1. Mechanically skinned fibres from skeletal muscles of the rat, toad and yabby were used to investigate the effect of saponin treatment on sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR) Ca2+ loading properties. The SR was loaded submaximally under control conditions before and after treatment with saponin and SR Ca2+ was released with caffeine. 2. Treatment with 10 micrograms ml-1 saponin greatly reduced the SR Ca2+ loading ability of skinned fibres from the extensor digitorum longus muscle of the rat with a rate constant of 0.24 min-1. Saponin concentrations up to 150 micrograms ml-1 and increased exposure time up to 30 min did not further reduce the SR Ca2+ loading ability of the SR, which indicates that the inhibitory action of 10-150 micrograms ml-1 saponin is not dose dependent. The effect of saponin was also not dependent on the state of polarization of the transverse-tubular system. 3. Treatment with saponin at concentrations up to 100 micrograms ml-1 for 30 min did not affect the Ca2+ loading ability of SR in skinned skeletal muscle fibres from the twitch portion of the toad iliofibularis muscle but SR Ca2+ loading ability decreased markedly with a time constant of 0.22 min-1 in the presence of 150 micrograms ml-1 saponin. 4. The saponin dependent increase in permeability could be reversed in both rat and toad fibres by short treatment with 6 microM Ruthenium Red, a potent SR Ca2+ channel blocker, suggesting that saponin does affect the SR Ca2+ channel properties in mammalian and anuran skeletal muscle. 5. Treatment of skinned fibres of long sarcomere length (> 6 microns) from the claw muscle of the yabby (a freshwater decapod crustacean) with 10 micrograms ml-1 saponin for 30 min abolished the ability of the SR to load Ca2+, indicating that saponin affects differently the SR from skeletal muscles of mammals, anurans and crustaceans. 6. It is concluded that at relatively low concentrations, saponin causes inhibition of the skeletal SR Ca2+ loading ability in a species dependent manner, probably by increasing the Ca2+ loss through SR Ca2+ release channels.