The cross-fostering technique was used in order to compare methyl mercury (MeHg) metabolism in hamsters following prenatal (in utero) and neonatal (lactational) exposure. Pregnant Syrian golden hamsters were administered radiolabeled MeHg on day 12 of gestation. The offspring was nursed by foster mothers unexposed to MeHg, while the pups from the unexposed animals were nursed by the MeHg-administered animals. Under these conditions, each pup in the litter received a dose of MeHg in utero corresponding to 0.9% of the maternal dose. The average amount of mercury found in the pups exposed via milk corresponded to 4.5% of the total body burden of the foster dam at the onset of lactation. This was about half the amount received by the pups exposed in utero. The total body burden of mercury, and the amount of mercury in the liver, brain and kidney of the pups exposed in utero began to decrease at seven days of age. The rate of decrease differed among the tissues and was lowest in the kidney. The amount of mercury in pups exposed via milk reached a peak level when the pups were 10-15 days old. The total body burden of mercury showed a slow decrease while the liver, brain and kidney levels decreased rapidly. In both groups of animals, up to 80% of the total body burden of mercury was found in the pelt. These data show that milk may be a significant exposure route for mercury and that neonatal hamsters are unable to demethylate MeHg and excrete mercury in urine and faeces.