Secondary Consumers: Definition & Examples

Secondary Consumers: Definition & Examples
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  • 0:00 The Ecological Pyramid
  • 1:20 Secondary Consumers
  • 3:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has taught high school and college biology and has a master's degree in cancer biology.

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.

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:

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