Animals are colonized by complex bacterial communities. The processes controlling community membership and influencing the establishment of the microbial ecosystem during development are poorly understood. Here we aimed to explore the assembly of bacterial communities in Hydra with the broader goal of elucidating the general rules that determine the temporal progression of bacterial colonization of animal epithelia. We profiled the microbial communities in polyps at various time points after hatching in four replicates. The composition and temporal patterns of the bacterial communities were strikingly similar in all replicates. Distinct features included high diversity of community profiles in the first week, a remarkable but transient adult-like profile 2 weeks after hatching, followed by progressive emergence of a stable adult-like pattern characterized by low species diversity and the preponderance of the Betaproteobacterium Curvibacter. Intriguingly, this process displayed important parallels to the assembly of human fecal communities after birth. In addition, a mathematical modeling approach was used to uncover the organizational principles of this colonization process, suggesting that both, local environmental or host-derived factor(s) modulating the colonization rate, as well as frequency-dependent interactions of individual bacterial community members are important aspects in the emergence of a stable bacterial community at the end of development.