Vibrio parahaemolyticus is a ubiquitous marine bacterium and human pathogen. The organism possesses multiple cell types appropriate for life under different circumstances. The swimmer cell, with a single polar flagellum, is adapted to life in liquid environments. The polar flagellum is powered by the sodium motive force and can propel the bacterium at fast speeds. The swarmer cell, propelled by many proton-powered lateral flagella, can move through highly viscous environments, colonize surfaces, and form multicellular communities which sometimes display highly periodic architecture. Signals that induce differentiation to the surface-adapted cell type are both physical and chemical in nature. Surface-induced gene expression may aid survival, whether attached to inanimate surfaces or in a host organism. Genetic rearrangements create additional phenotypic versatility, which is manifested as variable opaque and translucent colony morphotypes. Discovery that a LuxR homolog controls the opaque cell type implicates intercellular signaling as an additional survival strategy. The alternating identities of V. parahaemolyticus may play important roles in attachment and detachment, how bacterial populations adapt to growth on surfaces, form structured communities, and develop biofilms.