We have studied beef heart cytochrome c oxidase at 4.2 K with Mössbauer spectroscopy using the 57Fe present in natural abundance. The spectra observed are very similar to those of the a- and a3-sites of cytochrome c1aa3 from Thermus thermophilus. Thus, many conclusions derived from studies of the bacterial oxidase (available with enriched 57Fe) also apply to the mammalian enzyme. In the resting (as isolated) state, cytochrome a3 of the mammalian enzyme exhibits a doublet with quadrupole splitting, delta EQ = 1.0 mm/s and isomer shift, delta = 0.48 mm/s. These parameters suggest a high spin ferric heme and rule out an Fe(IV) assignment. The absence of magnetic features in the 4.2 K spectrum is consistent with earlier proposals that cytochrome a3 is spin-coupled to a cupric ion. The absorption lines are rather broad, suggesting that the a3-site is heterogeneous in the resting enzyme. Reduced cytochrome a3 has delta EQ = 1.85 mm/s and delta = 0.93 mm/s, demonstrating that the heme iron is high spin ferrous. The observed value for delta EQ is smaller than those of hemoglobin (2.4 mm/s), myoglobin (2.2 mm/s), and cytochrome a3 from T. thermophilus (2.06 mm/s). The Mössbauer spectra of oxidized cytochrome a3-CN show that the heme iron is low spin ferric and that the ground state has integer spin S greater than or equal to 1, which plausibly results from ferromagnetic coupling of the S = 1/2 heme to an S = 1/2 cupric ion. Reduced cytochrome a is low spin ferrous, with parameters similar to those of cytochrome b5 and cytochrome c.