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12 Examples of Primary Consumers (Pictures, Diagram)

Animals are commonly separated by what they eat and where they are in the food chain. Some animals eat only plants, some eat only meat, while others eat a combination of meats and plants. Examples of primary consumers are animals that eat only plants, also known as herbivores. Let’s learn more about how this categorization of animal was created, and look at some pictures of primary consumers.

What Are Primary Consumers?

Food chain hierarchy

To understand what primary consumers are, we need to start with an introduction to the food pyramid. This pyramid represents the food chain with animals in different level categories depending on their diet. Every ecosystem or biome has its own levels of producers, primary consumers, secondary consumers, intermediate predators, and top predators.

Every food chain consists of producers and consumers. Produces are at the bottom of the food pyramid and are mostly plants that can make their own food and provide an energy source for consumers. Consumers are animals that eat plants or other animals to get their energy since they cannot make their own food.

Primary consumers make up the second level of the food pyramid and are also known as herbivores. They eat only primary producers such as plants or algae and nothing else. Their main predators are secondary consumers or sometimes also intermediate predators and top predators.

12 Examples of Primary Consumers

Food pyramids represent different ecosystems and biomes with different primary consumers. Here is a list of 12 primary consumers from different ecosystems.

1. Butterfly

monarch butterfly

Scientific order: Rhopalocera

Butterflies can be found worldwide in different ecosystems, except for the Arctic. They have a straw-like mouthpart called a proboscis that restricts them to liquid diets. Their main food source is nectar from flowers.

Some butterflies live in the desert and eat nectar from cactus flowers. Secondary consumers in the desert, such as lizards, eat these primary consumers.

2. Grasshopper


Scientific order: Caelifera

Most grasshoppers are herbivores and eat leaves, flowers, stems, grass, and seeds. You can typically find these primary consumers in grassland biomes. Their top predators are mice, spiders, birds, and lizards.

The few grasshopper species that sometimes scavenge for dead insects as extra protein are not considered primary consumers. These include praying mantis and desert locusts.

3. Bark Beetle

credit: khteWisconsin via Flickr

Scientific order: Coleoptera

You can find bark beetles in forested habitats. They feed on the woody tissues of trees and different species prefer different types of trees. For example, pine bark beetles generally eat pine trees.

Some of them attack living trees, while others feed on dying or dead trees. Generally, they tunnel under the bark and begin chewing on the new cell layers that allow trunks, branches, and roots to grow. Their main predator is birds such as woodpeckers.

4. White-Tailed Deer

image: Pixabay.com

Scientific name: Odocoileus virginianus

White-tailed deer often forage on prairie grass and are prime examples of primary consumers. However, they can live in various habitats, from northern Maine to the hammock swamps of Florida. Animals that eat white-tailed deer include mountain lions, wolves, jaguars, and coyotes.

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These deer are shy, generally live alone, and are the smallest North American deer. Females don’t have antlers but males, also known as bucks, do. These antlers are for attracting females and sparring.

5. Squirrel

gray squirrel

Scientific family: Sciuridae 

You can find squirrels in many habitats, from wooded areas and rainforests to semiarid deserts. The common tree squirrel typically lives in trees, while ground squirrels dig burrows.

Their diets mostly consist of seeds, nuts, tree buds, fruits, and tree flowers. Various predators eat squirrels, including cats, mountain lions, American badgers, snakes, jackrabbits, and coyotes.

6. Zebra

Scientific name: Equus quagga

Zebras eat mostly grass but will also consume leaves and stems from bushes. They have strong front teeth to clip off the tips of grass and spend many hours grazing each day. You can mostly find them in savanna habitats, where they have to be careful of lions and cheetahs.

The stripes on zebras help them camouflage to confuse predators. These stripes are also unique on every animal, similar to fingerprints.

7. Hoatzin


Scientific name: Ophisthocomus hoazin

While most birds eat worms or insects, the Hoatzin eats only leaves, fruits, and flowers. You can find them in South American swamps, usually along the Orinoco and Amazon river basins.

Their main predators are other birds such as hawks, falcons, and eagles. However, their eggs and young ones are also eaten by animals such as monkeys and snakes. They are loud birds that often hoot, yelp, or hiss at predators.

8. Banana Slug

Scientific class: Ariolimax

Banana slugs are considered decomposers since they eat dead organic matter. Their diet consists of moss, mushroom spores, fallen leaves and plants, and animal feces. They create nutrient-dense waste that helps fertilize the soil.

These slugs can grow up to 9.8 inches, making them the second-largest terrestrial slug species worldwide. Ducks, geese, raccoons, garter snakes, and salamanders prey on banana slugs.

9. Caribou

image: Pixabay.com

Scientific name: Rangifer tarandus

Caribou can be found in Tundra habitats where they eat tundra plants, including flowers, willow leaves, mushrooms, small shrubs, and lichens. Their main predators are wolves. However, bears will also hunt them in the spring and golden eagles hunt young calves in the summer.

These animals have two layers of fur to keep them warm. Their hair also has air pockets to help them stay warm and buoyant when they’re swimming. Both female and male caribou grow large antlers.

10. Aphids


Scientific family: Aphidoidea

Aphids have a diet of plant sap. They suck the juices out of the stems, leaves, or roots of plants. Sap has more sugar than protein, so these animals have to drink a lot of the juices to get enough nutrients they need.

Aphids can be found in temperate zones worldwide, especially in woodland habitats where they live on the plants they eat. Lots of different insects eat aphids, including ladybirds, beetles, hoverflies, and damsel bugs.

11. Zooplankton

zooplankton sample | credit: USFWS Mountain-Prairie via Flickr

Scientific kingdom: Protozoa

There are almost 7,000 known species of zooplankton living in ocean and lake ecosystems. They are small organisms that float and drift along water currents. The main diet of zooplankton is phytoplankton, algae, and bacteria. In the food chain, their main predators are jellyfish and fish.

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12. Beaver

Scientific name: Castor

Beavers live in lakes, ponds, marshes, rivers, and streams. They are known for building watertight dams from sticks, branches, reeds, mud, and saplings. These dams contribute to the ecosystem they live in by preventing stream erosion.

The main diet of beavers consists of soft plants, bark, stems, and roots of water plants. On top of being hunted by humans for their fur and meat, beavers have to watch out for predators such as bears, coyotes, foxes, and lynxes.

Patricia Greene

About Patricia Greene

Patricia is a wildlife enthusiast that loves traveling and learning about wildlife all over North America and the world. Aside from being writer for Wildlife Informer, she's an avid bird watcher as well as the owner of several pet reptiles. She enjoys visiting national parks and seeing new sights in her free time.