The concept of ‘metabolic cold adaptation’, namely that polar marine ectotherms are adapted in having an elevated basal metabolic rate, has been examined in the light of recent biochemical, physiological and ecological data for Antarctic marine organisms. It is now clear that marine invertebrates from Antarctic waters are characterized by slow growth rates, low basal metabolism and reduced annual reproductive effort, and there is thus no clear evidence of the traditional view of an elevated metabolic rate. By analogy with fish, protein synthesis rates are probably also low. This suggests that the major feature of cold adaptation is a reduction in the individual total annual energy intake in comparison with ecologically similar organisms from warm water. This allows a high standing crop of suspension feeders to develop, and low temperature is thus a significant factor in the successful widespread adoption of typical K-strategies in Antarctic marine invertebrates.