The rate of calcium uptake and the level of calcium accumulation was measured in cardiac muscle SR from hibernating and nonhibernating Richardson's ground squirrels. In whole heart homogenates, the rate of calcium uptake was higher (P less than 0.05) in hibernating animals than it was in active animals. Further purification of homogenates into sacroplasmic reticulum (SR) preparations showed that the hibernating animals had the highest rate of calcium uptake and the greatest level of calcium accumulation. These results could not be explained by variations in non-SR membrane contaminants nor by changes in the maximal activity or total amount of a SR marker enzyme, the Ca(2+)-ATPase. The addition of ryanodine to the calcium uptake medium increased the level of calcium accumulation in all groups by a similar amount. It is concluded that the high rate of calcium uptake by isolated cardiac SR vesicles from hibernating ground squirrels reflects the activity of the organelle in vivo, and that the ability of the ryanodine-insensitive population of SR vesicles to accumulate calcium is affected by hibernation.