Abstract The rates of uptake of the heavy metals zinc and cadmium from solution were measured in the caridean decapod crustacean Palaemon elegans. When radioactively-labelled zinc and cadmium were present together with both at dissolved concentrations of 20 μg l −1, the rate of zinc uptake by the decapod decreased and the rate of cadmium uptake increased in comparison with the uptake rates of each metal in single metal exposures of 20 μg l −1. This effect can be interpreted as a result of competition between the two metals for uptake routes. The rate of zinc uptake by individual P. elegans is positively linearly correlated with the rate of cadmium uptake. Thus, some individuals have inherently higher metal uptake rates than others, although such uptake rates are also greatly affected by the stage in the moult cycle.