Energy Pyramid: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Emily Lockhart

Emily has taught science and has a master's degree in education.

When you eat a midday snack, the energy it provides comes from somewhere. This lesson looks at where that energy comes from and how it moves through a community of organisms before it gets to you.

What is an Energy Pyramid?

Think about your favorite food. Is it chocolate? Do you prefer spinach, or do you like a juicy hamburger most of all? No matter what foods you prefer, whenever you eat, you become a part of the energy pyramid, which shows us how energy transfers from one organism to the next on the food chain, like insects, plants, animals, and so forth.

The Energy Pyramid
energypyramid

As you might already know, the sun is the primary source of energy for all living things on Earth. However, you can't skip a meal just because you spent the day sunbathing. The energy from the sun must be absorbed by other organisms and move through the energy pyramid to get to you, and only then is it available in a form that your body can use. The energy we get from food also depends a lot on where it sits in the energy pyramid. That's because the higher up the pyramid we move, the less energy it contains--the energy filters out as it passes from organism to organism.

Now, let's explore the different levels of the energy pyramid, starting from the base, to better understand how it works.

Producers

At the base of the energy pyramid sits the producers, which include plants, algae and plankton. Producers are organisms that take in the sunlight and produce from it energy that living organisms need to survive. They're not only the most abundant sources of energy on the planet, but also the most plentiful. When you eat salad, it's the closest thing to eating the sun's energy--but nowhere near as hot!

Some producers harness energy from the soil rather than the sun directly. Fungi like mushrooms, bacteria and earthworms are among these type of producers. The energy that they get from the soil is less than what a plant gets from the sun, because it experiences an extra layer of filtering through the soil. So, for instance, a robin that eats a worm would get less energy than if it ate a berry instead.

Primary Consumers

Primary consumers eat producers. (A consumer is any organism that eats something else.) Insects, birds and krill are examples of primary consumers. Again, the amount of energy is less than is available in the producers, because some of it has filtered out as it moved up the energy pyramid. The robin who ate the worm is an example of a primary consumer.

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