Food Chain Facts for Kids

Living organisms get energy from food which gives them the energy to grow and move.

A food chain shows the links between different organisms based on the food they eat. A plant is referred to as a producer because it can make its own food. The first animal to eat the producer is the primary consumer, followed by a third consumer, fourth consumer until the energy from the food chain ends with decomposers.

Simple food chain

Trophic pyramid also called an energy pyramid,

The grass (primary producer) is eaten by the Grasshopper (consumer) who is eaten by the Toad (consumer) who is eaten by the Snake (consumer) who is eaten by the Hawk (consumer).

Food Chain Facts for Kids:

  • A producer is almost always a plant.
  • An animal that is on top of the food chain is called an Apex Predator.
  • When an organism can make its own food, it is always called a producer.
  • When an organism cannot make its own food, such as an animal, it is always called a consumer.
  • The Great Horned Owl is an apex predator.
  • The Great Horned Owl eats rabbits, rats, frogs, snakes, mice, and other small prey.  If the Great Horned Owl did not eat these things, the population would get too high and animals would have nowhere to graze.
  • The definition of “food chain” is an order of things that are living which feed on other living things below it.
  • The definition of “food web” is a model of food chains that intersect and show what eats what.
  • Any animal that is on top of the food chain is called an Apex Predator.
  • Some Apex predators include sharks, lions, and owls.
  • Bacteria are living things that are super tiny and are all around us.  They can only be seen under a microscope.  They come in different shapes and help to break down dead things.
  • Fungi is fungus such as mold, yeast, and mushrooms.  The fungi help to break down dead things.
  • Extinction happens when a certain type of living thing is no longer found alive on the Earth.
  • Compost is material that is gathered such as vegetable peels and plant materials and it is put in a pile to decompose.  This is used as fertilizer to help plants grow.
  • The food chain makes a huge circle and the energy goes from animal to animal until it goes to the decomposer and the energy is released back into the soil.
  • Even though the food chain has many chains, if it has too many links, the animals at the end of the food chain would not have enough energy to live on.
  • Humans are omnivores.  Omnivores eat both plants and animals.

Start with the Sun

Living organisms have to have some type of energy to be able to live and survive.

The sun gives energy to all living things because the energy from the sun goes into the plants and the plants at the base of the food chain get this energy because of photosynthesis.

What is Photosynthesis?

illustration of photosynthesis in plant

Photosynthesis is how plants make energy.  They must have sunlight, water, carbon dioxide, and minerals in order for the process of photosynthesis to work.

The sun shines on the plant and the carbon dioxide is absorbed by the plant.

The plant uses carbon dioxide to make sugar which is called glucose.  This glucose gives energy to the plant.

Herbivores

Zebras Eating Grass

Herbivores are animals that eat plants in an ecosystem.

When an animal eats plants, they get energy.

Carnivores

Lion Hunts a Zebra

Carnivores are animals that eat other animals.

When a carnivore eats a herbivore, the energy that the herbivore got from the plant transfers to the carnivore.

One Animal to the Next

When one animal eats something, the energy that they got transfers to the next thing that eats them. This is all part of the natural food chain.

Here is a great example:

Herbivore eats a plant – The energy from the plant goes to the herbivore.

Carnivore eats an herbivore – The energy that the herbivore got from the plant goes to the carnivore.

When all of this happens, it is called the food chain.  Energy must transfer from one organism to the next in order for it to be the food chain.

Why Do Animals Eat?

Everything that is alive must have a source of energy in order to grow and this energy has to come from somewhere.

The food chain starts with two types of organisms:

Producers-organisms that make their own food such as plants.

Consumers-animals that consume or eat other organisms.

grass —> zebra —> lion

GrassPrimary Producer
Zebra = Primary Consumer
Lion = Secondary Consumer

Energy from the Food Chain

When an animal eats an animal or an organism, they get energy from what they eat.

As the food chain increases, less energy is available.

Animals such as zebras and lions use a lot of the energy, they get to live with activities such as:

  • Hunting
  • Breathing
  • Running
  • Sleeping

Examples of Food Chains

Flowers – butterflies – small birds – foxes.
Dandelions – snail – frog – bird – fox.
Dead plants – centipede – robin – raccoon.
Decayed plants – worms – birds – eagles.
Fruits – tapir – jaguar.
Fruits – monkeys – monkey-eating eagle.
Grass – antelope – tiger – vulture.
Grass – cow – man – maggot.

Links of the Food Chain

Each link in the food chain is important.

All animals rely on other parts of the chain in order to live.

If there was no grass, the tigers would eventually die, even though tigers do not eat grass.

Since tigers eat other animals such as deer, if the deer had no grass to eat, the deer would die, and then there would be nothing for the tiger to eat.

All levels of the food chain are important

The Food Web

Most organisms or animals eat or get eaten by different animals.

The food chain is not able to really show this and that is why there is something called the food web.

Food webs show all the different connections between animals and organisms, but it can be very complicated since there are so many different creatures.

Chesapeake Waterbird Food-Web

One example is the African savannah food web.

This food web shows this:

  • The zebra eats grass and the zebra gets his energy from the plants.
  • The cheetahs, lions, hyenas will all eat the zebra and they will get their energy from the plant that the zebra has eaten.
  • In the savannah, the lion is at the top of the food chain.   Since the lion is at the top of the food chain, this means that nothing will eat him, and he will only be eaten when he dies.  Since the lion is the top of the food chain and will not be eaten, this is called apex predator.

Apex Predator

Lion – Apex Predator

Apex Predator is a very important part of the food cycle.

The Apex Predator is top of the ecological pyramid and helps to balance the ecosystem by helping to keep the population of animals below them in check so that they do not overpopulate.

The Apex Predator eats on all animals under it in the food web, but it has nothing that eats it, or it has no predators.

Decomposers

Decomposers are part of the consumer group.

Decomposers are different types of organisms that break down things that die such as animals or plants.

The decomposers will turn the dead animal or plant into different nutrients and the nutrients will go into the soil.

Some types of decomposers include:

  • Bacteria
  • Fungi

When the nutrients go into the earth, it helps the food cycle because bugs or insects in the soil will help to break down things that die.

Some insect decomposers include:

  • Worm
  • Earthworms
  • Slugs
  • Millipedes
  • Centipedes

What Would Happen if There Were No Decomposers?

If there were no decomposers, then there would not be nutrients that would get back to the soil.

Things that would die would just continuously pile up and it would cause animals and people to get sick from bacteria.

Omnivores

Egret with a big frog in the beak preparing to eat

Another type of consumer is an omnivore.

An omnivore eats animals and plants.

Some examples of omnivores include:

  • Monkeys
  • Birds
  • Bears
  • Raccoons
  • People

The Five Levels of the Food Web

Some scientists describe the food web in five different trophic levels.  These include:

  • Level 1:  Producers (most of the time plants, or organisms that make their own food).
  • Level 2:  Herbivores-Primary Consumers (animals that eat plants).
  • Level 3:  Carnivores-Secondary Consumers (animals that eat herbivores).
  • Level 4:  Carnivores-Tertiary Consumers (animals that eat other carnivores).
  • Level 5:  Apex Predators (animals at the top of the food chain that do not get eaten).

How Do People Affect the Food Chain?

People can cause the population of animals to overpopulate because of overhunting.

For example:  if people hunt too many coyotes, there can be too many deer that live because the coyotes are dead and do not hunt the deer.

When there are too many deer left, the deer can eat too much grass, or they can overpopulate and become ill and die.

People also affect the food chain when they cut down too many forests.  When this happens, it causes soil to erode and it can kill fish that are in the rivers and the streams.

What Did You Learn?

  • What is the food chain?  The food chain is a chain is when organisms eat other organisms in order to live and get energy.
  • What is the food web?  The food web is a more complicated way to explain the food chain.
  • What are animals called that do not get eaten?  Animals that only eat other animals are called Apex Predators.  These animals are at the top of the food chain.
  • How do people harm the food chain?  People can hurt the food chain by over hunting and by cutting down too many trees.
  • How many levels do scientists use to describe the food web?  Scientists use five different levels to describe how animals eat one another in the food chain.