A method was developed and used to arrest and stain reducing sugars (glucose) produced by bacteria with cell-surface-associated carboxymethyl cellulase (CMCase) and endoglucanase activities (CMC bacteria) in the rumen of cows fed alfalfa or triticale. Precipitation of silver oxide on the surface of individual cells was observed using cellulolytic bacterial pure cultures with known CMCase activity and rumen mixed cultures. The CMC bacteria in the liquid and solid fractions of the rumen digesta were identified using fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) with currently available and newly designed oligonucleotide probes. The CMC bacteria contributed between 8.2% and 10.1% to the total bacterial cell numbers. Most of the CMC bacteria (75.2-78.5%) could be identified by FISH probing. The known cellulolytic populations Ruminococcus flavefaciens, R. albus, and Fibrobacter succinogenes constituted 44.5-53.1% of the total. Other CMC bacteria identified hybridized with the probe Clo549 (11.2-23.0%) targeting members of an uncharacterized genus in Clostridia, the probe Inc852 (8.9-10.7%) targeting members of the family Incertae Sedis III and unclassified Clostridiales, and the probe But1243 (< 1%) designed against members of genus Butyrivibrio. Different forage feeds had no marked effects on the percentage abundances of these identified CMC bacteria. All appeared to be involved in cellulose degradation in the rumen of cows fed either alfalfa or triticale.