7 junio, 2024

Secondary consumers: what they are, characteristics, types, examples

What are secondary consumers?

The secondary consumers or second order are organisms that feed on primary consumers to obtain the energy necessary to survive. Every secondary consumer, whether carnivore or herbivore, must include primary consumers in their diet to survive.

The type of diet of these living beings is known as heterotrophic nutrition, since they obtain their energy by feeding on other organisms. Secondary consumers can be strictly carnivorous, if they eat only meat, or omnivorous if their diet is based on both plants and animals.

Characteristics of secondary consumers

– Secondary consumers can be both carnivorous and omnivorous. For example, a toad that lives in the forest eats grasshoppers and other insects. In a forest, foxes eat rabbits. The lakes are inhabited by small fish, crabs, and frogs that feed on tadpoles, small crustaceans, and tiny fish. Snakes are also secondary consumers, while they eat mice (primary consumers).

– Omnivorous animals act like all types of consumer animals: primary, secondary and tertiary. The best example is the human being himself, who can eat berries and vegetables as a primary consumer. It also eats cattle, and is therefore a secondary consumer. It feeds on chickens, which in turn feed on insects, making humans a tertiary consumer.

– A distinctive feature of secondary consumers is that sometimes they can also be considered primary or tertiary consumers, depending on the environment. For example, when a squirrel eats nuts and fruits it is a primary consumer. If this squirrel eats insects or baby birds, then it is considered a secondary consumer. This type of switching can occur at any time and in any environment, depending on the food and predators in that habitat.

– Frozen tundras, arid savannahs, and arctic waters are just a few of the extreme environments in which secondary consumers live. Whether on land or in water, the only thing they have in common is the type of food they eat: primary consumers.

– Secondary consumers have adapted to exist in each type of ecosystem. Temperate regions are home to moles, birds, and other secondary consumers, such as cats and dogs.

– They control the population of primary consumers (for example, the wolf prevents the proliferation of deer, which would eat the new plants in the forests, contributing to their disappearance).

– They provide energy for tertiary consumers, being eaten by them.

– They constitute the third trophic level in the food chain.

Examples of Secondary Consumers

Animals that often act as secondary consumers

– Cat

– Fox

– Chicken

– Snake

– Dog

– Owl

They may hunt for primary consumers such as insects or small rodents and eat them, or feed on primary consumers that other animals have killed or injured.

scavengers secondary consumers

– Ravens

– Hawks

– Wolves

Aquatic secondary consumers

– Piranhas

– Small sharks

Functions of secondary consumers

– Secondary consumers are an important part of the food chain, they control the population of primary consumers, obtaining energy from them.

– The secondary consumers, in turn, provide energy to the tertiary consumers that hunt them.

The most self-sufficient organisms, such as plants and other autotrophs, are at the bottom of the pyramid, since they can produce their own energy. This is the first trophic level. Primary consumers (herbivores) make up the second trophic level and secondary consumers make up the third.

In any food web, energy is lost each time one organism eats another, so at a higher trophic level, more energy is lost. Self-sufficient organisms produce 100% of their own energy, while when a secondary consumer eats, they only receive 1% of the original available energy.

Therefore, there need to be more plant producers and eaters than any other type of organism, in order to provide enough energy to the higher levels of the pyramid.

It does not follow from this that because fewer secondary consumers are needed, they are less important.

– Balance the food chain:

If there are not enough secondary consumers, then the tertiary consumers face starvation, or worse, extinction, due to a shortage in the food supply.

If there were too many secondary consumers, then too many primary consumers would be eaten to the brink of extinction. Both extremes would break the natural order of the ecosystem.

Because of this, there have to be many more plants than plant eaters. Therefore, there are more autotrophs than heterotrophs, and more plant eaters than meat eaters.

Although there is intense competition between animals, there is also interdependence. When one species goes extinct, it can affect a whole chain of other species with unpredictable consequences.

Types of Secondary Consumers

Secondary consumers can be classified into two groups: carnivores and omnivores. Carnivores only eat meat from other animals.

Some secondary consumers are large predators, but even the smallest will often also feed on herbivores larger than themselves to receive enough energy. Spiders, snakes, and seals are examples of carnivorous secondary consumers.

Omnivores, on the other hand, feed on both plants and animals for energy. Bears and skunks, for example, are omnivorous secondary consumers that hunt for prey and eat plants.

However, some omnivores are simply scavengers. Instead of hunting, they eat the remains of animals that other predators leave behind. This is the case of opossums, vultures and hyenas, which obtain energy through carrion.


Food web and food chain. Retrieved from scienceclarified.com.
Difference Between 1st, 2nd & 3rd Level Consumers in a Food Web. Retrieved from education.seattlepi.com.

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