Skuas, which are closely related to gulls, frequently use a specialized feeding method (kleptoparasitism) by which they rob other seabirds of their food. This paper tests the idea that skuas have evolved as specialist kleptoparasites.

The fibre type composition of the M. pectoralis, M. supracoracoideus and M. iliofibularis of a great skua Catharacta skua (Brünn.) and a herring gull Larus argentatus (Pontopp.) was determined by three enzyme histochemical methods commonly used for mammalian fibre classification; the reactions for alphaGPDH, NADH-TR and mATPase activity.

In both species slow fibres were present only in the M. iliofibularis, and fast twitch glycolytic fibres were not present in any of the muscles. The M. pectoralis and M. supracoracoideus of both species consisted entirely of the fast twitch oxidative-glycolytic fibres.

The overall metabolic enzyme activities of the muscles were assessed in terms of the proportions of fibres with high, intermediate and low metabolic enzyme activity. The overall levels of oxidative and glycolytic enzyme activity were significantly higher in the M. pectoralis than in the M. supracoracoideus and significantly higher in both of these than in the M. iliofibularis. This was true of both species.

The oxidative and glycolytic activities of all three muscles of the great skua were significantly higher than those of the homologous muscles of the herring gull. This was particularly true of the M. pectoralis and M. supracoracoideus. It is suggested that this difference between great skuas and herring gulls enables the former to be more effective aerial kleptoparasites than the latter.