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Characteristics of Living Things

While there’s a great deal of variety among organisms, all of them share the same basic features. There are seven of these characteristics of living things. In this article, we’ll go over those characteristics as well as some examples of how they’re shown.

An image of lots of living things: gazelles, trees, and grasses.

Every organism in this picture, from the grass to the gazelles eating it, shows all seven of the characteristics of living things.

Living things have seven characteristics: C-H-A-R-G-E-R

It’s important to know the characteristics of living things. At the same time, seven characteristics is a whole lot to learn and remember. But, there is an easy way to think about them. We’ll use the word ‘charger’ to do so. Each letter in ‘charger’ stands for one of the characteristics of living things. For example, ‘C’ stands for cells in the phrase: made up of cells.
 

C: Made up of Cells

This is the most basic characteristic of all things which are alive. Sure, different organisms have different kinds of cells. Plants have plant cells and animals have animal cells. But, they are all still composed of cells.

An image showing the structures of animal and plant cells.

While organisms may have different kinds of cells, they are all still made up of cells.

H: Maintains Homeostasis

Living things also have to be able to maintain homeostasis. Homeostasis is the set of conditions an organism’s body needs to function. These conditions are different for different types of organisms. For example, most animals have to keep their body warm. Oppositely, some plants prefer to be quite cold. Either way, they both need certain conditions to survive.

An image of a thermometer.

Keeping a constant body temperature is an example of homeostasis.

A: Evolves Adaptations over Time

Another concept that unites living things is evolution. In order for any species to survive, its members have to evolve over time. This allows the species to adapt to changes in its environment. Of course, it also requires that living things have a way to evolve. As far as scientists know, all life on earth has DNA. DNA can mutate over many generations, creating new adaptations in a species.

An image of the double helix of a DNA strand.

All living things evolve over time through mutations in their DNA.

R: Can Reproduce

 

A crucial characteristic of living things is that they can reproduce. That is, that they can somehow make more members of their species. They can do this either through sexual or asexual reproduction. This characteristic is especially important because it without reproduction there wouldn’t be evolution.

An image of a cell dividing.

All living things, even including unicellular organisms, can reproduce.

G: Grows and Changes / Develops

 

All living things will grow throughout their lifetime, and many will develop. This often means that they have clear phases in their life. For example, tadpoles develop into frogs and tiger cubs develop to become tigers. But, this isn’t always the case. Unicellular organisms generally don’t develop. Instead, they just grow in size.

An image of a tree growing over time.

All things that are alive grow and/or develop over time.

E: Requires Energy / Has a Metabolism

 

Being alive takes a lot of energy! So, living things all have to have some way of getting and using energy. There are many ways that they do this. Animals eat for food energy and plants create their own food through photosynthesis.

An image of sheep eating grass.

Sheep eat grass to obtain food energy. All things that are alive need energy to survive.

They all need energy because they all have a metabolism. Metabolism is the consistent use of energy to stay alive. To ‘have a metabolism’ means an organism uses energy. They use it to maintain homeostasis, reproduce, and do pretty much anything else.  
 

R: Responds to the Environment 

 

The final characteristic of living things is simple. In fact, you might’ve never even thought about it. It just means that living things react. They do something in response to whatever interacts with them. And, they interact with things that appeal to them. One example: Squirrels run in reaction to you approaching them. To give another: You look for food in reaction to feeling hungry.

An image of people holding emoticons over their faces to show different emotions.

All things that are alive respond to their environment. Humans do this when we react to something with a certain expression.

Other Great Resources:

Video Lesson on the Characteristics of Living Things: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQPVXrV0GNA

Living Things that Can’t Reproduce: http://www.bnd.com/living/liv-columns-blogs/answer-man/article135296594.html

More Advanced Description of these Characteristics: https://www.ck12.org/biology/Characteristics-of-Life/lesson/Characteristics-of-Life-Advanced-BIO-ADV/

Notes for Studying the Characteristics of Living Things: https://www.cliffsnotes.com/study-guides/biology/biology/the-science-of-biology/characteristics-of-living-things

 

Written by: Noah Louis-Ferdinand