“Neglected Rickettsiaceae” (i.e. those harboured by non-hematophagous eukaryotic hosts) display greater phylogenetic variability and more widespread dispersal than pathogenic ones; yet, the knowledge about their actual host range and host shift mechanism is scarce. The present work reports the characterization following the full-cycle rRNA approach (SSU rRNA sequence, specific in situ hybridization, and ultrastructure) of a novel rickettsial bacterium, herewith proposed as 'Candidatus Megaira polyxenophila' gen. nov., sp. nov. We found it in association with four different free-living ciliates (Diophrys oligothrix, Euplotes octocarinatus, Paramecium caudatum, and Spirostomum sp., all belonging to Alveolata, Ciliophora); furthermore it was recently observed as intracellular occurring in Carteria cerasiformis and Pleodorina japonica (Chlorophyceae, Chlorophyta). Phylogenetic analyses demonstrated the belonging of the candidate new genus to the family Rickettsiaceae (Alphaproteobacteria, Rickettsiales) as a sister group of the genus Rickettsia. In situ observations revealed the ability of the candidate new species to colonize either nuclear or cytoplasmic compartments, depending on the host organism. The presence of the same bacterial species within different, evolutionary distant, hosts indicates that 'Candidatus Megaira polyxenophila' recently underwent several distinct host shifts, thus suggesting the existence of horizontal transmission pathways. We consider these findings as indicative of an unexpected spread of rickettsial infections in aquatic communities, possibly by means of trophic interactions, and hence propose a new interpretation of the origin and phylogenetic diversification of rickettsial bacteria.