The pneumococcus undergoes spontaneous phase variation between an opaque and a transparent colony form. In an animal model of systemic infection following intraperitoneal inoculation of mice, the opaque phenotype was significantly more virulent than the transparent for each of 3 strains examined. The opaque phenotype was associated with 1.2- to 5.6-fold greater amounts of capsular polysaccharide compared with the transparent using a sandwich ELISA. A similar technique comparing the amount of total teichoic acid showed that the transparent phenotype had 2.1- to 3.8-fold more immunodetectable teichoic acid. This difference was confirmed by comparing the incorporation of [3H]choline into teichoic acid. Cell fractionation revealed that variation in quantity of incorporated choline was due to differences in cell wall-associated teichoic acid. Results suggest that the pneumococcus phase varies between a virulent form with more capsular polysaccharide and less teichoic acid and an avirulent form with less capsular polysaccharide and more teichoic acid.