The in situ physiology of the filamentous bacterium Skermania piniformis frequently seen in activated sludge foams in Australia was investigated. An oligonucleotide probe, Spin1449, targeting the 16S rRNA of S. piniformis was designed for its identification by fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH), validated with pure cultures and applied successfully to foam samples from two geographically distant Australian plants. While filaments of this bacterium appeared to be comparatively hydrophobic, the organism had no clear preference for hydrophobic or hydrophilic substrates. In both foams examined using microautoradiography (MAR), filaments selectively took up substrates under aerobic and anoxic (NO(3) (-)) but not anaerobic or anoxic (NO(2) (-)) conditions. Skermania piniformis assimilated oleic acid, palmitic acid, glycerol and glycine. Ectoenzyme activities detected suggest that S. piniformis has an ability to assimilate a greater range of substrates than might be concluded from the MAR data obtained here. Based on the substrate uptake data presented here, an anaerobic selector may work for controlling S. piniformis in activated sludge systems.