giant Danio Fish Species Profile
Giant Danio by thesprucepets

Silver Dollars

The Silver Dollar is a member of the Serrasalmidae family, which includes both Pacu and Piranhas.

Like their larger cousins the Pacu, Silver Dollars are mostly vegetarian. They move in groups of dozens to hundreds in nature, feeding on soft water plants and relying on the confusion of their mirrored flanks and fast, darting movements to avoid Amazonian ambush predators.

Silver Dollars will accept flakes and pellets but should be regularly given blanched vegetables like zucchini slices, spinach, and cauliflower. They have powerful, crunching teeth and will take large bites out of any aquatic plants you provide, even plants normally immune to vegetarians like Anubias and Java Fern.

Silver Dollars should never be kept in aquariums smaller than 125 gallons. If kept as Target Fish, you should expand that to 180 gallons to ensure they can actively evade a short chase from aggressive tank mates without crashing into the aquarium glass.

  • Average Length: 6-8 inch
  • pH Requirements:0-7.0
  • Water Column: Middle
  • Species to Consider: Red Hook Silver Dollar, Spotted Silver Dollar, Common Silver Dollar
  • Our Recommendation: Red Hook and Spotted Silver Dollar

Silver Dollars are mostly identical in care needs and size. Red Hook and Spotted Silver Dollars offer a bit of added color that the Common Silver Dollar (Metynnis argenteus) doesn’t have.

Silver Dollar (Metynnis argenteus) | Petco
Silver Dollars fish by petco


Rainbowfish are a family of boldly colored. These hardy fish aren’t nearly as popular in the aquarium trade as they should be.

Of the family Melanotaeniidae, they come from Madagascar, Indonesia, and Australia, and range from an inch to nearly 6 inches in size.

They tend to have an iridescent sheen that makes them particularly eye-catching under bright light.

Rainbowfish are schooling fish that are sexually distinct; males are always brighter in color and many species also have flowing fin extensions that females lack.

They are deep-bodied fish compared to other Dither Fish and they are tolerant of an especially wide range of water chemistries.

They can work as Dither Fish in both a slightly acidic community aquarium as well as Target Fish in an alkaline Rift Lake Cichlid environment.

As active carnivores, Rainbowfish should be given a mixture of prepared and frozen foods.

Bright invertebrates like brine shrimp and bloodworms will give them better color, especially species with golds and reds like Bosesman’s and Red Rainbowfish.

Dwarf species such as the Celebes Rainbowfish are great Dither Fish for smaller community aquariums.

  • Average Length: 1-6″
  • pH Requirements:0-8.0
  • Water Column: Middle to Upper
  • Species to Consider: Boeseman’s Rainbowfish, Red Rainbowfish, Irian Jaya rainbowfish, Banded Rainbowfish, Lake Kutubu Rainbowfish
  • Special Considerations: Rainbowfish are often named for where they are from (Irian Jaya, Celebes, Lake Kutubu). This can offer insights into their care requirements. Many are wild-caught and exceptionally rare, which drives up their price.
  • Our Recommendation: Boeseman’s and Red Rainbowfish

These two species are some of the most popular Rainbowfish in the aquarium trade.

Boeseman’s Rainbowfish grows to around 4 inches while Red Rainbowfish can reach up to 6 inches.

Females are a drab brown compared to males but are needed if you want to see the best color from them.

When given a spacious aquarium of 55+ gallons they make excellent Dither and Target Fish for medium to large tank mates.

Dwarf Neon Rainbowfish - Fish Bazaar
Rainbowfish by fishbazaar

Large Types of Dither Fish

Tinfoil Barb

Tinfoil Barbs are some of the largest Barbs in the world but should be treated identically to their smaller cousins.

They come from Southeast Asia and Northern Indonesia where they are occasionally raised for food as well as the aquarium trade.

Tinfoil Barbs are schooling fish with omnivorous tendencies. However, they consume more plant matter than most and should be provided blanched vegetables and vegetarian flakes in addition to protein-based prepared and frozen foods.

Like all Barbs, Tinfoil Barbs have the tendency to nip at the trailing fins of slow-moving fish.

They will also pick at fish significantly smaller and can even consume tiny fish like Tetras when they mature.

  • Average Length: 10-14″
  • pH Requirements: 6.0-7.5
  • Water Column: All
  • Special Considerations: Tinfoil Barbs are both large and extremely active. A spacious tank with a tight-fitting lid is essential as a foot-long TInfoil Barb can leap free of a standard aquarium hood with ease when panicked.
Tinfoil Barb
Tinfoil Barb by sydneydiscusworld

Bala Shark

Bala Sharks are not true sharks. Rather they are freshwater Cyprinids and related to Barbs and Goldfish.

Unlike Barbs, Bala Sharks can grow to be a foot or more in length but don’t share their opportunistic, fin-nipping nature.

These Indonesian gentle giants eat plankton and tiny invertebrates in the wild but will happily accept whatever’s offered in aquariums.

Bala Sharks are inexpensive Dither and Target Fish that grow rapidly but should be kept in schools of 6 or more.

When kept singly they grow even more skittish and liable to slam into tank walls and hoods.

  • Average Length: 10-14″
  • pH Requirements: 6.0-7.0
  • Water Column: Middle to Upper
  • Special Considerations: Bala Sharks should only be kept in the largest of aquariums as adults (180+ gallons). They are fast, active fish that need plenty of space to swim and turn about without running into glass or objects.
Bala shark
Bala Shark by naturerules1.fandom


Pacu are the largest members of the Serrasalmidae family, which includes Silver Dollars and Piranha.

They are the largest commonly available Dither and Target Fish in the aquarium trade. You can expect your Pacu to reach at least 2-3 feet and weigh as much as 40 lbs when mature!

Like all Serrasalmidae they have well-developed teeth; in the case of Pacu, they look eerily like human incisors and molars.

These flat, broad teeth allow them to crunch fallen fruit and nuts as well as leaves and water plants.

In the wild, Pacu move in lazy schools of dozens like fat water cows grazing through flooded Amazonian forests.

Pacu make excellent Dither Fish but need tanks in excess of 300 gallons or heated ponds in order to thrive. While usually kept singly, Pacu are naturally schooling fish and appreciate being kept in groups.

  • Average Length: 24-36″
  • pH Requirements: 6.0-7.5
  • Water Column: Middle
  • Species to Consider: Red Belly Pacu, Black Pacu, Small Scaled Pacu
  • Special Considerations: Pacu are gigantic vegetarians and create a massive amount of fecal matter. They are a strain on any filtration system and make regular water changes critical for all aquarium inhabitants.
Pacu fish
Pacu Fish

Last Words

Dither fish are an important part of the ecosystem because they reduce shyness and aggressiveness. They also make other fish come out, which causes your aquarium to be lively–a vital function in any aquarium!

We hope you have enjoyed this article as much as we did. If you still have any questions please share them with us in the comment section below.