The aim of this study was to compare the contractile and series elastic properties of terrestrial mammals that use bipedal versus quadrupedal gaits. The gastrocnemius muscle of the hopping mouse (body mass 30.2 +/- 2.4 g, mean +/- S.D.) and the rat (313 +/- 10.7 g) were compared with data from the literature for the wallaby and the kangaroo rat to distinguish scaling effects and locomotion-related effects on muscle properties. Contractile length-force properties and series elastic stiffness were measured in situ during maximal tetanic contractions. The rat had a larger muscle-fibre-to-tendon-length ratio. The rat and hopping mouse showed similar normalised length-force characteristics of the gastrocnemius. Normalised stiffness in the hopping mouse was higher. The hopping mouse showed a higher capacity to store elastic energy per unit of contractile work capacity, as well as per unit of body mass. Accounting for body size differences, the rat had a smaller relative muscle mass and thus smaller work capacity than the three hopping animals considered. This is an agreement with a quadrupedal versus bipedal locomotion style. The differences in contractile and elastic properties of the gastrocnemius of the rat and hopping mouse seem to be closely related to locomotion patterns. Small animals seem to be able to utilise the storage and release of elastic energy to a far lesser extent than larger animals. However, even in animals as small as hopping mice, the storage and utilisation of elastic energy during locomotion is of functional significance and probably depends on locomotor behaviour.

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