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Tertiary consumers: what they are and examples

When we talk about the transfer of energy through food, we are referring to the trophic chain or food chain. This chain is made up of a first trophic level, in which we find the producer organisms, followed by more levels that make up the different consuming organisms (there are up to four levels) and the chain ends with the decomposing organisms.

In this didactic AgroCorrn article we will show information about a specific trophic level, that of consumers, but more specifically we will talk in depth about tertiary consumers and will detail some examples of food or trophic chains in which they can be well identified. organisms. So, if you want to discover everything about what tertiary consumers are and examples of them, be sure to read this article.

You may also be interested in: Quaternary consumers: what they are and examples
  1. What are tertiary consumers
  2. Examples of tertiary consumers
  3. Why there are few tertiary consumers in ecosystems
  4. Other consuming organisms

What are tertiary consumers

The group of tertiary consumers is made up of carnivorous species , that is, heterotrophic animals that obtain their energy by consuming organic matter. This organic matter is obtained by feeding on organisms that are secondary consumers, such as the fox, the coyote, the snake and the lion, among others. We advise you, to better understand this issue of the type of diet, also consult this other post by AgroCorrn on heterotrophic organisms: what they are, characteristics and examples .

Some characteristics of tertiary consumers are:

  • They are carnivorous animals.
  • Within the trophic levels they constitute the fourth link.
  • They control the population of secondary consumers and indirectly the rest of the trophic levels.
  • Once dead, they are foodstuffs for decomposers. Get to know them better with this other post about What are decomposing living beings with examples .
  • In some ecosystems they can be predated by another higher consumer called the quaternary.

Examples of tertiary consumers

Below are examples of tertiary consumers , explaining some trophic or food chains:

  • Sharks are tertiary aquatic consumers that feed on mollusks, smaller fish, crustaceans, plankton, and sometimes other sharks.
  • Herons are birds that feed on amphibians, and amphibians on insects.
  • Killer whales are predators of penguins, they feed on fish and in turn the fish feed on marine zooplankton.
  • The tiger considered the largest feline in the world is a super predator and feeds on prey of both large and small sizes since they are opportunistic, they do not despise any type of prey.
  • The fox is a secondary or tertiary consumer, since it sometimes feeds on primary consumers such as hares, but also omnivorous animals such as geese.
  • Seals and sea lions have a very varied diet, depending on the species, but in general they are animals that feed on different types of fish, thus belonging to tertiary consumers.
  • The black panther , another large cat, is a carnivorous animal that feeds on large prey such as deer and also small prey such as frogs, mice, fish, and birds.

Why there are few tertiary consumers in ecosystems

In ecosystems there are few tertiary and quaternary consumers , this is because they are the ones that produce less energy, but consume more energy. In a food chain there is a flow of energy from one link to another, losing energy, that is why there must be more producers than primary consumers, fewer secondary consumers than primary consumers, and fewer tertiary than secondary consumers.

As mentioned before, tertiary and quaternary consumers consume a lot of energy, but since they are in the last levels of the food chain, they receive less energy, since the initial energy produced by the producers is lost from one level to another. and, as a consequence, there are fewer tertiary and quaternary consumers since they barely get energy or have to cover the food needs of higher consumers. To understand this better we put an example :

The plants (producers) of all the energy they obtain use 90% of it for their growth and the remaining 10% goes to primary consumers. Therefore, out of 1000 calories that the plant has, only 100 calories go to the next level. Of the 100 calories, only 10% of these pass to the secondary consumer, that is, 10 calories, and the same happens for tertiary consumers, reaching these only 1 calorie of the initial energy that the producers captured.

In conclusion, we can say that large populations of producers are needed so that when energy reaches the highest levels, occupied by tertiary and quaternary consumers, they obtain the necessary energy to be able to grow and reproduce.

Other consuming organisms

As we have seen, several trophic levels are differentiated in the food chain : producers, consumers and decomposers. However, within the consumer group you can see different types. Here we have talked about tertiary consumers, but in this section we will briefly explain the rest of the consumers of a food chain or food pyramid :

  • Primary consumers: they are herbivorous animals that consume the producing organisms to feed themselves. Here you can learn everything about Primary Consumers: what they are and examples .
  • Secondary consumers: they are carnivorous animals that feed on primary consumers. In this link you will be able to know in depth the secondary Consumers: what they are and examples .
  • Quaternary consumers: these are animals that are found in the highest part of the trophic pyramid and consume tertiary consuming organisms to obtain their energy. They are also known as “super predators”, as they are not stalked by other predators that are superior to them, but are consumed by other quaternaries or, sometimes, by other opportunistic predators. The human being is a clear example of this level of consumers.
  • Parasites: these are both plants and animals that attach to their prey so that they feed on it for a long time. The process, normally, does not entail the death of the prey, since the parasite needs to continue taking advantage of this matter, although it can greatly weaken it.

If you want to further expand your knowledge on this topic, we offer you this other article about the trophic relationships of ecosystems: definition and examples .

If you want to read more articles similar to Tertiary consumers: what they are and examples , we recommend that you enter our Biology category .

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Hello, I am a blogger specialized in environmental, health and scientific dissemination issues in general. The best way to define myself as a blogger is by reading my texts, so I encourage you to do so. Above all, if you are interested in staying up to date and reflecting on these issues, both on a practical and informative level.

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