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Just imagine you have received a call from a lawyer. He calls you into his office and you find out that a long lost and very wealthy great-great uncle has suddenly passed away. He had worked hard all his life and had invested his money wisely. He had also invented several very small, but extremely important, computer parts which he had patents on. He has left you all his money and the rights to his patents. Sounds great, right?

The above story illustrates two ideas in life. Your uncle worked hard and by his industry had acquired his wealth. You on the other hand have inherited your wealth. Animals and plants have traits that they either inherit or acquire.



Traits are qualities, features, or other characteristics that distinguish the organism. They can include hair color, tooth shape, beak shape, bone size, or muscle structure. Traits come in two varieties: acquired and inherited.


Acquired Traits

Just like your uncle, animals can acquire useful abilities. These acquired traits cannot be passed on genetically. You can't inherit your uncle's knowledge, skills, ideas, or memories, and it doesn't work that way with other organisms, either. Acquired traits include such things as calluses on fingers and larger muscle size from exercise or from avoiding predators. Behaviors that help an organism survive would also be considered acquired characteristics most of the time, like where to hide or what animals to hide from. For plants, acquired characteristics might include bending because of wind or growths resulting from insect bites.


Inherited Traits

Like our story, some things can be inherited. In organisms inherited traits must come from a parent or other ancestor. A trait may seem to skip a generation or even two or three, but if a trait shows up it must have been present in an ancestor. Mutations are the exception to this rule. Inherited traits include things such as hair color, eye color, muscle structure, bone structure, and even features like the shape of a nose. Inheritable traits are traits that get passed down from one generation to the next. This might include things like passing on red hair in a family. For animals it may include things like the stripes on a tiger, a skunk’s ability to spray, or the flavor of fruit from different apple trees. All plants and animals that reproduce pass on traits to their offspring.


Check your knowledge!

Listed below are several traits. Decide if each trait would be inherited or acquired by clicking on the pull down menu and highlighting your choice.

1. Flower petal color

2. Tree height

3. Professional athletic ability

4. The ability of a mouse to learn a maze

5. The color blindness of a person

6. The scars on a person's face

7. Your eye color

8. The music ability of a piano player

9. A widow's peak on a person's forehead

10. The knowledge you have about your science class

Highlight the box to check your answers.
1. Inherited trait, 2. Inherited trait, 3. Acquired triat, 4. Acquired triat, 5. Inherited trait, 6. Acquired trait, 7. Inherited trait, 8. Acquired triat, 9. Inherited trait, 10. Acquired trait

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Teachers should view the Teacher Site Map to relate Sci-ber text and the USOE 7th grade science core.

Updated October 24, 2008 by: Glen Westbroek

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