In this study we investigate how speed and stride frequency change with body size. We use this information to define ‘equivalent speeds’ for animals of different size and to explore the factors underlying the six-fold difference in mass-specific energy cost of locomotion between mouse- and horse-sized animals at these speeds. Speeds and stride frequencies within a trot and a gallop were measured on a treadmill in 16 species of wild and domestic quadrupeds, ranging in body size from 30 g mice to 200 kg horses. We found that the minimum, preferred and maximum sustained speeds within a trot and a gallop all change in the same rather dramatic manner with body size, differing by nine-fold between mice and horses (i.e. all three speeds scale with about the 0.2 power of body mass). Although the absolute speeds differ greatly, the maximum sustainable speed was about 2.6-fold greater than the minimum within a trot, and 2.1-fold greater within a gallop. The frequencies used to sustain the equivalent speeds (with the exception of the minimum trotting speed) scale with about the same factor, the −0.15 power of body mass. Combining this speed and frequency data with previously published data on the energetic cost of locomotion, we find that the mass-specific energetic cost of locomotion is almost directly proportional to the stride frequency used to sustain a constant speed at all the equivalent speeds within a trot and a gallop, except for the minimum trotting speed (where it changes by a factor of two over the size range of animals studied). Thus the energy cost per kilogram per stride at five of the six equivalent speeds is about the same for all animals, independent of body size, but increases with speed: 5.0 J kg-1 stride-1 at the preferred trotting speed; 5.3 J kg-1 stride-1 at the trot-gallop transition speed; 7.5 J kg-1 stride-1 at the preferred galloping speed; and 9.4 J kg-1 stride-1 at the maximum sustained galloping speed. The cost of locomotion is determined primarily by the cost of activating muscles and of generating a unit of force for a unit of time. Our data show that both these costs increase directly with the stride frequency used at equivalent speeds by different-sized animals. The increase in cost per stride with muscles (necessitating higher muscle forces for the same ground reaction force) as stride length increases both in the trot and in the gallop.

This content is only available via PDF.