Food Chain: 2. Primary Consumer

Written by Thomas Godwin
Updated: May 1, 2023
Image Credit © Robert Asenjo/


Primary consumers are herbivores and they feed on the results from primary producers. In the five trophic levels, primary consumers are third from the top, below secondary consumers (omnivores and carnivores), and top carnivores (tertiary consumers – apex predators).

Outside the trophic system, three consumers are within the food chain. The top of the food chain is occupied by carnivores or apex predators. Secondary consumers are in the middle, with the primary consumer at the bottom.

Examples of Primary Consumers

South African giraffe
Giraffes are ruminants or hoofed herbivores. They’re also primary consumers on the food chain.

©Stefan Scharf/

A primary consumer is a ruminant more often than not. Ruminants are all herbivores and hoofed animals. These include giraffes, cows, sheep, goats, deer, antelope, buffalo, gazelles, and wildebeests. Their diets consist of a range of grasses, grains, and seeds.

However, there are “fungivores” that consume mushrooms and various fungi. These “fungivores” are primary consumers as well. Primary consumers have specific physiological traits that make them ideal feeders of specific types of food.

For instance, cows have multiple digestive chambers and a dental pad that facilitates “grinding” motions, which allows the cow to get the most nutrition out of its food.

What Is the Function of a Primary Consumer?

Moroccan goat
Primary consumers, in the food chain, serve as energy transfers. They eat plants so that secondary consumers can eat them.


The function of a primary consumer is to consume autotrophs (plants that utilize photosynthesis to produce their food). However, it’s often more complicated than that, considering the types of primary consumers.

Primary consumers consist of algivores, nectarivores, fungivores, frugivores, and granivores. They all have their feeding strategies, though the result is the same. Regardless, primary consumers are essentially a method for energy transfer.

Without primary consumers, there would be nothing to consume plants, since so many secondary and tertiary consumers do not. Without primary consumers, secondary and tertiary consumers would die off since their diets primarily consist of primary consumers.

Share this post on:
About the Author

Thomas is a freelance writer with an affinity for the great outdoors and Doberman Pinschers. When he's not sitting behind the computer, pounding out stories on black bears and reindeer, he's spending time with his family, two Dobermans (Ares and Athena), and a Ragdoll cat named Heimdal. He also tends his Appleyard Ducks and a variety of overly curious and occasionally vexatious chickens.