From analysis of ciné film, combined with ultrastructural observations, the anterior feeding structures and their behaviour in the free-living microbivorous nematode Caenorhabditis elegans during ingestion in dense and sparse suspensions of Escherichia coli are described In dense suspensions bacteria accumulate in the buccal cavity against the three metastomal flaps that nearly close it, and are then swallowed down the three tubular apical expansions of the triradiate oesophageal lumen when the flaps open. Excess medium is then expelled, as the oesophageal lumen closes and traps the swallowed bacteria. The flaps and oesophagus operate by contractions in the seven most anterior oesophageal muscle cells, probably coordinated via proprioceptive nerve endings between the cells. About one million nematode hours are needed to extract 1 g of bacteria from 30 ml of medium. With few or no bacteria, the head moves more, the metastomal flaps do not close and medium seems to pass in and out of the buccal cavity, probably as part of the widespread exploration phase of food-finding behaviour. Abnormal feeding behaviour, control and functions of the metastomal flaps and associated structures, and control of food intake volume are discussed.