16S rRNA targeted probes, designed using sequence data from pure cultures of the three morphotypes of the filamentous bulking bacteria Nostocoida limicola I, II and III and their successful application to the in situ identification of these bacteria in activated sludge biomass samples are described here. Two probes were required to detect all the sequenced N. limicola II isolates. Results from fluorescent in situ hybridization suggest that the morphotypes N. limicola I and II contain at least two phylogenetically unrelated bacteria. The N. limicola II filaments that did not respond to the probes designed in this study fluoresced instead with the probes previously designed for the alpha-Proteobacteria. The data also suggest that both N. limicola I and III can exist in activated sludge as single, paired or clumped cells and thus in a form not recognizable microscopically as this morphotype. Some N. limicola II filaments which responded to the probes designed here were much thinner than the filaments conventionally 'identified' as this morphotype and better fitted the descriptions often used in the literature for N. limicola I.