What is a food chain?

Ag Zone, Science for Youth October 01, 2015 Print Friendly and PDF

Caterpillar on a branch.

A food chain shows how energy and nutrients are passed from one living thing to another. The food chain begins with a plant being eaten. Then an insect or animal eats the plant. Then another animal eats the insect or animal. This cycle continues until it reaches an animal at the top of the food chain. Animals that are at the top of the food chain generally are not eaten by other animals. Thankfully, humans are at the top of the food chain!

Animals are put into groups based on what they eat. For example:

  • Animals that only eat plants are called herbivores. Examples include caterpillars, squirrels, deer, and cows
  • Animals that eat other animals are called carnivores. Examples include lions, wolves, spiders, and snakes
  • Animals that eat both plants and animals are called omnivores. Examples include most birds, pigs, horses, and, of course, humans!

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.