A study of the characterization of the phenotypic patterns of Staphylococcus aureus strains isolated from bovine subclinical mastitis in Israeli dairy, herds and their correlation with the severity of the disease was undertaken. A total of 400 chronically S. aureus-infected Israeli-Holstein cows, from 15 dairy herds were included in this study. Based on the results of the biochemical reactions, of the anti-biogram and phage typing, one major type of S. aureus was determined in each herd, its prevalence being between 54 and 100% of the total isolates from that same herd. The majority of the isolates were found to be non-haemolytic (62.7%). The most common phage type was 3/A,3/C,55,71, which was predominant in five herds. In two herds none of the isolates (24) were typable by this set of phages. All isolates were susceptible to methicillin, erythromycin, cephalotin, norfloxacin, trimethoprin-sulphamethoxazole and novobiocin. Most isolates were resistant to penicillin (96.6%) and 52% to oxytetracyclin. Differences in protein patterns between 50 and 36 kDa were found by one-dimensional sodium dodecyl sulphate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis. No correlation between any combination of the phenotypic characteristics was found when correlation was done with milk yield and somatic cell count, corresponding to the 6 months before sampling. Otherwise, a positive correlation was found between type of haemolysis and the N-acetyl-β-glucosaminidase (NAGase) values. In milk from quarters infected with the-non-haemolytic strains, the level of NAGase was significantly lower (P < 0.05) than that from quarters infected with the haemolytic strains (69.7 and 105.9, respectively). However, the level of NAGase activity in the milk of the quarters infected with the non-haemolytic strains was significantly higher (P < 0.05) when compared to the milk of quarters infected with coagulase-negative staphylococci (43.5).