Ecology Consumer: Definition & Explanation Video

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  • 0:02 What Are Consumers?
  • 0:20 Primary Consumers
  • 1:50 Secondary Consumers
  • 3:26 Tertiary Consumers
  • 4:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jeffrey Sack

Jeff is a Biology teacher and has a Doctorate in Educational Leadership

This lesson will discuss the role of consumers in an ecosystem. It will describe their place in a food chain and how they interact with other organisms. Specific types of consumers will be presented.

What are Consumers?

The dictionary defines a consumer as 'one who acquires goods and services.' While this explanation is more of a description for how people buy and use products, it also relates to the animal kingdom. Consumers are those organisms that get their energy from eating other organisms. eat other. They may eat plants or they may eat animals.

Primary Consumers

At the bottom of every food chain and food web are the producers. These are organisms like plants and algae that make their own energy by using the sun. In a food chain, the first step after the producers are the primary consumers. These are the animals that eat producers. They are usually herbivores and range in size from the smallest of insects, such as the leaf beetle to the largest land mammal, the elephant.

What They Eat

Primary consumers get their energy from eating plants and algae directly. Some of them have large, dull, flat teeth to help them grind and chew plant matter. Many also have special bacteria living within their intestines to help them break down cellulose (a large sugar that is found in cell walls of plants).

Insects are the most numerous primary consumers on Earth. They are well adapted for getting their energy from the parts of the plant they eat. Some, like the grasshopper, eat the entire plant. Caterpillars, on the other hand, eat just the leaves. There are also certain beetles that bore into the stem of the plant and just eat the fibers that make it up. There are other insects that eat just the roots.

Some primary consumers are called specialists. These are animals that eat only one kind of plant or plant product. For example, the giant panda (Figure 1) eats only leaves and shoots of bamboo, termites eat only wood, and hummingbirds eat only the nectar made within flowers. Each of these animals is getting the energy it needs from consuming a producer, or a part of a producer.

Figure 1. Giant Panda Eating Bamboo
Giant Panda eating bamboo

Figure 2. Zebras

Secondary Consumers

Animals that eat other animals are called secondary consumers. These are carnivores. They eat meat. Unlike the primary consumers, which do not have to search very hard for food, the secondary consumers need to hunt. These animals are often called predators because they hunt down and kill the food they eat. The prey they eat may be herbivores, or other secondary consumers.

When it comes to food choice, most predators are not fussy. They will eat whatever meat they can find. Lions will eat antelope, zebra, or water buffalo (Figure 3). Sharks will eat squid, fish, and seals. As long as the prey animal will provide enough energy for the predator, it will be on the menu of a secondary consumer.

Figure 3. Feeding Lion
Feeding Lion

Many secondary consumers have teeth that are used for ripping and tearing of flesh. These teeth can be sharp for biting or flat for tearing. When a predator makes a kill, it often uses its mouth for attack. Its sharp canines puncture the flesh of the prey, bringing it down. It will then use the tearing teeth to tear the meat from the body.

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