Plant Cells vs Animal Cells: 10 Key Differences Explained

Written by Hannah Ward
Published: November 22, 2021

Plant and animal cells are both extremely important to the survival of millions of species and without them life couldn’t exist.  Although they share a lot of similarities, they have quite a few differences too, and even the smallest difference can be massively important to the job that they do. So how are they alike and what separates plant cells vs. animal cells?

Well, they are a different size and shape and store different types of energy.  Both have a nucleus, although it is centrally located in one and not in the other.  They both have cell membranes, although one has a cell wall and the other doesn’t.  

Comparing Animal Cells vs Plant Cells

Plant and animal cells have many differences and each different part is vital to the role they play.  They are so essential that they are considered to be the building blocks of every living thing on earth – both plant and animal.  Although most cells are so tiny that they can only be seen through a microscope there are some important differences between them.

Check out the chart below to learn a few of the main differences.

Animal CellsPlant Cells
Size10 – 30 micrometers10 – 100 micrometers
ShapeIrregular shapeFixed, rigid shape – often rectangular
Cell WallNoYes
Nucleus locationCentralOff center, towards one side
VacuoleMany small vacuolesLarge central vacuole
Stored energyGlycogenStarch

The 10 Key Differences Between Plant and Animal Cells

Plant cells are an important part of photosynthesis which is vital to the survival of all plants

Plant vs Animal Cells: Size

Animal cells are generally much smaller than plant cells.  Animal cells are usually between 10 and 30 micrometres while plant cells are between 10 and 100 micrometres.

Plant vs Animal Cells: Cell Wall

Animal cells do not have a cell wall.  Instead they have a cell membrane.  However, plant cells have a strong cell wall that is made from cellulose as well as a cell membrane.

Plant vs Animal Cells: Shape

As plant cells have a strong cell wall they have a fixed and rigid shape that is usually rectangular.  However, the opposite applies to animal cells.  As they don’t have a cell wall they are irregular shapes.

Plant vs Animal Cells: Vacuole

Vacuoles are spaces or cavities within cells that enclosed by a membrane and usually contain fluid.  Animal cells have many small vacuoles within them while plant cells have one large one.  The vacuole within a plant cell can sometimes take up towards 90% of it.

Plant vs Animal Cells: Nucleus

The nucleus is one of the most important part of a cell as it contains all of the genetic information for the cell and controls cell division.  In animal cells the nucleus is located fairly centrally within the cell.  However, in plant cells it is located towards one side of the cell.  This is because the large fluid filled vacuole takes up most of the room within plant cells.

Plant vs Animal Cells: Stored Energy

Both plant and animal cells store energy and both use glucose as their main form of energy.  However, they store it in different forms.  Animal cells store energy in the form of glycogen while plants store it in the form of starch.

Plant vs Animal Cells: Chloroplasts

One of the major differences between plant and animal cells is the presence of chloroplasts.  Plant cells have chloroplasts while animal cells don’t.  Plant cells need chloroplasts so that they can convert energy from sunlight into usable energy via photosynthesis.  Animals do not do this so they don’t need chloroplasts.

Plant vs Animal Cells: Plasmodesma

Plasmodesmata are tiny channels that lie between the cell walls of plant cells.  They allow molecules, nutrients, and water to move between cells – known as intercellular communication.  Plasmodesmata are only present in plant and algae cells and are not present in animal cells.

Largest iguanas - Green iguana
Cells have the ability to repair and regrow themselves which allows iguanas to regrow their tails

Plant vs Animal Cells: Lysosomes

Lysosomes are membrane bound organelles that are found within cells.  Their main role is to break down proteins, acids, large molecules, and unwanted materials.  They are present within animal cells but are very rarely found within plant cells.  This is because plants have tough cell walls which are strong enough to keep any of the unwanted substances out of the cell that a lysosome would usually break down.

Plant vs Animal Cells: Centriole

Centrioles are cylindrical organelles which are found in the cytoplasm of animal cells.  They are found near the nucleus and are made up of nine microtubles arranged in a circle.  Their main role is to arrange the microtubles during cell division.  Centrioles are found in animal cells, but are not typically found in plant cells.  However, plant cells still contain microtubles.

FAQ’s (Frequently Asked Questions)

What parts of cells are the same in both plants and animals?

Both plant and animal cells have cell membranes, a nucleus, cytoplasm, and mitochondria.

Are all plant cells the same?

No, plant cells vary by location, function, type, and even by the individual plant species.

What are eukaryotic cells and are both plant and animal cells eukaryotic cells?

Yes, both plant and animal cells are eukaryotic cells.  Eukaryotic cells are cells that contain a nucleus and other membrane-bound organelles.

Can cells repair themselves?

Yes, both plant and animal cells can repair themselves.  This is known as regeneration and is a natural process that allows plants and animals to repair and replace cells and tissues, heal wounds, and even regrow limbs in some limited cases – such as starfish regrowing arms and lizards regrowing tails.

Can cells produce their own food?

Plant cells can produce their own food but animal cells can’t.  This is because plant cells contain chloroplasts so that they can convert energy from the sunlight into nutrients – therefore producing their own food using the process known as photosynthesis.  Animal cells don’t contain chloroplasts so they cannot make their own food, meaning that they need to get it from another source.  This is why plants are known as producers, while animals are known as consumers.

What are the different types of animal cells?

Some of the different types of animal cells include blood, muscle, nerve, skin, and stem cells.