Why is my Swordtail Staying at the Top of the Tank?

By Nadine Oraby | 2020 Update

Swordtails prefer swimming in mid-water or stay deeper in the tank.

It is worrisome when they suddenly start floating on the top.

So you be asking, Why is my swordtail kissing the surface? Well, Swordtails go to the top of the tank when they feel stressed. They might be feeling suffocated due to the lack of oxygen. Other reasons can be sickness or bullying.

Reasons why fish keep swimming at the Top of the Tank? (Video)

Maintaining a healthy environment for your fish is time-consuming.

You have to keep the water clean and balanced.

Fish need to be observed closely to figure out if they are sick.

Let’s learn how to tackle all these issues successfully!

Restless fish

Swordtails go to the top of the tank when they aren’t feeling themselves. This could be due to the lack of oxygen in the tank. Make sure your filter, if you have one installed, is working fine. Keep the tank well aerated. You should also change the water in the tank every week. This way you’ll eradicate any impurities while ensuring the right balance of elements.

In case the lack of oxygen isn’t the reason, there is a possibility that the fish is sick. Swim bladder malfunction is common in swordtails. It happens when their organs swell, causing the swim bladder to suffocate. You can purchase the treatment for this sickness from any pet store. Mix it in the water and your fish will feel better in no time.

Sick fish will probably be constipated. Keep an eye out for how often they poop. If you notice something unusual, try switching up their food. Bloodworms and peas are a great option in such a situation.

Lastly, there is a possibility that the swordtail is staying on the top to stay safe from aggressive bullies. Pregnant fish usually become more sensitive than normal. You can shift a pregnant swordtail in a breeding tank. If your tank has too many males, try shifting some of them to another tank because male swordtails tend to harass females if the females are lesser in number.

Diagnosing a sick fish

Diagnosing the exact issue of a sick fish requires a lot of research. However, as the first step, you must look out for signs that your fish isn’t feeling well. Here are a few symptoms that are never a good indication.

Black marks anywhere on the body represent some sort of disease. It could possibly be a result of high ammonia content in your tank. Some pregnant female swordtails do get darker scales just before they give birth. The safer option is for you to research why there are dark spots in the specific area where you see them.

Another symptom is deteriorating health. If your fish is looking thinner or it isn’t pooping normally, there is a high chance of sickness. Refer to a professional vet to figure out the exact disease and treat accordingly. Do not medicate your fish unless you’re sure of the sickness.

Tank cleaning

Keeping the tank clean is vital for happy and healthy fish. Before you start the process of cleaning, you should first gather all your supplies so that the process is as quick as possible. While you clean the tank, the fish will stay in a bucket. Long stays in a confined space can stress them out. Therefore, do not waste time at all.

Prepare the new water beforehand. Set its pH, minerals, and temperature before you start cleaning the tank. Ideally, this water should be free of ammonia. The nitrites and nitrates should be absent from the water too. The pH should be between 7 and 8.4.

Keep an algae cleaning pad at hand. Also, get an aquarium-safe glass cleaner. If you plan on cleaning the filter, get a filter cleaner as well. In case the algae or dirt is stuck in the aquarium, get razors or scissors to scrape them off.

The process is simple. Move your fish into the bucket. Start by removing as much water as you’re changing. Usually, 10 to 20% of water should be changed on a weekly basis. However, if the fish are sick, change at least 50% of the water. Then, scrape the aquarium using all new tools. Clean the gravel, decorations, glass, and everything else. Add the water and check its temperature. If it’s ideal, put your fish back in and you’re done!

Protecting pregnant fish

If your swordtail is pregnant, you should start paying attention to her behavior. Usually, swordtails get stressed if they are kept alone. Especially during pregnancy, female swordtails become sensitive to changes. It is best if you keep the fish in the same tank and let it do its own thing. Most fish will give birth without any assistance.

Yet, the sensitive nature during pregnancy can also make the pregnant fish prone to bullying. If your fish is hiding behind plants, always staying alone, not being active, preferring to float either at the top or bottom of the tank, chances are she needs some privacy. You can shift her to a breeding box. If she feels lonely, get her some company by adding a few more swordtails, preferably females, in the separate tank.

Food options

Generally, swordtails aren’t picky eaters at all. They will eat anything you offer. Vegetation, meat, frozen food, and even home-made recipes are loved by swordtails.

However, if your swordtail looks sick, you should cut down on frozen food. Try increasing the dosage of live worms and bloodworms. These sources are high in protein content which strengthens the immune system of the fish. In case the fish is constipated, you should feed them peas. They are interpreted by the fish body as food pellets which improve the digestion system of the fish.

If you want to make home-made food for your fish, you can do so very cost-effectively. For vegetation, simply take broccoli, cucumber pellets or any other vegetable that your fish likes. Boil, then blanch and cool it. Make small cubes to serve your fish.

For meat options, take worms, tuna, cod or any other available seafood. Cut the meat, cook it, add in some garlic and vitamins, pour in some gelatin, and you’re done! You can customize the food by adding vegetables too. Freeze the mixture in ice-cube trays for easy storage.

Related questions

What is the ideal male to female ratio for swordtail fish in a tank? 1 male to 3 or 4 female swordtails is the perfect ratio. It is suitable for breeding without causing harassment. The larger number of females prevent the males from getting overly aggressive, too.

What is swim bladder malfunction? When an organ in the fish’s body swells, it puts pressure on the swim bladder. This causes the fish to swim upside down, usually towards the top of the tank. Swim bladder malfunction isn’t a fatal disease. You can treat it with medicine. It is also recommended to add salt to the aquarium water if the fish is swimming upside down.

Are my fish happy? Happy fish will be active and lively. They will swim around the entire tank instead of staying in one place. Happy fish eat regularly. Their body looks fresh and bright with no unusual spots.


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