Abstract Segmented, filamentous bacteria (SFBs) are autochthonous, apathogenic bacteria, occuring in the ileum of mice and rats. Although the application of formal taxonomic criteria is imposible due to the lack of an in vitro technique to culture SFBs, microbes with a similar morphology, found in the intestine of a wide range of vertebrate and invertebrate host species, are considered to be related. SFBs are firmly attached to the epithelial cells of the distal ileal mucosa, their preferential ecological niche being the epithelium covering the Peyer's patches. Electron microscopic studies have demonstrated a considerable morphological diversity of SFBs, which may relate to different stages of a life cycle. Determinants of SFB colonization in vivo are host species, genotypical and phenotypical characteristics of the host, diet composition, environmental stress and antimicrobial drugs. SFBs can survive in vitro incubation, but do not multiply. On the basis of their apathogenic character and intimate relationship with the host, it is suggested that SFBs contribute to development and/or maintenance of host resistance to enteropathogens.