The colonization and survival of Bacillus species, members of the cutaneous microbial community of humans, were investigated by applying spores of Bacillus licheniformis to the forearms of volunteers. Four strains were tested, including the bacitracin producer ATCC 10716 and its bacitracin-negative mutant. Germination occurred within 24 h. Significant differences in survival population and duration were found among the test strains; however, ATCC 10716 and its mutant produced statistically similar survival curves. In general, an inoculum density of 10(4) colony-forming units per cm2 allowed survival for at least 2 weeks. Individual variation was extreme, for one subject harbored bacilli for over 2 months and another eliminated the microorganism within 3 days. Individuals could be differentiated into long-term (greater than 21 days) and short-term (less than 14 days) carriers. Eight of the 11 volunteers (73%) inoculated with ATCC 10716 carried it for 2 weeks, and 5 subjects (45%) continued to support the bacilli for 3 weeks. Spreading of the organism to other regions of the body occurred, but bacilli were not detected in these areas beyond 6 days.