Excessive growth of filamentous bacteria in activated sludge wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) can cause serious operational problems. With some filaments there may be the problem of bulking, where inadequate flocculation and settling of the biomass in the secondary clarifier results in a carryover of solids with the final treated liquid effluent. Their proliferation often encourages the development of stable foams on the surface of the reactors, and these foams may impact negatively on plant performance and operation. The availability of culture-independent molecular methods now allows us to identify many of the more common filamentous organisms encountered in WWTPs, which are phylogenetically diverse, affiliating to seven separate bacterial phyla. Furthermore, the extensive data published in the past decade on their in situ behaviour from the application of these culture-independent methods have not been summarized or reviewed critically. Hence, here, we attempt to discuss what we now know about their identity, ecophysiology and ecological niches and its practical value in better managing activated sludge processes. Some of this knowledge is already being applied to control and manage full-scale WWTPs better, and the hope is that this review will contribute towards further developments in this field of environmental microbiology.