Pigmented hamster melanoma tumors growing in situ contain two subpopulations of melanoma cells that have different electrophoretic mobilities (EPM). A mild neuraminidase treatment, which removes sialic acid residues from the cell surface glycoproteins, reduces the EPM of both groups of melanoma cells yielding an electrophoretically uniform population. This shows that the differences in the EPM between the subpopulations of pigmented melanoma cells stem from the different content of sialic acid residues on the cell surface. The relationship between the different EPM melanoma cell subpopulations was, therefore, examined during tumor growth, development, and formation of metastases. The relative content of cells having high electrophoretic mobility, the "fast moving" cells, increases as the tumors grow larger. However, tumors of the same diameter contain nearly the same fraction of "fast moving" cells despite their age. The proportion of the "fast moving" cells is significantly higher in the central part than in the outermost layer of pigmented melanoma tumors. These data suggest that the development of "fast moving" cells is promoted by some size-dependent changes in the intratumor environment. In vivo selection of melanoma cells for their ability to colonize lungs renders tumors that reveal elevated metastatic potential and contain a significantly higher fraction of cells possessing high electrophoretic mobility than the parent tumor. Moreover, the metastatic nodules contain a remarkably elevated fraction of the "fast moving" cells. The reported correlation between the "fast moving" cell fraction and the metastatic potential suggests that the relative content of cells having high electrophoretic mobility may determine the metastaticity of pigmented hamster melanoma.