Motility Patterns of Bacteria

Last updated on June 17th, 2021

When you read about the structure of bacterial cells, you might have learned about flagella and different types of flagellar arrangements that are found in gram-negative bacteria. Most of the Gram-positive bacteria are atrichous (without flagella) so they are non-motile (Enterococcus gallinarum and E. casseliflavus/E. flavescens, the gram-positive, catalase negative cocci, generally are motile. )

Test for Bacterial Motility: Center (Non-motile); Corners (Motile)
Test for Bacterial Motility: Center (Non-motile); Corners (Motile)

So when it’s about bacterial motility, we mostly discuss Gram-negative bacteria. Motility patterns of Gram-negative bacteria are also used for their identification.

You might have appreciated the colony of Proteus spp in blood agar and MacConkey agar and identified it with its characteristics swarming patterns.

So in this blog post, I am sharing information about characteristic motility patterns of some bacteria. You will also find information about those bacteria which become non-motile in specific conditions and about some great exceptions about motility characteristics;

Characteristics types of  Bacterial Motility

Types of MotilityBacteria
Tumbling motilityListeria
Gliding motilityMycoplasma
Stately motilityClostridium
Darting motilityVibrio cholerae, Campylobacter jejuni
Swarming motilityProteus spp. Clostridium tetani
Corkscrew motility (lashing, flexion extension motility)Spirochete

Alcaligenes are motile by peritrichous flagella.

Campylobacters are small delicate, spirally curved, motile Gram-negative bacteria.  They show characteristic rapid corkscrew-like motility.

E. coli: Most are motile by peritrichous flagella.  Alkalescens-Dispar group i.e. A-D group is non-motile.

Helicobacter: Helicobacter spp is motile by a tuft of flagella (up to 4-7 sheathed flagella are present at one end).

Listeria spp: It is motile with a characteristic tumbling and rotating motility in broth cultures. when grown at 18- 25°C but not motile or minimally motile when grown at 35-37°C.

Proteus spp: P. mirabilis and P. vulgaris are actively motile (swarming motility). Motility is not as easily observed at 35–37 ºC as at room temperature (20–28 ºC).

Pseudomonas spp: Most species of Pseudomonas are motile except Pseudomonas malli by means of one or more flagella.

Salmonella spp: Most strains are motile except Salmonella Gallinarum and Salmonella Pullorum

Spirilla are motile with groups of flagella at both ends.

Spirochaetes (Treponema, Borrelia, Leptospira): Are motile by bending and rotating body movements.

Trophozoites of protozoan parasites Entamoeba histolytica and Giardia lamblia (move by flagella and an undulating membrane) etc shows motility in wet preparation.

Vibrio cholerae: Vibrio cholerae are motile with the single polar flagellum and show rapid darting  (“Shooting Star”) type of motility.

Yersinia enterocolitica is motile when grown at 20- 28°C but non-motile when grown at 35-37°C.

About Acharya Tankeshwar 473 Articles
Hello, thank you for visiting my blog. I am Tankeshwar Acharya. Blogging is my passion. I am working as an Asst. Professor and Microbiologist at Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Patan Academy of Health Sciences, Nepal. If you want me to write about any posts that you found confusing/difficult, please mention in the comments below.