Maximum shortening velocity (V(0)) was determined in single fibres dissected from hind limb skeletal muscles of rabbit and mouse and classified according to their myosin heavy chain (MHC) isoform composition. The values for rabbit and mouse V(0) were compared with the values previously obtained in man and rat under identical experimental conditions. Significant differences in V(0) were found between fibres containing corresponding myosin isoforms in different species: as a general rule for each isoform V(0) decreased with body mass. Myosin isoform distributions of soleus and tibialis anterior were analysed in mouse, rat, rabbit and man: the proportion of slow myosin generally increased with increasing body size. The diversity between V(0) of corresponding myosin isoforms and the different myosin isoform composition of corresponding muscles determine the scaling of shortening velocity of whole muscles with body size, which is essential for optimisation of locomotion. The speed of actin translocation (V(f)) in in vitro motility assay was determined with myosins extracted from single muscle fibres of all four species: significant differences were found between myosin isoforms in each species and between corresponding myosin isoforms in different species. The values of V(0) and V(f) determined for each myosin isoform were significantly correlated, strongly supporting the view that the myosin isoform expressed is the major determinant of maximum shortening velocity in muscle fibres.