The sequential bacterial adherence to hydrocarbons (BATH) of successive generations of hydrophobic fractions of Paenibacillus sp. R0032A and Burkholderia cepacia gave rise to bacterial populations of increasing cell-surface hydrophobicity. Thus, hydrophobicity of the first generation (H1) was less than that of the second generation (H2), which was less than that of the third generation (H3). Beyond H3, the hydrophobic populations became less stable and tended to lyse in hexadecane after violent (vortex) agitation, resulting in an apparent decline in BATH value. The exhaustively fractionated aqueous-phase population (L) was very hydrophilic. The overall cell-surface distribution of the population was L < parental strain < H1 < H2 < H3. The ability to degrade crude oil, hexadecane, or phenanthrene matched the degree of cell-surface hydrophobicity: L < P < H1 < H2 < H3. Thus, in natural populations of hydrocarbon-degrading Paenibacillus sp. R0032A and B. cepacia, there is a heterogeneity in the hydrophobic surface characteriistics that affects the ability of cells to use various hydrocarbon substrates.