Staphylococcus aureus isolated from mastitis (14 bovine and 11 ovine strains) exhibited an ability to adhere to epithelial primary cultures from ovine mammary gland and to a rat epithelial cell line, RIE-1. Strain differences in the degree of adherence were observed in both cases. These differences were maintained when comparing different epithelial sources (rat vs. ovine). RIE-1 cells can thus be used as a model for studying staphylococcal adherence to epithelial cells. Changes in bacterial adherence were observed according to the bacterial growth phase. The magnitude of these changes differed among strains. Bacterial cell surface hydrophobicity was not related to the degree of adherence to mammalian epithelial cells.