Basics of the Food Chain By Thomas W. Gorman

Most people, myself included, when working in the back yard gardens and flower beds generally are focused at the task at hand. It could be simple things like planting, pruning or pulling weeds and the majority of the time you are concentrating on the work that you are doing. Yet underneath the plants, shrubs and grass there is a world somewhat hidden from the normal view.

Within all backyard habitats you have a vast amount of predators and prey interacting with each other and yet you won’t see them unless you are looking very close. Of course when the average person thinks of a predator and their prey, they may think of the Cooper’s hawk capturing a small bird, or any type of snake as it captures a toad or even an Eastern Phoebe as it captures a dragonfly in flight. Yet within the shadows of your plants and trees, there are many hidden insects and bugs which are doing their best to find food and also avoid becoming food for another species.

Hidden creatures 1 (1)

These hidden secrets in your garden can be simple critters like Wolf Spiders, Praying Mantis and Garter snakes, all of which are a few of the various common visitors to our back yard gardens. Within this scenario, the food chain exists on a small scale and it is never ending. Take for example the Lady Bug who deposits her tiny egg clusters on a leaf and then departs. The eggs at some point will transform into the larvae form and then to the pupa stage prior to shedding its skin and becoming an adult. During these stages, the larvae and pupa are defenseless and prone to being the prey to an Assassin Bug. The Assassin Bug then continues in search of more prey and crosses the path of a Pickerel frog. The Pickerel frog waits motionless and as the Assassin Bug gets within range, the frog consumes the bug. Now the small Pickerel frog starts to wander in search of more food and comes within inches of a Black Rat snake…..well, I think you get the picture of what happens next.

Hidden Creatures 2

The food chain has always been considered continuously variable and it consists of many levels. The Lady Bug example above would consist of four levels, (Lady Bug-Assassin Bug-Frog-Snake). If you were to then add a hawk consuming the snake, then it would be considered five levels of the food chain. The many levels of the food chain always begin with a “producer and end with a top predator”1 and involve things such as micro organisms, plants and so on.

Basically the food chain on the lower end of nature is quite active and evident, but it is not nearly as noticeable as the larger predators and their prey, at the upper end of the food chain. What occurs naturally in our own back yards is amazing and it is a simple lesson in the basics of the food chain on a smaller scale.

For some further information about the food chain, this link to Science Daily, may be of interest:

1 Quote credited to ©2015 Science Daily

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