Vibrio parahaemolyticus distinguishes between life in a liquid environment and life on a surface. Growth on a surface induces differentiation from a swimmer cell to a swarmer cell type. Each cell type is adapted for locomotion under different circumstances. Swimmer cells synthesize a single polar flagellum (Fla) for movement in a liquid medium, and swarmer cells produce an additional distinct flagellar system, the lateral flagella (Laf), for movement across a solid substratum, called swarming. Recognition of surfaces is necessary for swarmer cell differentiation and involves detection of physical signals peculiar to that circumstance and subsequent transduction of information to affect expression of swarmer cell genes (laf). The polar flagellum functions as a tactile sensor controlling swarmer cell differentiation by sensing forces that restrict its movement. Surface recognition also involves a second signal, i.e. nutritional limitation for iron. Studying surface-induced differentiation could reveal a novel mechanism of gene control and lead to an understanding of the processes of surface colonization by pathogens and other bacteria.