Difference Between Autotroph vs Heterotroph

Difference Between Autotroph vs Heterotroph

Over the course of this post, we’re going to fully explain the difference between autotroph and heterotroph so that you can finally get to the bottom of what these two often confused words mean.

They might sound slightly similar, but their meanings truly couldn’t be further apart. Read on for total elaboration on this subject once and for all so that you can use either word with confidence going forwards without having to second guess that you’ve got them the right way around.

Definition of Autotroph

An autotroph is: “Any organism that is capable of producing nutritional substances organically via inorganic means.”

Realistically, the key to the difference between these two words lies in the first half of the word autotroph. The inclusion of the word “auto” by default means that we’re talking about something that relies on or involves an automated process.

In this instance, the process in question is the ability to produce a totally innate food source. For instance, a plant that goes through photosynthesis is a prime example of an autotrophic organism because it doesn’t require any external intervention to feed itself.

Some forms of bacteria can also be considered as being autotrophic due to them requiring no input for them to feed themselves and grow. At its core, this is where the difference between heterotroph vs autotroph primarily reveals itself.

The addition of “hetero” into the word heterotroph is also a very clear giveaway as to the precise nature of a heterotrophic organism. This is because “hetero” means to combine forms. We’ll now dive into the definition of this word further to assist your understanding.

Definition of Heterotroph

A heterotroph is: “Any organism that derives its nutritional elements from organic substances of a complex nature.”

As you’re already aware after reading the last section, the word heterotroph dictates that there is external involvement in play with any organism belonging to this group for it to perform its nutritional process.

This is due to the individual word hetero dictating that two forms must be combined together to yield a specific result. So, whereas autotrophic organisms don’t require any assistance whatsoever to sustain themselves while heterotrophic organisms do.

Good examples of heterotroph’s would be human beings, mammals, or animals who all require external involvement to successfully sustain themselves. So when it comes down to the heterotroph vs autotroph debate, we find that the difference is enormous.

An easy way to remember where the two vary if you ever get stuck is that one (heterotroph) requires some form of help to nutritionally sustain itself and the other (autotroph) doesn’t. This is a simple but vital point when it comes to telling them apart.

Main Differences Between Autotroph vs Heterotroph

In this section, we’ll summarise the key variations between heterotrophic vs autotrophic organisms in a quick reference table that you can come back to any time you get lost for a refresh on what sets them apart.

Basis of ComparisonAutotrophicHeterotrophic
Nature of nutritional processAutomaticRelies on external factors
MeaningAn organism with a self-automated nutritional uptake processAn organism that relies on external compounds for its nutritional uptake
Also known asProducersConsumers
Associated processes?PhotosynthesisDigestion and nutrient absorption after the consumption of external food
Host typePlants, bacteriaHumans, animals, mammals

On the whole, the above table outlines the primary differences that we can draw on to help us separate the two words from one another. After reviewing it, it’s quite clear to see that though the words sound the same, they relate to very different organism types.

Difference Between Autotroph and Heterotroph: Conclusion

Now that you’ve read through to the end of today’s post you should have a firm understanding of the different nature of each word involved in today’s comparison despite them perhaps seeming similar at first.

If you want an easy way to remember the key variations between them, then a heterotroph requires external input to eat and an autotroph doesn’t. That’s essentially where the comparison of these organism types both begins and ends.