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ABSTRACT We present observations on the variability of sediment penetration depth by the Ponar grab sampler, which lead us to question the reliability of grab samples in the quantitative study of freshwater benthos. Penetration depth of the Petite Ponar grab depends on substrate type, and correlates with the amount of organic carbon, the water content and the granulometry of the sediment. Since these factors can also influence faunal composition and vertical distribution in the sediment, it is important to study the performance of the sampler before a biological explanation for the observed pattern is given. At the site studied, a case study was performed, in which variable grab penetration did not influence biological interpretation because the penetration depth of the grab followed that of the organisms under study.