The swimming larvae of many marine animals identify a location on the seafloor to settle and undergo metamorphosis based on the presence of specific surface-bound bacteria. While bacteria-stimulated metamorphosis underpins processes such as the fouling of ship hulls, animal development in aquaculture, and the recruitment of new animals to coral reef ecosystems, little is known about the mechanisms governing this microbe-animal interaction. Here we review what is known and what we hope to learn about how bacteria and the factors they produce stimulate animal metamorphosis. With a few emerging model systems, including the tubeworm Hydroides elegans, corals, and the hydrozoan Hydractinia, we have begun to identify bacterial cues that stimulate animal metamorphosis and test hypotheses addressing their mechanisms of action. By understanding the mechanisms by which bacteria promote animal metamorphosis, we begin to illustrate how, and explore why, the developmental decision of metamorphosis relies on cues from environmental bacteria.