We have shown that bacterial mutation rates change during the experimental colonization of the mouse gut. A high mutation rate was initially beneficial because it allowed faster adaptation, but this benefit disappeared once adaptation was achieved. Mutator bacteria accumulated mutations that, although neutral in the mouse gut, are often deleterious in secondary environments. Consistently, the competitiveness of mutator bacteria is reduced during transmission to and re-colonization of similar hosts. The short-term advantages and long-term disadvantages of mutator bacteria could account for their frequency in nature.