Welcome to ON(line)SC's Virtual Learning!

Food Webs

Good morning naturalists, 

Welcome to week four of ONSC Online!  This week we'll be exploring energy flow in nature.  How does energy move through nature? How and where do plants and animals get the energy they need to live and survive?  What keeps animal and plant populations under control in nature? We’ll be discovering all those things and more this week so let’s get ready to explore!


Day one is all about food webs.  But what is a food web? This diagram will give us a clue.

We can see here how energy moves through nature, and how all the living things in a habitat are connected to each other.  Take a moment to look over this page and think about other connections you could make to this food web!


Let's take some time to write a little bit.  What do all living things need to survive?  How do they get these resources?  What are some different things that may happen if they can't find everything they need to survive in their habitat?


Now, let’s start at the beginning of the food web: the sun.  We rely on the our closest star for warmth and light, but this ball of light does much more than that!  It also acts as a giant power generator for all of the life on the planet.

We enjoy the warmth of the sun on spring days!


The sun is the main source of energy for plants, the second step in the food web.  When sunlight hits the leaves of a plant, the plant uses that energy to turn water and carbon dioxide into sugar, which the planet then uses to build its cells. Living things that are able to create their own food without needing to eat others are called producers.  Are there any other living things on earth that are able to produce their own food?  This can be a great research topic!

What might happen to the energy that is now stored in the plants?  It is moved along the food web by herbivores- animals that eat plants. What is an animal you know that lives near you and only eats plants?  When a plant is consumed (eaten) by a herbivore, the energy from that plant is transferred to the animal.  However, is a herbivore only going to eat one plant at a time? Would you eat a salad made of only one piece of lettuce?  Of course not!  That herbivore is going to eat many plants during the day and the energy from each of those plants gets transferred up the food web.  The energy from all of the food eaten get transferred into the consumer's body, for use in allowing the animal to do all the other things that the animal needs to survive, such as breathe, move, and hunt for more food.

But then what happens to all the energy in the herbivore?  It gets transferred again when it gets eaten!  Often we will use the word predator to describe animals that eat other animals, but we can also use the words carnivore (if it only eats meat) or omnivore (if it eats both plants and animals).  And just like the insect pictured above, the predator may not eat just one insect per day.  Some bats, for example, can eat thousands of insects in a single night!

This frog probably won't eat a thousand insects tonight, but if he is lucky will still eat plenty!


Now the frog has the energy from all the insects it ate, including all of the energy those insects got from eating plants.  Can you see any patterns starting to happen?


This frog might get lucky and continue to live for a long time, or it might meet a predator of its own: a great blue heron.  The energy from that frog, and others like it, gets transferred when they get eaten by this larger predator.

Eventually, you reach a point when the predators get so large that nothing else eats them.  This great blue heron is unlikely to have any predators once it is full grown so its energy is not transferred until it dies from some other cause.  Other than being eaten, what are some other ways that an animal's life cycle might end?


When this happens, they are broken down by decomposers.  If you have not had a chance to learn about this fascinating process, check out week two's lessons!  Decomposers like fungi take the energy and nutrients in dead plants and animals and transfer it into the soil to be used all over again.  How do these nutrients and energy find their way back into the food web, you may ask?  Consumers may eat those decomposers and gain it directly, or the nutrients from the decomposed food may end up in the soil, where they're sucked up by a plant's roots and it all begins again!

Let's get creative and try making our own animal!  This activity will require some basic art supplies like paper, crayons, colored pencils, or markers.  However, feel free to use other art supplies you have at home such as scissors, glue, pipe cleaners, tissue paper, buttons, beads, etc.


Now that you have seen how energy moves through nature in a food web, it is your turn to create your own!  Begin by drawing a food web of your own.  You can make it as complicated or simple as you would like.  Think about how each one of these things gets its food, water, and shelter, and adaptations they might have in order to survive the many challenges of life. 


For an added challenge, or for fun, create your own animal and think about where it would fit in.  How does it get what it needs in order to survive?  Does it have any unique adaptations that allow it to thrive in its habitat?  After you make your creature, go ahead and keep it nearby for the week.  We will be using it throughout the week for different activities. We would love to see some of your created creatures, so send them to us on Facebook or Socialmedia@onsc.us and we'll share some on Find-Out Friday! 


This wraps up for today’s topic.  We hope you've enjoyed discovering food webs with us and be sure to check back in throughout the week as we explore different levels of the food web!

If you enjoyed watching today's lessons and would like to purchase one of our ONSC Virtual Merchandise Packages, which includes an ONSC Program T-shirt and field journal, click to go to our Online Store


During this time, we only have limited amount of merchandise available for purchase. 


Merchandise orders will ship First Class USPS every two weeks on the following dates:

April 30, May 14 & May 28


The Ozark Natural Science Center is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) residential field science education center located in Northwest Arkansas.

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1905 Madison 1305
Huntsville, AR  72740