There are over 100,000 described living species of protists, and it is unclear how many undescribed species may exist. Since many protists live in symbiotic relationships with other organisms and these relationships are often species specific, there is a huge potential for undescribed protist diversity that matches the diversity of the hosts. As the catchall term for eukaryotic organisms that are not animals, plants, fungi, or any single phylogenetically related group, it is not surprising that few characteristics are common to all protists.
Nearly all protists exist in some type of aquatic environment, including freshwater and marine environments, damp soil, and even snow. Several protist species are parasites that infect animals or plants. A parasite is an organism that lives on or in another organism and feeds on it, often without killing it. A few protist species live on dead organisms or their wastes, and contribute to their decay.