Variegated cutworms were exposed to bean plants in microcosms sprayed with pBR322-carrying strains of Enterobacter cloacae, Klebsiella planticola, and Erwinia herbicola. The three bacterial species exhibited differential survival on leaves, in soil, and in guts and fecal pellets (frass) of the insects. High numbers of Enterobacter cloacae (pBR322) were detected in all samples, while the other species were unable to establish residence in the insect. To assess the impact of this colonization on site-to-site transport of microorganisms, larvae were fed plants that had been sprayed with the bacteria and then were transferred to uninoculated plants. Cutworms were efficient carriers of Enterobacter cloacae (pBR322), as indicated by its rapid appearance on uninoculated leaves and continued persistence in the insects for 3 days after transfer. Few Erwinia herbicola (pBR322) and K. planticola (pBR322) were obtained from larvae after transfer, although up to 10(3) CFU/g were detected in soil and on plants. Differences in bacterial survival and growth were confirmed by incubating frass overnight and observing the change in population numbers. The proportion of total samples showing at least a 25-fold increase during incubation was 68% for Enterobacter cloacae (pBR322), 39% for K. planticola (pBR322), and 0% for Erwinia herbicola (pBR322).