Characteristics of Living Things Help

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By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Aug 30, 2011

Six Basic Characteristics of Living Things

Since physiology (body function) only occurs within living organisms, it is very important for us to know the basic characteristics of living things:

1. Living things have a high degree of Biological Order (body pattern or organization ). In general, living organisms are much more organized than dead ones. And we have already said that living things have an extremely high degree of Biological Order. In the human body, for instance, our oral ( OR -al) body temperature taken by “mouth” ( or ) remains relatively constant at about 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Body temperature goes up and down, but it still remains within a normal range . It only goes up about 1 degree Fahrenheit, or down about 1 degree Fahrenheit, from the 98.6 degree level. This creates a roughly S-shaped pattern over time (Figure 1.2, A).

Similar S-shaped patterns could be constructed for such aspects of physiology as heart rate and respiratory rate (rate of breathing), and such aspects of anatomy as blood sugar concentration and bone density. In general,

The Coming of Biology Characteristics of Living Things

In this book, we will use the very familiar pattern of black spots on a living giraffe (Figure 1.2, B) as a symbol to represent particular cases of Biological Order within living things.

2. Living organisms are sensitive to changes in their surrounding environment and respond to them . An earthworm will respond to hot, dry air by quickly burrowing into the cool, moist earth for safety. A row of sprouting bean plants in a box by a window will eventually tilt and grow in the direction of the incoming light. These are just two of the ways in which the huge variety of living organisms can respond to changes in their surrounding environment.

3. Living things produce movement, either internally or externally (outside of their bodies ). A crab, for instance, moves its claws externally to clasp a dead minnow and engulf it. The tiny pieces of eaten minnow then move internally, through the crab’s digestive tract.

4. Living organisms undergo growth and specialization of their anatomy and physiology as they become older . At first, a newborn shark is tiny, and it has few or no teeth in its jaws. But the shark keeps growing larger and larger for as long as it lives. And it develops a set of razor-sharp teeth in both jaws for cutting and shredding its prey.

The Coming of Biology Characteristics of Living Things

Fig. 1.2 Some patterns representing biological order.

5. Living organisms undergo metabolism for energy production and excrete unuseable waste products . The word metabolism (meh- TAB -ah- lizm ) means “a state of change.” In living things, food that is eaten is soon changed by the chemical processes of metabolism. Energy is produced, which then performs body work. Excretion ( eks-KREE -shun) is a “sifting out” of waste matter after metabolism, thereby eliminating it from the body.

6. Living organisms reproduce themselves . A living creature has the ability to reproduce itself, either sexually (using sex) or asexually ( ay-SEK -shoe-ah-lee) – “not” (a-) using sex.


Practice problems for these concepts can be found at:  The Coming Of Biology Test

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