Mechanically skinned skeletal muscle fibres from the soleus and tibialis anterior muscles of the small marsupial Sminthopsis macroura were activated by Ca2+ and Sr2+ so that their isometric force properties could be determined. The properties characterized were the shape, slope and positions of the curves generated by plotting isometric force vs. pCa (-log10[Ca2+]) and pSr (-log10[Sr2+]), the maximum Ca2(+)-activated and Sr2(+)-activated tension (Ncm-2) and the frequency of force oscillations of myofibrillar origin during submaximal activations. The effect of caffeine on force activation was also studied. Apart from the fibres which exhibited physiological characteristics similar to those observed previously in mammalian fibres, a large proportion of fibres exhibited characteristics or combinations of characteristics which have not previously been described from healthy adult mammals. The results from 32 soleus fibres showed that only 23 could be categorized as either typical fast-twitch or slow-twitch fibres. The rest possessed unusual physiological characteristics which suggested the co-existence in the same fibre of Ca2(+)-regulatory and contractile properties from different categories of fast-twitch and slow-twitch fibres. We could distinguish two major fast twitch populations of tibialis anterior fibres which occurred in similar proportions. There were significant differences in the maximum tension produced by some of these groups of fibres. The tibialis anterior population fibres produced the highest maximum tension (ToCa 44.6 +/- 4.6 Ncm-2, n = 7) while the soleus combined type fibres produced the lowest maximum tension (ToCa 18.1 +/- 2.1 Ncm-2, n = 8). Our physiological observations of the Ca2(+)-activation and Sr2(+)-activation properties of soleus fibres in this study provide new evidence that there can be combinations of characteristics in single fibres and a continuum of properties between fibre types in normal mammalian skeletal muscles. These animals can therefore be used as a source of fibres with a wide range of properties.