Arthropods cope with reduced oxygen and elevated carbon dioxide atmospheres with a reduction in metabolic rate, also called metabolic arrest. The reduction in metabolism lessens the pressure on the organism to initiate anaerobic metabolism, but also leads to a reduction in ATP production. The natural permeability of cellular membranes appears to be important for the survival of the arthropod under low oxygen or high carbon dioxide atmospheres. Despite the similarities in response, arthropod mortality is generally greater in response to high carbon dioxide as apposed to low oxygen atmospheres. There appears to be a greater decrease in ATP and energy charge in arthropods exposed to high carbon dioxide as compared with low oxygen atmospheres, and this may be due to greater membrane permeability under carbon dioxide leading to an inefficient production of ATP. Reduced oxygen and elevated carbon dioxide atmospheres can have an additive effect in some cases, depending on the concentrations used. The effect of these atmospheres on arthropods depends also on temperature, species and life stage. Additional work is needed to fully understand the mode of action of controlled atmospheres on arthropod pests.