Symbiotic bacteria are important in animal hosts, but have been largely overlooked as they have proved difficult to culture in the laboratory. Approaches such as comparative genomics and real-time PCR have provided insights into the molecular mechanisms that underpin symbiont-host interactions. Studies on the heritable symbionts of insects have yielded valuable information about how bacteria infect host cells, avoid immune responses, and manipulate host physiology. Furthermore, some symbionts use many of the same mechanisms as pathogens to infect hosts and evade immune responses. Here we discuss what is currently known about the interactions between bacterial symbionts and their hosts.