Environmental bacteria are constantly threatened by bacterivorous predators such as free-living protozoa and nematodes. In the course of their coevolution with environmental predators, some bacteria developed sophisticated defence mechanisms, including the secretion of toxins, or the capacity to avoid lysosomal killing and to replicate intracellularly within protozoa. To analyse the interactions with bacterial pathogens on a molecular, cellular or organismic level, protozoa and other non-mammalian hosts are increasingly used. These include amoebae, as well as genetically tractable hosts, such as the social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum, the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans and the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. Using these hosts, the virulence mechanisms of opportunistic pathogenic bacteria such as Legionella, Mycobacterium, Pseudomonas or Vibrio were found to be not only relevant for the interactions of the bacteria with protozoa, nematodes and insect phagocytes, but also with mammalian hosts including humans. Thus, non-mammalian model hosts provide valuable insight into the pathogenesis of environmental bacteria.