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Learn all about secondary consumers and their place in the food pyramid.

We will look at examples of secondary consumers. There is a short quiz to follow that you can take to test your knowledge on the subject.

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The Ecological Pyramid

Imagine that you are hungry and have decided to consume, or eat, a meal that includes steak, lobster, and vegetables. While you’re eating this meal, you are probably not thinking about what the lobster or cow ate before they ended up on your plate.

However, this is something that scientists have given much thought to.Different organisms – both plant and animals – can be grouped together and organized by trophic levels, or hierarchical levels that visually give information about the food consumption of each of these groups. Trophic levels are stacked into a trophic, or ecological pyramid, a graphic representation of what groups of organisms survive by consuming other groups. The simplest way to explain these pyramids is with an example.

The different consumer levels are shown on the ecological pyramid
Diagram of ecological pyramid

In this ecological pyramid, you can see that above the soil and its resident decomposers, which we’ll not cover in this lesson, the base consists of primary producers, or organisms (primarily plants) that make food on their own. One step higher, we see the trophic level of primary consumers, or herbivorous organisms that consume the producers.

Just above our group of herbivores is the focus for this lesson: secondary consumers. Secondary consumers are organisms, primarily animals, which eat primary consumers. Although we will not cover them in this lesson, there is yet another level topping off our pyramid; these are the tertiary consumers.

Secondary Consumers

Ecological pyramids are helpful in that they can illustrate for us who in the animal kingdom eats who. Producers, as the base, eat no one and subside off of the nutrients from the air and soil.

Primary consumers are strictly herbivores, or animals that eat only vegetation – fruits, vegetables, and plants; they consume no meat.Secondary consumers, however, have a menu of primary consumers to choose from for their diets, depending on their habitats. Although there are a few, rare carnivorous plants out there, for simplicity’s sake, I’m going to generalize secondary consumers as primarily animals.

Examples of secondary consumers fall into one of two categories: carnivores or omnivores.Carnivores are animals that eat only the meat of other animals. Carnivores come in all shapes and sizes, such as:

  • Large predators, like wolves, crocodiles, and eagles
  • Smaller creatures, such as dragonfly larva and rats
  • Some fish, including piranhas and pufferfish

Omnivores are animals that eat the meat of other animals as well as vegetation; they are carnivores and herbivores both. Similarly, there are omnivorous animals of all types:

  • Larger animals, like polar bears, grizzly bears, and black bears
  • Some birds, such as blue jays, crows, and woodpeckers
  • Some ocean animals, including dolphins, sea otters, manatees, and blue crabs

How about humans? You guessed it! We’re secondary consumers, too, because humans (personal preferences aside) are omnivores and consume both meat and vegetation as part of our diets.

Lesson Summary

We covered a lot of information in this lesson about secondary consumers. Using our ecological pyramid, we looked at the different trophic levels of organisms.

Such pyramids are graphic representations of plants’ and animals’ food pyramids, an illustration of who eats who using levels of consumption.Going up the pyramid from its base, we learned that producers make their own food and are almost all plants. Primary consumers eat these plants exclusively and are all herbivores. We defined secondary consumers as organisms, primarily animals, which eat primary consumers.Furthermore, secondary consumers can be classified into one of two groups: carnivores, or meat eaters, and omnivores, which are plant and meat eaters. Examples of carnivores include wolves, crocodiles, eagles, piranhas, and dragonfly larva. Examples of omnivores are humans, grizzly bears, polar bears, black bears, raccoons, blue jays, woodpeckers, manatees, dolphins, and chickens.

Characteristics of Secondary Consumers

An ecological pyramid shows the trophic levels
Trophic pyramid
  • Secondary consumers:
    • Can come in all sizes
    • Are either carnivores or omnivores
    • Are organisms that eat primary consumers

Learning Outcomes

After you have finished this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Name and describe the trophic levels of organisms
  • List examples of animals considered secondary consumers
  • Describe the two groups of secondary consumers

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