The locomotory characteristics of kangaroos and wallabies are unusual, with both energetic costs and gait parameters differing from those of quadrupedal running mammals. The kangaroos and wallabies have an evolutionary history of only around 5 million years; their closest relatives, the rat-kangaroos, have a fossil record of more than 26 million years. We examined the locomotory characteristics of a rat-kangaroo, Bettongia penicillata. Locomotory energetics and gait parameters were obtained from animals exercising on a motorised treadmill at speeds from 0.6 m s(-1) to 6.2 m s(-1). Aerobic metabolic costs increased as hopping speed increased, but were significantly different from the costs for a running quadruped; at the fastest speed, the cost of hopping was 50% of the cost of running. Therefore B. penicillata can travel much faster than quadrupedal runners at similar levels of aerobic output. The maximum aerobic output of B. penicillata was 17 times its basal metabolism. Increases in speed during hopping were achieved through increases in stride length, with stride frequency remaining constant. We suggest that these unusual locomotory characteristics are a conservative feature among the hopping marsupials, with an evolutionary history of 20-30 million years.