Snake are mostly secondary consumers, meaning they eats other animals. In the food chain, however, this does not make them apex predators. While some kinds of snakes are apex predators in their environment, most are not.
Some snakes are tertiary consumers, but not all. To be a tertiary consumer, the snake has to eat other carnivores. Snakes who eat other snakes, for example, would be considered tertiary consumers.
As a secondary consumer, the role of the snake is to keep balance in its ecosystem. It keeps animals like rabbits and rodents at a stable population. Otherwise, these animals will continue to multiply and become invasive. But, snakes are also hunted by apex predators, who are often ‘tertiary consumers’.
Are Snakes Secondary Consumers?
A secondary consumer is an animal that feeds on other animals. In other words, a secondary consumer is a carnivore or omnivore that feeds on primary consumers (herbivores). Because snakes eat rodents and amphibians, we can consider them secondary consumers.
In some ecosystems, a secondary consumer also eats producers (such as plants) or autotrophs (such as algae). In the food chain, the producers are at the base.
All secondary consumers and above cannot produce food on their own (so, they’re not producers). But this does not mean that all animals are secondary consumers. Some organisms produce their own food.
A producer can make food from inorganic matter. An example of this is an autotroph. Plants are the most common example of an autotroph, but there are bacteria that can produce their own food from inorganic matter.
Are Snakes Primary Consumers?
No, a snake is not a primary consumer because it does not eat plants. In the food chain, a primary consumer is an animal that eats plants, which we call producers.
A snake will not eat plants even if it is facing starvation. It did not evolve to adapt to eating plants. Its digestive system does not have the capability to process plant matter.
All herbivores are primary consumers. A snake is not a herbivore. It does not eat any kind of plant. It only feeds on meat. As an obligate carnivore, a snake can never be considered a primary consumer.
To be specific, a primary consumer is an organism that eats plants and nothing else. What this means is that humans and other omnivores do not belong t the rimary consumer category.
Here are some examples of primary consumers:
There are different biomes on the planet, such as deserts, grassland, ponds, and oceans. In the desert, butterflies are the primary consumers. In grasslands, it is the grasshoppers. In ponds, it is the insect larvae, and then there is the zooplankton in the ocean.
Are Snakes Tertiary Consumers?
A snake can be a tertiary consumer, but not always. Snakes that eat other snakes can be considered tertiary consumers while snakes that exclusively eat rodents are simply secondary consumers.
A tertiary consumer is typically one that is at the highest level of the food chain. Tertiary consumers eat other carnivores. Human beings, for example, are tertiary consumers.
For snakes, there is an overlap because there are so many species of snakes. Some snakes do not eat other carnivores. Some do.
For example, the King Cobra is a tertiary consumer because it eats other predators and carnivores. The King Cobra cannibalizes its own kind and also hunts other species of cobras. It is not unusual to see this in the wild.
The same thing goes with some breeds of pythons—they eat other snakes.
On the other hand, many snakes eat other carnivores, but not necessarily snakes. For example, many snakes eat frogs. Frogs are secondary consumers because they eat insects.
In this example, the insects are the primary consumers. Like the grasshopper, many insects thrive on plants. This entire process in the ecosystem makes the snake a tertiary consumer.
However, the snake being a tertiary consumer does not make it an apex predator.
Foxes eat snakes. Some eagles also eat snakes. As such, while the snake is at the high level of the food chain, it is not safe from the predation of other animals.
While humans eat both plants and animals, humans are not apex predator. For an organism to become an apex predator, it has to affect the population dynamics of its ecosystem. Human beings do not do this.
Are Snakes Decomposers?
No, a snake is not a decomposer. A decomposer is an organism that breaks down the carcass and helps in the decay process.
The decomposition process, as a scientific definition, has nothing to do with typical digestion.
Decomposers are organisms that break down both plant and meat matter into simple substances. There are many kinds of decomposers, and each one helps recycle “food” in the ecosystem. The substances go back to earth, and some organism use these to produce food.
A good example is fungi. What it does is break down dead plants. They also break down dead animals into simple substances. Some of these substances go back to the soil. The fungi also use simple substances as their food.
Another example is the earthworm. They eat rotting plants and animals. They digest these matters, and when they excrete their waste, the waste contains essential substances for life to begin again.
Snakes do not do any of these. Instead, they eat the primary consumers, digest it, and excrete the feces. The feces contain organic solids and microbes, which the decomposers eat.
Most snakes will also not eat dead animals. Although some do, they cannot belong to the decomposer group because they do not break down animals into simple substances. Instead, they merely eat the animal, process the nutrients, and excrete fecal matter.
A snake is a secondary consumer as it eats herbivores. It is also a tertiary consumer because it eats other carnivores, including some species of snakes.
A snake is not a decomposer, and neither is it a producer. Although the snake is close to the top of the food chain, it is not an apex predator. There are many animals that eat snakes, such as eagles, foxes, and mongooses.
If anything, the snake is somewhere in the middle of the food chain. It is a predator and prey at the same time, but it does not produce its own food, and it does not decompose food for recycling.