BACKGROUND: Glycosylation on the globular head of the hemagglutinin (HA) protein of influenza virus acts as an important target for recognition and destruction of virus by innate immune proteins of the collectin family. This, in turn, modulates the virulence of different viruses for mice. The role of particular oligosaccharide attachments on the HA in determining sensitivity to collectins has yet to be fully elucidated. METHODS: When comparing the virulence of H3N2 subtype viruses for mice we found that viruses isolated after 1980 were highly glycosylated and induced mild disease in mice. During these studies, we were surprised to find a small plaque variant of strain A/Beijing/353/89 (Beij/89) emerged following infection of mice and grew to high titres in mouse lung. In the current study we have characterized the properties of this small plaque mutant both in vitro and in vivo. RESULTS: Small plaque mutants were recovered following plaquing of lung homogenates from mice infected with influenza virus seed Beij/89. Compared to wild-type virus, small plaque mutants showed increased virulence in mice yet did not differ in their ability to infect or replicate in airway epithelial cells in vitro. Instead, small plaque variants were markedly resistant to neutralization by murine collectins, a property that correlated with the acquisition of an amino acid substitution at residue 246 on the viral HA. We present evidence that this substitution was associated with the loss of an oligosaccharide glycan from the globular head of HA. CONCLUSION: A point mutation in the gene encoding the HA of Beij/89 was shown to ablate a glycan attachment site. This was associated with resistance to collectins and increased virulence in mice.