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The Complete Guide to Animal Cells


If you’re studying biology, you’ll likely learn about animal cells. Cells are the basic building blocks of all life. Animal cells are types of cells that are specifically found in animals.

In this guide, we’ll explain what animal cells are, the difference between plant and animal cells, and other important information. By reading this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about animal cells.


Animal Cell Definition

Animal cells are the types of cells that make up most of the tissue cells in animals. Different kinds of animals have different numbers of cells, but most have millions and millions. Human beings, for instance, have over 40 trillion cells.

Animal cells are eukaryotic, which means they have a nucleus that holds DNA. Eukaryotic cells are more complex and have more components than their counterparts, prokaryotic cells. Both plant and animal cells are eukaryotic, though they have other compositional differences.


Difference Between Plant and Animal Cells

There are a number of differences between plant and animal cells.

First, animal cells do not have chloroplasts. In plant cells, chloroplasts assist the plants in performing photosynthesis. Since animals don’t get their energy through photosynthesis (they get it from the food they eat), they don’t need chloroplasts.

Animal cells also lack cell walls. In plant cells, the cell wall gives the cell a rigid, rectangular shape. Because plant cells have cell walls, they are often similar sizes and shapes. Animal cells, on the other hand, have more variety, though they are typically smaller than plant cells.

Both plant and animal cells have vacuoles, which are like storage containers for nutrients, food, or waste. Most plant cells only have one large vacuole, while animal cells have numerous, smaller vacuoles.

Animal cells have a number of other structures that plant cells don’t have, including centrioles, lysosomes, cilia, and flagella.




Animal Cell Model and Parts of the Animal Cell

Animal cells contain small structures called organelles, which help carry out the normal operations of a cell. Each of the organelles is essential in making sure the cell functions properly.

These are the organelles found in most animal cells:

  • Cell Membrane: The cell membrane is the thin membrane that encloses an animal cell’s cytoplasm and all of the organelles in it.

  • Centrioles: Centrioles help organize the assembly of microtubules during cell division, which is one of the stages of mitosis.

  • Cilia and flagella: Cilia and flagella are extensions from a cell’s surface that help it move.

  • Cytoplasm: The cytoplasm is the gel-like substance that holds the organelles in a cell.

  • Cytoskeleton: The cytoskeleton helps to give the cell support and shape.

  • Endoplasmic Reticulum: The endoplasmic reticulum plays a big role in the production and movement of proteins and lipids.

  • Golgi Complex: The Golgi Complex makes, stores, and moves different material for the cell.

  • Lysosomes: Lysosomes aid the cell in digesting things like nucleic acids.

  • Microtubules: These hollow rods help give structure and shape to the cell.

  • Nucleus: The nucleus of a cell contains its DNA and controls the cell’s growth and reproduction.

  • Peroxisomes: These structures help detoxify alcohol and break down fats.

  • Ribosomes: Ribosomes are responsible for assembling proteins for the cell.


Kinds of Animal Cells

There are many different types of animal cells which vary according to their function and location in the body. These are some of the most common types of animal cells.


Skin Cells

There are two main types of skin cells: keratinocytes and melanocytes.

Keratinocytes produce a protein called “keratin” and make up about 90% of all skin cells. Melanocytes produce “melanin” which give skin its color.


Muscle Cells

Muscle cells help move an animal’s limbs and organs. There are skeleton muscle cells, cardiac muscle cells, and smooth muscle cells.




Blood Cells

There are red blood cells and white blood cells. Red blood cells make up over 99% of all blood cells. Red blood cells' job is to deliver oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.

White blood cells are equally important. White cells help organisms fight infection and disease by killing bacteria.


Fat Cells

Fat cells store fats and lipids as energy reserves to help give the body power. White fat cells have one large lipid drop within them, whereas brown fat cells have multiple, smaller droplets throughout the cell.


Animal Cells: Final Thoughts

Animal cells are the building blocks that make up all animal life. Animal cells are made up of organelles, which have different jobs to help the cell function. There are different kinds of animal cells that each have a different job to help the body survive and thrive.


What's Next?

Need to brush up on more than just animal cells before tackling the AP Biology exam? Here’s a curated list of the best AP Biology books.

We put together a complete AP Biology review guide. It breaks down all of the topics that might appear on the exam, so you can figure out exactly what you need to study.

The best way to figure out if you’re prepared for the AP Biology test is to take a practice exam. Here’s a list of every AP Biology practice test available. And the best news? They're free!


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Hayley Milliman
About the Author

Hayley Milliman is a former teacher turned writer who blogs about education, history, and technology. When she was a teacher, Hayley's students regularly scored in the 99th percentile thanks to her passion for making topics digestible and accessible. In addition to her work for PrepScholar, Hayley is the author of Museum Hack's Guide to History's Fiercest Females.

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