Social and reproductive behavior of three paternal mouthbrooding cardinalfishes (Apogonidae) were investigated in the shallow marine waters of Shirahama, Japan. The solitary species Apogon doederleini and A. niger bred in ‘transient pairs’, in which a male and female associated for only a few hours of each afternoon on less than 5 successive days. The prespawning behavior was the same as the courtship display on days prior to spawning. After spawning, egg-incubating males were usually left alone. The gregarious species Apogon notatus formed territorial ‘lasting pairs’, which resided at given sites from dawn to dusk on each day during a period of a month or more. After spawning, the egg-incubating male either continued to stay with his mate in the territory, or left it to enter into an aggregation. In the latter case, the female continued to reside in the territory, pairing with a new male whom she brought from an aggregation. It is suggested that in paternal apogonids the prolonged pair bond and territoriality should have developed only in gregarious species as secondary adaptation for reproductive success: to avoid conspecific interference during spawning.