Kingdom Protista: Definition, Characteristics & Examples

Learn about the requirements to enter Kingdom Protista, one of the five kingdoms of life. Discover and read about the organisms that can be found there.
What Is Kingdom Protista?
Imagine you are cleaning or organizing around your house. To assist in this process, you separate your items into categories to help you locate them later. Maybe you have a box for books, a drawer for school supplies, and a cubby for electronics. You start to realize, however, that you have a bunch of extra bits and pieces that do not fit into any of your other groups. So, you create a special container for them: your ‘other’ container. This is pretty much what happened with Kingdom Protista.
All the life on planet Earth is organized into five kingdoms based on whether or not the organism is single-celled, how it obtains energy, and how (or if) it moves. Kingdom Protista is the hodge-podge category. It contains the protists, or the organisms that do not fit into any of the other categories.
Protista is Greek for the very first. These organisms were traditionally considered the first eukaryotic forms of life, predecessors to the organisms in the plant, animal, and fungus kingdoms. Eukaryotes are organisms whose cells have membrane-bound organelles. This is opposed to prokaryotes, single-celled organisms lacking a nucleus.
Characteristics of Protists
Protists are eukaryotic organisms that cannot be classified as a plant, animal, or fungus. They are mostly unicellular, but some, like algae, are multicellular. Kelp, or ‘seaweed,’ is a large multicellular protist that provides food, shelter, and oxygen for numerous underwater ecosystems. Even though kelp resembles a plant, it is not classified into Kingdom Plantae because it lacks the cellular complexity of plant cells.
Protists can be heterotrophic, which means they obtain the energy they need to live by consuming other organisms. Or, they can be autotrophic, which means they obtain energy from the environment through photosynthesis, the process of capturing light energy and storing it in carbohydrates.
Protists primarily live in water, though some live in moist soil. They can be found almost anywhere on Earth where there is liquid water, even in humans.
Classification of Protists
Protists are grouped by how they move and how they obtain nutrients. They are arranged into three main categories: animal-like protists, plant-like protists, and fungus-like protists.
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