Everybody eats something!
It's All Connected
No matter what kinds of food they eat, all animals are part of the food web. The food web is made up of interlocking food chains of producers, consumers, and decomposers (more about them below). Producers are green plants, which take energy from the sun, air, water, and minerals from the earth and combine them into food for other creatures. As we have learned, herbivores are the consumers that eat plants. In turn, they are consumed–eaten–by carnivorous animals. Eventually decomposers like earthworms, fungi, and bacteria break down both plants and animals and return the minerals and nutrients in their bodies to the soil, where new plants will use them to begin the cycle again.
In this way, food chains and the food web pass energy and life round and round through an ecosystem. Nothing is lost, and nothing is wasted.
Scavengers and Decomposers
It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it! Decomposers and scavengers are the “garbage collectors” of the natural world. By eating and breaking down the bodies of dead organisms, these underappreciated critters keep the cycle of life rolling along.
When decomposers – like bacteria, earthworms, and fungi – break down an organism they release the nutrients in the organism’s cells back into the soil. These nutrients help plants to grow. Animals eat the plants and are in turn eaten by other animals. Eventually these animals die, and the decomposers go back to work–and around we go!
Animals that are scavengers, like the turkey vulture, do not kill their food. Instead, they seek out and eat the bodies of animals that have already died. That may not sound pleasant to you, but imagine what the world would be like without scavengers and decomposers to clean things up. The next time you see a vulture or a mushroom, you might want to say “thank you!”
See other types of eaters by following the links on the right side of the page.