We present concurrent data on ingestion, egg production and the loss of maternal biomass in pre-spring bloom female Calanus finmarchicus incubated under conditions representative of those in situ in the North Atlantic. A balanced metabolic budget was constructed and used to examine the relative importance of ingestion and biomass for fuelling egg production during the incubations. Ingested carbon was not sufficient to meet the observed demands for egg production. More than 80% of the carbon utilised by the females was instead derived from their biomass. Fatty acid analysis demonstrated that the storage reserves, 20:1 (n-9) and 22:1 (n-11), were virtually absent before experimentation began, and therefore could not have been used to supply the carbon required for egg production during the incubations. The C:N mass-specific ratio of the biomass utilised was 4.1, suggesting that the females had instead catabolised protein in order to meet their metabolic demands. These results suggest that C finmarchicus adopts a sacrificial reproductive strategy when food availability is low. (C) 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.