In Antarctic environments, the physiological bases for long larval life spans under natural conditions of limited food availability are not understood. The Na+ pump is likely to be involved with hypometabolic regulation in such cold environments. Changes in the activity and metabolic importance of Na+/K+-ATPase were measured in embryos of the Antarctic sea urchin Sterechinus neumayeri and in larvae reared under different feeding conditions. The rate of increase of total Na+/K+-ATPase activity was 3.9 times faster in fed than in unfed larvae. During development and growth, there was an increase in the percentage of total, potential Na+/K+-ATPase activity that was physiologically utilized. In early (10-day-old) gastrulae, 17 % was utilized in vivo, increasing to 77 % in six-arm pluteus (48-day-old) larvae. The metabolic importance of in vivo Na+/K+-ATPase activity also increased during development, accounting for 12 % of metabolic rate at day 10 and 84 % at day 48. When compared at the same enzyme assay temperature (15 degrees C), the protein-specific total Na+/K+-ATPase activities for late embryonic (prism) and early larval (pluteus) stages of S. neumayeri were 2.6 times lower than those for comparable developmental stages of two temperate sea urchin species (Strongylocentrotus purpuratus and Lytechinus pictus).