Immunobinding assays with mycoplasma colonies on agar plates (immunofluorescence and immunoperoxidase techniques) or with imprints of colonies transferred to solid supports (colony immunoblotting) are widely used as standard diagnostic tests for serological species identification of mycoplasma isolates. However, in light of the high rate of variability of surface antigens in many mycoplasmas, diagnostic data obtained with these techniques require a more critical evaluation. In this report, we demonstrate with some examples that mycoplasma surface variability based on alterations in expression, in size, and in surface presentation of integral and peripheral membrane proteins may lead to misinterpretation of colony immunostaining reactions obtained by using specific monoclonal antibodies as well as conventional diagnostic hyperimmune sera. To more easily identify phenotypically mixed isolates or samples which contain more than one species, we have introduced some minor modifications of the colony immunoblot technique which provide sharp signals of positive as well as negative reactions and enable identification of cryptic epitopes. It is further demonstrated that because of the variability in colony surface antigenic phenotype, mycoplasma strains, including well-established reference and other prototype strains which are used under the same designation in many laboratories, can differ markedly in their antigen profiles and their potentially virulence-related surface properties, since they are usually purified by filter cloning and often propagated by subcultivation of randomly selected agar-grown subpopulations. We conclude from this study that because of this surface variability, the establishment of criteria for standardization of mycoplasma strains and diagnostic antisera is urgently required in order to obtain reproducible results in different laboratories.