In the life cycle of Entamoeba parasites alternate between the colon-dwelling trophozoite and the infectious cyst forms. The physiologic stimuli that trigger differentiation of trophozoites into cysts remain undefined. On the surface of the human-infecting Entamoeba, parasites express a galactose/N-acetylgatactosamine (gal/galNAc)-binding lectin, which plays demonstrated roles in contact-dependent lysis of target cells and resistance to host complement. Using a reptilian parasite, Entamoeba invadens, to study cyst formation in vitro, we found that efficient encystation was dependent on the presence of gal-terminated ligands in the induction medium. Precise concentration ranges of several gal-terminated ligands, such as asialofetuin, gal-bovine serum albumin (gal-BSA), and mucin, functioned in encystation medium to stimulate differentiation. Greater than 10 mM levels of free gal inhibited the amoeba aggregation that precedes encystation and prevented formation of mature cysts. Inhibitory levels of gal also prevented the up-regulation of genes which normally occurs at 24 h of encystation. The surface of Entamoeba invadens was found to express a gal lectin which has a heterodimeric structure similar to that of Entamoeba histolytica. The 30 kDa light subunit (LGL) of the E. invadens lectin is similar in overall size and sequence to the LGL of E. histolytica. The heavy subunits, however, differ in size, have an identical spacing of cysteines in their extracellular domains, and have highly conserved C-terminal transmembrane and cytoplasmic domains. These results suggest a new role for the Entamoeba gal lectins in monitoring the concentrations of gal ligands in the colon and contributing to stimuli that induce encystment.