Abstract The covariation of a number of mechanical of properties, and some physical characteristics, of compact bones from a wide range of bones were examined. Young's modulus was well predicted by a combination of mineral content and porosity. Increasing Young's modulus was associated with: increasing stress at yield, increasing bending strength, and a somewhat higher resilience, tensile strength and fatigue strength. Contrarily, in the post-yield region a higher Young's modulus (and more clearly, a higher mineral content) was associated with: a reduced work to fracture in tension, a reduced impact strength and an increased notch sensitivity in impact. Increasing porosity is associated with deleterious effects in the pre-yield region, but has little effect in the post-yield region. Bone, like many other materials, is unable to have good qualities in both the pre- and post-yield regions. Since an increase in mineral or Young's modulus is more potent, that is deleterious, in the post-yield than it is advantageous in the pre-yield region, it is likely that mineral content will be selected to be slightly lower than would be the case if it were equally potent in both regions. As is usual in biology, different adaptive extremes are incompatible.