Definition of Tertiary Consumer

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Definition of Tertiary Consumer
Bears can be considered tertiary consumers in certain food chains. (polar bears image by Gail Johnson from

A tertiary consumer is a member of the food chain that is at the fourth level from the bottom. Tertiary consumers must eat other animals, meaning they must be either carnivores or omnivores (meaning they eat both plants and animals). Tertiary consumers cannot be herbivores because they are at too high of a level on the food chain.


A tertiary consumer is the third level of carnivore, and fourth total level, in a food chain. It is an animal that feeds only on secondary consumers. In most cases, a tertiary consumer is at or near the top level of the food chain.

Primary Producer

At the lowest level of the food chain is the primary producer, which includes plants and small organisms that create their own food to survive. This is why this is the lowest level of the food chain. The food that can be created comes either from sunlight through the process of photosynthesis (for plants above ground) or through other natural chemical energy (for organisms that live in a place without sunlight). These plants and organisms are then eaten by primary consumers.

Primary Consumer/Secondary Consumer

Primary consumers are the lowest level of animal on the food chain. They are herbivores that eat the plants that are primary producers. Secondary consumers are carnivores that eat the primary consumers. Secondary consumers are then eaten by tertiary consumers.

Higher than Tertiary Consumer

A tertiary consumer is usually at or near the top of the food chain, but also could be eaten by a higher consumer depending on the specific food chain. Higher than a tertiary consumer is a quaternary consumer. From there, there can be an infinite amount of consumers leading to the "top predator," which is an animal on the highest level of the food chain that has no natural predators.


If an underwater plant (primary producer) is eaten by a herbivore such as a goldfish, the goldfish acts as the primary consumer. The goldfish is then eaten by a carnivore such as a larger fish. The larger fish is the secondary consumer. The larger fish is then eaten by the bear, which acts as the tertiary consumer in this food chain.

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