Twitching motility is a form of solid surface translocation which occurs in a wide range of bacteria and which is dependent on the presence of functional type IV fimbriae or pili. A detailed examination of twitching motility in Pseudomonas aeruginosa under optimal conditions in vitro was carried out. Under these conditions (at the smooth surface formed between semi-solid growth media and plastic or glass surfaces) twitching motility is extremely rapid, leading to an overall radial rate of colony expansion of 0.6 mm h(-1) or greater. The zones of colony expansion due to twitching motility are very thin and are best visualized by staining. These zones exhibit concentric rings in which there is a high density of microcolonies, which may reflect periods of expansion and consolidation/cell division. Video microscopic analysis showed that twitching motility involves the initial formation of large projections or rafts of aggregated cells which move away from the colony edge. Behind the rafts, individual cells move rapidly up and down trails which thin and branch out, ultimately forming a fine lattice-like network of cells. The bacteria in the lattice network then appear to settle and divide to fill out the colonized space. Our observations redefine twitching motility as a rapid, highly organized mechanism of bacterial translocation by which P. aeruginosa can disperse itself over large areas to colonize new territories. It is also now clear, both morphologically and genetically, that twitching motility and social gliding motility, such as occurs in Myxococcus xanthus, are essentially the same process.