University of California

Body size and metabolism


Max Kleiber

Author Affiliations

Max Kleiber was Associate in Animal Husbandry in the Experiment Station.

Publication Information

Hilgardia 6(11):315-353. DOI:10.3733/hilg.v06n11p315. January 1932.

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The statement that the basal metabolism of animals differing in size is nearly proportional to their respective body surfaces, is called the surface law.

Benedict has shown that this law is already over ninety years old, Robiquet and Tillaye having formulated it quite clearly in 1839. The history of the surface law is given in the paper of (Harris and Benedict (1919)). We may here only briefly mention the different ways in which it has been found. The early writers derived the law from theoretical considerations on a rather small experimental basis, as did Bergmann, who in 1847 had already written a book on the subject. Respiration trials were carried out by Regnault and Reiset, and Rameaux based the surface law on measurements of the amount of air respired per minute by two thousand human beings of different sizes. (Rubner (1883)) demonstrated the law in accurate respiration trials on dogs and Richet rediscovered it empirically on rabbits. The latter writes (p. 223): “C’est aprèe coup seulement que je me suis avisé que la donnée surface était plus intéressante que la donnée poids.”

Although (Armsby, Fries, and Braman (1918), p. 55) found the surface law confirmed to a rather striking degree, this law is not at all so clear today as it appeared to its early discoverers. (Carman and Mitchell (1926), p. 380) state the situation very well: “In spite of the theoretical weakness of the surface law, the computation of basal metabolism to the unit of the body surface seems at present the most satisfactory method available of equalizing experimental results for differences in the size of experimental animals.”

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Kleiber M. 1932. Body size and metabolism. Hilgardia 6(11):315-353. DOI:10.3733/hilg.v06n11p315
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