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Food Chain Glossary
Food Chain Activities
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Food Chains and Food Webs

"What's for dinner?"

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Food web Every organism needs to obtain energy in order to live. For example, plants get energy from the sun, some animals eat plants, and some animals eat other animals.

A food chain is the sequence of who eats whom in a biological community (an ecosystem) to obtain nutrition. A food chain starts with the primary energy source, usually the sun or boiling-hot deep sea vents. The next link in the chain is an organism that make its own food from the primary energy source -- an example is photosynthetic plants that make their own food from sunlight (using a process called photosynthesis) and chemosynthetic bacteria that make their food energy from chemicals in hydrothermal vents. These are called autotrophs or primary producers.

Next come organisms that eat the autotrophs; these organisms are called herbivores or primary consumers -- an example is a rabbit that eats grass.

The next link in the chain is animals that eat herbivores - these are called secondary consumers -- an example is a snake that eat rabbits.

In turn, these animals are eaten by larger predators -- an example is an owl that eats snakes.

The tertiary consumers are are eaten by quaternary consumers -- an example is a hawk that eats owls. Each food chain end with a top predator, and animal with no natural enemies (like an alligator, hawk, or polar bear).

The arrows in a food chain show the flow of energy, from the sun or hydrothermal vent to a top predator. As the energy flows from organism to organism, energy is lost at each step. A network of many food chains is called a food web.

Trophic Levels:
The trophic level of an organism is the position it holds in a food chain.

  1. Primary producers (organisms that make their own food from sunlight and/or chemical energy from deep sea vents) are the base of every food chain - these organisms are called autotrophs.
  2. Primary consumers are animals that eat primary producers; they are also called herbivores (plant-eaters).
  3. Secondary consumers eat primary consumers. They are carnivores (meat-eaters) and omnivores (animals that eat both animals and plants).
  4. Tertiary consumers eat secondary consumers.
  5. Quaternary consumers eat tertiary consumers.
  6. Food chains "end" with top predators, animals that have little or no natural enemies.
When any organism dies, it is eventually eaten by detrivores (like vultures, worms and crabs) and broken down by decomposers (mostly bacteria and fungi), and the exchange of energy continues.

Some organisms' position in the food chain can vary as their diet differs. For example, when a bear eats berries, the bear is functioning as a primary consumer. When a bear eats a plant-eating rodent, the bear is functioning as a secondary consumer. When the bear eats salmon, the bear is functioning as a tertiary consumer (this is because salmon is a secondary consumer, since salmon eat herring that eat zooplankton that eat phytoplankton, that make their own energy from sunlight). Think about how people's place in the food chain varies - often within a single meal.

Food web Numbers of Organisms:
In any food web, energy is lost each time one organism eats another. Because of this, there have to be many more plants than there are plant-eaters. There are more autotrophs than heterotrophs, and more plant-eaters than meat-eaters. Although there is intense competition between animals, there is also an interdependence. When one species goes extinct, it can affect an entire chain of other species and have unpredictable consequences.

Equilibrium
As the number of carnivores in a community increases, they eat more and more of the herbivores, decreasing the herbivore population. It then becomes harder and harder for the carnivores to find herbivores to eat, and the population of carnivores decreases. In this way, the carnivores and herbivores stay in a relatively stable equilibrium, each limiting the other's population. A similar equilibrium exists between plants and plant-eaters.

Food Chain Worksheets:
Write a story about the picture F

Picture Prompt of Fish Eating Fish

Write a story about the picture of four fish (of decreasing size), chasing each other.
Write a story about the picture Z

Picture Prompt of a Lion Chasing Zebras

Write a story about a picture of three zebras running away from a lion.
food chains

Complete the Food Chains Worksheet #1

Circle the organisms that complete the food chains. Or go to the answers.
food chains

Complete the Food Chains Worksheet #2

Circle the organisms that complete the food chains. Or go to the answers.
food chains

Food Chain Fill in the Arrows Quiz #1

Fill in arrows that trace the flow of energy in four food chains, incuding ones from the ocean, city, prairie, and pond. Or go to the answers.
food chains

Food Chain Fill in the Arrows Quiz #2

Fill in arrows that trace the flow of energy in four food chains, incuding ones from the tundra, desert, rainforest, and swamp. Or go to the answers.
food chains

Food Chain Information Plus Questions Worksheet

Read the information about food chains then answer the questions about food chains. Or go to the answers.
food web

Food Web Information Plus Questions Worksheet

Read the information about food webs then answer the questions about food webs. Or go to the answers.
food chains

Food Chain Multiple Choice Comprehension Quiz #1

Answer ten multiple-choice questions about food chains. Or go to the answers.
food chains

Food Chain Multiple Choice Comprehension Quiz #2

Answer ten multiple-choice questions about food chains. Or go to the answers.
matching

Food Chain
Match Each Word to Its Definition

Match each food web word to its definition (printable worksheet). Words: autotroph, heterotroph, carnivore, herbivore, primary consumer, secondary consumer, tertiary consumer. Or go to the answers.
Spelling words

Food Chain Spelling Word Questions

Use the list of food chain spelling words to answer simple questions. Words: diet, prey, ecosystem, organism, herbivore, carnivore, omnivore, detrivore, decomposer, nutrients, producer, consumer. Or go to the answers.
cloze activity

Food Chain Cloze Worksheet

Fill in the blanks in the passage about food chains. Word bank: arrows, energy, sea, sun, herbivores, consumers, photosynthesis, bears, detrivores, top, grass, carnivores, lost, omnivores, meal, snakes. Or go to the answers.
food chains

Food Chain Trophic Levels Worksheet

Write organisms for each trophic level. Sample answers: Primary consumers: cows, rabbits, tadpoles, ants, zooplankton, mice. Secondary consumers: frogs, small fish, krill, spiders. Tertiary consumers: snakes, raccoons, foxes, fish. Quaternary consumers: wolves, sharks, coyotes, hawks, bobcats. Note: Many animals can occupy different trophic levels as their diet varies.

Dictionary Definition Quizzes
multiple choice

Autotroph Definition - Multiple Choice Comprehension Quiz

Answer 8 multiple-choice questions on the definition of autotroph; a lesson in using a dictionary. Go to the answers.
multiple choice

Carnivorous Definition - Multiple Choice Comprehension Quiz

Answer 8 multiple-choice questions on the definition of carnivorous; a lesson in using a dictionary. Go to the answers.
multiple choice

Heterotroph Definition - Multiple Choice Comprehension Quiz

Answer 8 multiple-choice questions on the definition of heterotroph; a lesson in using a dictionary. Go to the answers.
multiple choice

Omnivore Definition - Multiple Choice Comprehension Quiz

Answer 8 multiple-choice questions on the definition of omnivore; a lesson in using a dictionary. Go to the answers.
Definitions

Write Food Web-Related Definitions

In this worksheet, write the definition of a word, what part of speech it is, and use it in a sentence. Words: herbivore, carnivore, omnivore, detrivore, autotroph, heterotroph, predator, prey, top predator, consume. Or go to the answers. Or go to a pdf of the questions and answers (subscribers only).


Food Web / Food Chain Vocabulary Word List

A list of words related to food webs and food chains.

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