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American foulbrood (AFB) is a bacterial disease of honeybee larvae caused by the spore-forming bacterium Paenibacillus larvae. Although AFB and its aetiological agent are described now for more than a century, the general and molecular pathogenesis of this notifiable disease is poorly understood. We used fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) performed with P. larvae-specific, 16S rRNA-targeted oligonucleotide probes to analyse the early steps in the pathogenesis of American foulbrood. The following chain of events could be demonstrated: (i) the spores germinate in the midgut lumen, (ii) the vegetative bacteria massively proliferate within the midgut before, and (iii) they start to locally breach the epithelium and invade the haemocoel. The paracellular route was shown to be the main mechanism for invasion contrasting earlier hypotheses of phagocytosis of P. larvae. Invasion coincided with the death of the host implicating that the penetration of the midgut epithelium is a critical step determining the time of death.