The Tc3 transposon of C. elegans belongs to a family of inverted repeat DNA transposons, found in many different phyla. We studied the mechanism of Tc3 transposition by expression of Tc3 transposase from a heat-shock promoter in transgenic nematodes. Transposition is accompanied by the appearance of linear extrachromosomal Tc3 DNA. Analysis of the ends of this presumed transposition intermediate shows that the transposon is excised incompletely: the 5' ends of the transposon lack two nucleotides. The 3' ends coincide with the last nucleotide of the integrated element and carry 3' hydroxyls. The nucleotides that are not coexcised with the transposon remain at the donor site and result in a characteristic footprint. A model is derived for the mechanism of Tc3 jumping that probably applies to the entire family of Tc1/mariner transposable elements.