The spontaneous appearance of unusual colony forms was observed during prolonged growth of Bacteroides gingivalis W50 in a chemostat. Two variants were selected for further study which could be distinguished from the parent strain by the rate and intensity of pigmentation of their colonies. For example, after anaerobic incubation for 14 days, variant W50/BR1 produced brown colonies whereas those of the parent strain were black; in contrast, variant W50/BE1 did not show signs of pigmentation until incubation had continued for 21 days. In subsequent studies in the chemostat, variant W50/BE1 bred true even after prolonged growth whereas other colony forms appeared after incubation of variant W50/BR1 for 14 days. The relatedness of W50/BR1 and W50/BE1 to the parent strain was confirmed by comparisons of the whole-cell fatty-acid profiles, the patterns of pre-formed enzymes and by the metabolic end products after growth. However, the variants did differ from the parent strain in their virulence in a mouse pathogenicity model. The parent strain killed all mice given infective doses > 5 x 108 cfu whereas W50/BR1 was much less virulent (2 out of 10 mice killed and higher infective doses needed for higher mortality rates) and W50/BE1 was avirulent at all infective doses tested.