We determined the influence of temperature on muscle function during jumping to better understand how the frog muscular system is designed to generate a high level of mechanical power. Maximal jumping performance and the in vivo operating conditions of the semimembranosus muscle (SM), a hip extensor, were measured and related to the mechanical properties of the isolated SM in the accompanying paper [Muscle function during jumping in frogs. II. Mechanical properties of muscle: implication for system design. Am. J. Physiol. 271 (Cell Physiol. 40): C571-C578, 1996]. Reducing temperature from 25 to 15 degrees C caused a 1.75-fold decline in peak mechanical power generation and a proportional decline in aerial jump distance. The hip and knee joint excursions were nearly the same at both temperatures. Accordingly, sarcomeres shortened over the same range (2.4 to 1.9 microns) at both temperatures, corresponding to myofilament overlap at least 90% of maximal. At the low temperature, however, movements were made more slowly. Angular velocities were 1.2- to 1.4-fold lower, and ground contact time was increased by 1.33-fold at 15 degrees C. Average shortening velocity of the SM was only 1.2-fold lower at 15 degrees C than at 25 degrees C. The low Q10 of velocity is in agreement with that predicted for muscles shortening against an inertial load.