A 425 ka long record from piston core GIK17925-3 taken in the northeastern South China Sea was used to study the environmental conditions controlling the distribution of the Zoophycos trace fossil. The 12 m long core offers a unique opportunity to study the response of the Zoophycos-producing animal to environmental variations over four glacial–interglacial cycles. The trace fossils show a strong glacial to interglacial variation in their abundance with a special preference for intervals with low sedimentation rates. Additional X-ray radiograph studies of piston cores from the Southeast Asian Marginal Seas show that the trace fossil Zoophycos is widespread in slope and deep-marine sediments, with the highest abundances encountered in low sedimentation rate settings. The preference of the Zoophycos producer for low sedimentation rates in a setting with strong seasonal fluctuations in food supply due to the shift between winter and summer monsoons, is interpreted to be the result of a cache-model behaviour, where food is collected during rich times and squirrelled away for poor times. Core GIK17925-3 also offers an opportunity to assess the impact of Zoophycos bioturbation on various palaeoenvironmental proxies. In this core, more than 30 % of the measured data points were more or less strongly affected by Zoophycos bioturbation. Together with the widespread occurrence this percentage indicates that Zoophycos may pose a serious threat to palaeoclimatic reconstructions in cores from low to moderate sedimentation rate sites.