Bacteria which are infectious by inoculation in lepidoptera have been isolated and characterized from semispecies comprising the Drosophila paulistorum complex. These microorganisms are pathogenic toward lepidopteran hosts such as Heliothis virescens when introduced by injection of Drosophila tissue extracts and have been given the trivial name DpLE (D. paulistorum lepidopteran entomopathogen). The DpLE from two of the semispecies, Transitional and Andean, were determined to be related to Proteus vulgaris based upon nucleotide sequence comparisons of 16S rDNA genes. Infectivity and 16S rDNA-based PCR assays showed the bacterium to be localized in a number of drosophilid tissues except adult heads and thoraces. Based upon similar experiments, the DpLE in transinfected Heliothis larvae were found in all tissues assayed prior to the onset of mortality. Stocks of Drosophila which had spontaneously lost DpLE continued to produce sterile sons when crossed with incompatible semispecies' females, confirming that the bacilliform DpLE is not the causative agent of the Drosophila paulistorum intersemispecific hybrid male sterility. Acquisition of the sequences of the 16S rDNA molecules of DpLE from all six semispecies permitted the construction of a phylogenetic tree in which the groupings were found not to be congruent with the phylogenies of their insect hosts.