What is Secondary Consumer its Definition and Types?

Secondary consumers are largely comprised of carnivores that feed on the primary consumers or herbivores. Other members of this group are omnivores that not only feed on primary consumers but also on producers or autotrophs. 

What is Secondary Consumer Definition?

The secondary consumer is an organism that eats primary consumers for energy. Primary consumers are always herbivores or organisms that only eat autotrophic plants. However, secondary consumers can either be carnivores or omnivores.

Carnivores only feed on other animals, and Omnivores can feed on both plant as well as other animal matters. Almost every secondary consumer whether herbivores or carnivores must have the primary consumer in its diet to survive. The way that secondary consumer gets their energy by consuming other organisms is referred to as a heterotrophic mode of nutrition.

What are the Types of Secondary Consumers?

As mentioned earlier, secondary consumers include carnivores and omnivores, which means these are the two types of secondary consumers. In simple terms, carnivores are animal species that feed only on the meat of other animals. Examples include snakes, seals, lizards, mice, fish, and so on.

Carnivores only eat meat or other animals. Some secondary consumers are large predators, but even the smaller ones often eat herbivores bigger than they are in order to get enough energy. Spiders, snakes, and seals are all examples of carnivorous secondary consumers.

Omnivores are the other type of secondary consumers. They eat both plant and animal materials for energy. Bears and skunks are examples of omnivorous secondary consumers that both hunt prey and eat plants. However, some omnivores are simply scavengers. Instead of hunting, they eat the excess animal remains that other predators leave behind. Opossums, vultures, and hyenas are some animals that gain energy through scavenging.

Secondary Consumer

What are the Function of Secondary Consumers?

Secondary consumers are an important part of the food chain. They control the primary consumer population by eating them for energy. Secondary consumers also provide energy to the tertiary consumers they hunt.

Scientists track the movement of energy through consumers by grouping them into tropical levels. The most self-sufficient organisms such as plants and other autotrophs are at the bottom of the pyramid because they can generate their own energy. This is the first trophic level. Primary consumers (herbivores) form the second tropical stage; Secondary consumers make up the third trophic level and so on, as shown below.

Tropic level

As the pyramid shows, energy is lost when it increases to trophic levels, as metabolic heat is released when one organism eats another organism. The bottom of the pyramid makes 100% of its own energy. When a secondary organism eats, it receives only 1% of the originally available energy.

In order to provide enough energy to the top levels of the pyramid, there must be many more producers and herbivores than anything else. However, the need for fewer secondary consumers does not make them any less important. There is a delicate balance within the food chain.

If there are not enough secondary consumers, tertiary consumers will starve (or worse, endangered) because they would no longer have a food supply. If there are too many secondary consumers, they will continue to eat more and more primary consumers until they are critically endangered. Both extremes would disrupt the natural order of life on earth.

Energy Pyramid

What are the Example of Secondary Consumer?

Spiders, snakes, and seals are examples of secondary carnivorous consumers. Omnivores are the other type of secondary consumers. They eat both plant and animal materials for energy. Bears and skunks are examples of secondary omnivorous consumers who both hunt prey and eat plants.

Secondary consumers come in all shapes, sizes and in practically every living space on earth. Icy tundras, arid savannas, and man-made bodies of water are just some of the extreme environments secondary consumers live in. Whether on land or in water, they have one thing in common: the type of food they eat – primary consumers.

Aquatic environments can support different types of secondary consumers due to a large number of food sources available. Piranhas are an example of aquatic omnivores that eat fish, snails, aquatic plants, and even birds. Smaller, less predatory sharks can also be considered secondary consumers as larger sharks, whales, or fish often hunt them.

If there were no secondary aquatic consumers, the primary consumers would have no population regulation. This would lead to over-consumption by primary producers such as phytoplankton, which form the first trophic level. Phytoplankton produces over 70% of the earth’s oxygen. Without them (and other autotrophs like them) there could be no life.

Terrestrial habitats can vary widely, from frozen habitats with subzero temperatures to near-waterless desserts along the equator. Fortunately, secondary consumers have adapted to all types of ecosystems.

Moles, birds, and other secondary consumers such as dogs and cats live in temperate regions. Long ago even humans were considered secondary consumers because other mammals could easily hunt them. With the help of evolution and new technologies, humans are now viewed as the ultimate tertiary consumer

What is special about secondary consumers is that, depending on the environment, they can sometimes also be viewed as primary or tertiary consumers. For example, if squirrels eat nuts and fruits, it is a primary consumer.

When a squirrel switches to eating insects or baby birds it is considered a secondary consumer. This type of switching can be done at any time and in any setting, depending on the food and predators in the area, as shown below.

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