What is Quaternary Consumer?
A quaternary consumer is an animal that consumes at the top of the food chain after the primary consumer. These animals primarily prey on or eat animals lower in the food chain than themselves, such as tertiary and secondary consumers.
Some examples of Quaternary consumers are hawks and great white sharks, both of which are carnivores in their own right. A shark, on the other hand, can consume seals while a hawk can consume snakes. Seals and snakes are tertiary consumers of krill and other seafood.
What Makes These Consumers Special?
Being at the top of the food chain, they are usually larger animals. Because they are larger, they also need to eat a lot of food to stay alive, so there are usually fewer quaternary consumers in an ecosystem than other animals. Going back to the first example, an ecosystem would have many more mice than leopards. Otherwise the leopards could not feed themselves.
These top consumers receive very little of the original energy in a food chain. Remember that at each step in the food chain, only 10% of the consumed organism’s energy is transferred to the consuming organism. Because of this, higher-level consumers must consume large amounts of food to stay alive.
What are some examples of quaternary consumers?
Many apex predators such as raptors, polar bears, and orcas are tertiary consumers. However, there are no exclusive quaternary consumers.
Some of the most numerous quaternary consumers are:
- Polar bears
- Large predatory whales
How are tertiary and quaternary consumers different?
Quaternary consumers are often also tertiary consumers. In fact, there are no exclusive quaternary consumers.
While most quaternary consumers are obligate meat consumers, most are opportunistic predators that eat tertiary, secondary, or even primary consumers.
For example, if a polar bear eats a fish, it is a tertiary consumer, but if it eats a sea lion, it is a quaternary consumer.
If a raptor eats an insectivorous rodent it is a tertiary consumer, but if it eats a snake it is a quaternary consumer.
At the top of the chain
At the top of the chain are organisms whose biomass does not fall victim to any natural predator. The quaternary consumer is then defined as the one who feeds on tertiary consumers.
If the primary consumers are animals that feed on plants and the secondary consumers are carnivores that feed on the primary consumers, then the tertiary consumers are higher-level carnivores that feed on the secondary consumers.
Consequently, quaternary consumers would be those at the bottom of the chain consuming carnivorous animals.