Heterotroph – Concept, classification and examples

We explain what a heterotrophic being is, how they can be classified by their preferences and some examples of these living beings.

Heterotrophs are not capable of self-sustaining from inorganic matter.

What is a heterotrophic being?

Known living beings can be classified into two large types, depending on the model of nutritional processes that characterize them: heterotrophs and autotrophs, that is, those with heterotrophic nutrition and autotrophic nutrition.

It is known as heterotrophs to living beings that are unable to sustain themselves from inorganic matter in the environment, but they need to consume the organic matter of other living beings to be able to nourish themselves and continue living.

In this they are distinguished from autotrophic beings, capable of harnessing energy and inorganic matter to make their food (such as plants, which take advantage of water and sunlight to photosynthesize).

Thus, autotrophic beings are considered producers, while heterotrophs are considered consumers. Without the former, the latter could not exist in the long run, because eventually the living things to consume would run out.

Heterotrophic beings can be classified according to their food preferences in:

  • Herbivores Those that feed mainly on plants and vegetables, fruits or floral nectar, that is, they obtain their organic matter from the plant kingdom.
  • Carnivores. Also known as predators, they feed on the body of other heterotrophs, be they herbivores, smaller carnivores or of any kind. They are the hunters of each habitat, keeping the population growth of their prey at bay.
  • Detritophages. Nature’s recycling department is made up of detritophages, those heterotrophic beings that are in charge of the food residues of large predators, or of the organic matter that falls from the trees, in short, of everything that can be considered matter. organic waste. Carrion birds, fungi, and many insects fulfill this role on a daily basis.
  • Omnivores Those that eat everything, that is, they can combine foods from different sources in their diet: carnivores, herbivores and even in some cases detritophagus. Man is an obvious case of this.

Examples of heterotrophic beings

Heterotrophic beings encompass all animals, fungi, and most single-celled organisms. We can offer some examples of this:

  • The big feline predators. Like the tiger, the lion, the panther, the puma or the cheetah, they have an exclusively carnivorous diet, so they must hunt other animals, usually herbivores of good size.
  • Fish and marine mammals. From the shark to the sardine, from the tuna to the dolphin, life in the sea is a constant eating or being eaten. Large fish eat small ones and feed on their organic matter, and these in turn feed on small crustaceans or plankton.
  • The mushrooms in their entirety. Although they do not seem so in some cases, fungi are heterotrophic beings halfway between animal and plant. They have body structures similar to the plant kingdom (such as cells with cell walls) but they feed on decomposing organic matter: wood, paint, soils rich in humus, and even the body of other living beings.
  • The great African herbivores. Large animals and herbivorous food, such as giraffes, rhinos, elephants, gazelles and others, which are often prey for large predators.
  • Protozoa. These unicellular and microscopic organisms inhabit humid environments and aquatic environments, or within the organism of beings that in some cases they parasitize. They feed by engulfing other living cells to incorporate them into their body, or by absorbing nutrients through their cell membrane. In some cases they are considered semi-heterotrophic or partially autotrophic, depending on the species.
  • Humans. A clear example of a heterotrophic diet is ours, which ideally combines plant and animal foods and foods from various living beings. Although we must also drink water, like other animals, we cannot subsist on it alone.
  • Some bacteria The kingdom of bacteria is huge and diverse, which includes some autotrophic species (photosynthetic or chemosynthetic) and other heterotrophic species, such as those that invade our body in case of infections. These bacteria then feed on our own cells and tissues.
  • Arachnids. Spiders, scorpions and centipedes are the creatures that make up this category, which are some of the most fearsome predators in the arthropod world. Great hunters of insects, they have each developed their strategies to capture their prey, on whose internal fluids they feed.