Klebsiella pneumoniae is an important opportunistic pathogen and a frequent cause of nosocomial infections. K. pneumoniae infections can occur at nearly any body site; however, urinary tract infections and infections of the respiratory tract predominate. Infections are frequently preceded by gastrointestinal colonization, and the gastrointestinal tract is believed to be the most important reservoir for transmission of the bacteria. In contrast to many other bacterial pathogens, K. pneumoniae is ubiquitous in nature. Several studies have described Klebsiella isolates of environmental origin to be nearly identical to clinical isolates with respect to several phenotypic properties. However, the pathogenic potential of environmental K. pneumoniae isolates is essentially unknown. We have evaluated the virulence of K. pneumoniae strains of environmental and clinical origin directly in animal models, i.e. in urinary tract infection and intestinal colonization models. Furthermore, the ability to adhere to and invade human epithelial cell lines was examined. Although strain-to-strain differences were observed in the individual infection models, overall, strains of environmental origin were found to be as virulent as strains of clinical origin. The ubiquity of K. pneumoniae in nature and the general ability of K. pneumoniae strains to infect susceptible hosts might explain the high frequency of opportunistic infections caused by this species.