1. Measurements have been made of the gill areas of fourteen species of British fish, all marine except for the tench and trout. In addition the gill area of the Antarctic icefish, Chaenocephalus (lacking haemoglobin) has been measured.
2. The different parameters of the gill sieve have been considered quantitatively in relation to the size of the gill area, resistance to the passage of water, and the diffusion conditions at the gills.
3. From calculations of the expected flow through a sieve of the measured dimensions it has been concluded that a sufficient volume would pass in the inter-lamellar spaces despite their fine dimensions. Differences in the nature of the sieve relative to the theoretical one and changes during the respiratory cycle account for the ventilation volumes measured being less than those calculated.
4. The theoretical analysis of the operation of the gill sieve are discussed in relation to measurements of Gray (1954) and to the developmental studies of Price (1931).
5. It is concluded that more active fish not only have larger gill areas but that the conditions for gaseous exchange are better than for more sluggish forms and that the area is increased in such a way as to keep the resistance to flow to a low value. This is mainly achieved by having an increased total filament length and a large number of secondary folds. More sluggish fish have more widely spaced and higher lamellae and their total filament length is reduced. The resistance to flow relative to the area is less in these forms than in the more active species.
6. Consideration is given to the different pathways along which water can infiltrate past the respiratory epithelium and analogies are drawn with the alveolar air, and the physiological and anatomical dead-spaces of the mammalian lung.