Bacteroides is a predominant group of the faecal microbiota in healthy adults. To investigate the species composition of Bacteroides by fluorescent in situ hybridisation (FISH) combined with flow cytometry, we developed five species-specific probes targeting the 16S rRNA. Probes were designed to identify cells belonging to Bacteroides distasonis, B. fragilis, B. ovatus, B. vulgatus and B. putredinis. The species-specificity of the probes was assessed against a collection of reference strains from the Cytophaga-Flavobacterium-Bacteroides group. The results of the FISH experiments showed that the probes were specific as they only detected strains of the target species. Determining the fluorescence intensity of each probe relative to that of the EUB 338 probe (domain bacteria) further showed that each species probe easily accessed the targeted site. The probes were applied to quantify the Bacteroides species in faeces collected from 20 healthy adults. All five species were detected in the faecal samples. Cells hybridised with Bfra 998 were the most frequent as they were observed in 90% of individuals (18/20 samples, mean proportion of 3.9 +/- 2.2%). The cells hybridised with Bvulg 1017 were observed in 85% of individuals (17/20 samples) and represented with a mean proportion of 4.2 +/- 6.1%, the most abundant Bacteroides species in human faeces. Cells hybridising with probes for B. ovatus, B. distasonis and B. putredinis were less frequently detected. The large distribution of B. vulgatus and B. fragilis in human faeces is in accordance with previous reports based on culture or molecular studies. This work showed that fluorescent in situ hybridisation is a tool appropriate for a high-resolution analysis of the species composition of complex ecosystems and especially of the Bacteroides group within the faecal microbiota.