We studied the protist grazers of Boiling Springs Lake (BSL), an acid geothermal feature in Lassen Volcanic National Park, using a combination of culture and genetic approaches. The major predator in BSL is a vahlkampfiid ameba closely related (95% 18S+ITS rRNA identity) to Tetramitus thermacidophilus, a heterolobose ameboflagellate recently isolated from volcanic geothermal acidic sites in Europe and Russia, as well as an uncultured heterolobosean from the nearby Iron Mountain acid mine drainage site. Tetramitus thermacidophilus strain BSL is capable of surviving the physical extremes of BSL, with optimal growth at 38-50 °C and pH 2-5. This bacterivore also ingested conidiospores of the ascomycete Phialophora sp., but ultrastructural observations reveal the latter may not be readily digested, and conidia were not separable from the ameoboflagellate culture, suggesting a possible symbiosis. DGGE fingerprint transects studies showed the organism is restricted to near-lake environs, and we detected an average of ~500 viable cysts/cm(3) sediment on the shoreline. Other grazing protists were isolated from lakeshore environments, including the lobose amebae Acanthamoeba sp. and Hartmannella sp., and the kinetoplastid flagellate Bodo sp., but none could tolerate both low pH and high temperature. These appear to be restricted to cooler near lake geothermal features, which also contain other potential grazer morphotypes observed but not successfully cultured, including ciliates, euglenids, testate amebae, and possible cercozoans. We compare the food web of BSL with other acidic or geothermal sites, and discuss the impact of protists in this unique environment.