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7 Characteristics of living things

By Darius Soyer. Biology is the study of living organisms and the things they do to remain alive. Whether microscopic or the size of a bus, there are certain characteristics of living organisms that help determine whether they are alive or not.

Maybe you’ve wondered how that nasty mold on your old bread or cheese keeps spreading? Turns out it’s alive and it is a fungus. Here are the 7 characteristics of living things to look for to tell if something is alive.

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7 Characteristics of living things


All living organisms reproduce (create offspring). Without creating offspring, the population will decrease and stop the spread of its DNA making it only a matter of time before extinction.

For example, if the pets we have today (dogs, cats, snakes, etc.) were suddenly unable to reproduce, the population would reduce significantly and eventually become extinct due to them being unable to create offspring.


Living things respond to changes in their surroundings. By noticing changes in the environment and the world around them, living organisms adapt to them, this is what helps us survive.

An example is plants respond to the change in the sun’s position and subsequently grows in the direction of sunlight. Likewise, the roots of germinating seeds grow downwards as a reaction to gravity.

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Living things show growth. Most living organisms gain mass and size throughout their lifetime. They generally start small and then gain size and/or mass while some even gain new features.

An example is birds start from eggs and most are born without feathers. They are taken care of until they can grow and develop wings and size to protect and feed themselves.


Removing waste products from our body is another thing that we living organisms do. In humans, we remove waste like faeces and urine from our body after the nutrients from food and drinks have been processed by the kidney or intestines.


Food is essential for living things to grow and stay alive. We gain energy and necessary nutrients from consuming food.

You can relate to this as when you have not consumed food for a lengthy amount of time you begin feeling weak and tired. Whether herbivore, omnivore, carnivore, decomposers or plants, all living things use food to stay alive.


We usually tell that something is alive by its ability to move on its own without any external forces. We as humans walk, run or even crawl. Plants grow in different directions up towards sunlight and their roots grow downwards in the soil.


All living things breathe air. Most inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide to survive. Plants produce oxygen as a byproduct through the process of photosynthesis. Even fishes need oxygen, they just receive it differently from humans.


These are 7 characteristics of living things listed above. Whether it is a plant, a microscopic organism or a whale, they all grow, feed, move, respire, excrete, adapt and reproduce. Use your knowledge of the characteristics of living things as you learn more biology, the study of life.


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