Swarming by Proteus mirabilis is characterized by cycles of rapid population migration across surfaces, following differentiation of typical vegetative rods into long, hyperflagellated, virulent swarm cells. A swarm-defective TnphoA insertion mutant was isolated that was not defective in cell motility, differentiation or control of the migration cycle, but was specifically impaired in the ability to undergo surface translocation as a multicellular mass. The mutation, previously shown to compromise urinary tract virulence, was located within a 1112 bp gene that restored normal swarming of the mutant when expressed in trans. The gene encoded a 40.6 kDa protein that is related to putative sugar transferases required for lipopolysaccharide (LPS) core modification in Shigella and Salmonella. The immediately distal open reading frame encoded a protein that is related to dehydrogenases involved in the synthesis of LPS O-side-chains, enterobacterial common antigen and extracellular polysaccharide (PS). Gel electrophoresis and electron microscopy showed that the mutant still made LPS but it had lost the ability to assemble a surface (capsular) PS, which gas-liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry indicated to be an acidic type II molecule rich in galacturonic acid and galactosamine. We suggest that this surface PS facilitates translocation of differentiated cell populations by reducing surface friction.