The food chain, the order of consumption and food transfer from plants through animals, is the explanation of the earth’s energy cycle. Knowledge of the food chain stems from observing how living things participate in the continuum of life.
Beginning with the sun
Life originates from the sun’s energy. It is this solar energy that plant life draws from, thus we can consider sun the origination of the food that perpetuates the food chain.
Plants then formulate nutrients from the sun, rain, and soil in order to prepare themselves for their role in the food chain, consumption by animal life.
Herbivores Insects, small rodents and other plant-eaters known as herbivores graze on the plant life and become next upon the food chain. The process is hit and miss, as of course some of the energy and nutrients are stored by this animal life for their own use and some released undigested.
However, there is a certain amount of nutritious material these animals store in their tissues, and this amount is enough to continue the viability of the food chain.
At the next level on the food chain, there are the animals which feed on the plant eaters. This level contains such species as aardvarks, vultures, cheetahs, hyenas, and other predators which are known as secondary consumers.
Also of importance to the food chain are the scavengers, who consume decaying animal carcasses. Even termites have their role as scavengers, as they consume and decaying plant materials. Although they can be destructive as well, these creatures can be seen somewhat as the garbage collectors of the animal world.
Some predators are entirely carnivorous and only eat meat, however many vary their diet and are called omnivores.
Omnivores are known as tertiary consumers. They will eat meat but also consume some plant life and sometimes insects as well. Bears, coyotes and eagles are just a few of the creatures of the omnivore family.
There of course is a feeding rank among animals. Even among one type of animal such as the dog and cat families or various species of vulture, one type of animal will acquiesce to the dominance of another.
An unfortunate fact of the food chain is that although this chain provides the ability to transfer energy, other elements that are consumed, such as toxins, can be similarly transferred. Thus, pesticides can be absorbed by plants and passed through to animals. The animals then become toxic and inedible, as has occurred in many kinds of fish, as an example.
The food chain is a fascinating study, with much still to learn in how to satisfy man’s needs while still maintaining this delicate balance of survival in nature.
Joy of Nature, p. Reader’s Digest 1977