Species of the genus Coleps are one of the most common planktonic ciliates in lake ecosystems. The study aimed to identify the phenotypic plasticity and genetic variability of different Coleps isolates from various water bodies and from culture collections. We used an integrative approach to study the strains by (i) cultivation in a suitable culture medium, (ii) screening of the morphological variability including the presence/absence of algal endosymbionts of living cells by light microscopy, (iii) sequencing of the SSU and ITS rDNA including secondary structures, (iv) assessment of their seasonal and spatial occurrence in two lakes over a one-year cycle both from morphospecies counts and high-throughput sequencing (HTS), and, (v) proof of the co-occurrence of Coleps and their endosymbiotic algae from HTS-based network analyses in the two lakes. The Coleps strains showed a high phenotypic plasticity and low genetic variability. The algal endosymbiont in all studied strains was Micractinium conductrix and the mutualistic relationship turned out as facultative. Coleps is common in both lakes over the whole year in different depths and HTS has revealed that only one genotype respectively one species, C. viridis, was present in both lakes despite the different lifestyles (mixotrophic with green algal endosymbionts or heterotrophic without algae). Our results suggest a future revision of the species concept of the genus Coleps.