The Dar (deformed anal region) phenotype, characterized by a distinctive swollen tail, was first detected in a variant strain of Caenorhabditis elegans which appeared spontaneously in 1986 during routine genetic crosses [1,2]. Dar isolates were initially analysed as morphological mutants, but we report here that two independent isolates carry an unusual bacterial infection different from those previously described , which is the cause of the Dar phenotype. The infectious agent is a new species of coryneform bacterium, named Microbacterium nematophilum n. sp., which fortuitously contaminated cultures of C. elegans. The bacteria adhere to the rectal and post-anal cuticle of susceptible nematodes, and induce substantial local swelling of the underlying hypodermal tissue. The swelling leads to constipation and slowed growth in the infected worms, but the infection is otherwise non-lethal. Certain mutants of C. elegans with altered surface antigenicity are resistant to infection. The induced deformation appears to be part of a survival strategy for the bacteria, as C. elegans are potentially their predators.