Do predators have any value in nature?

Question often asked by hunters

Answered by Gregg Losinski retired Conservation Educator for Idaho Fish & Game and now
ESER Education and Media Specialist

This is a question that many people have about all types of critters, large and small. The question often tells us more about the asker than the animal in question. The all-purpose answer is that in a natural system every living thing there has a purpose in the huge web of life. Where things get interesting is when man becomes involved and tries to either remove certain animals that he perceives to be of value or eliminate those that he thinks are of no value. When man decides to introduce animals or plants from elsewhere the results can range all over the place, seldom does the addition go without some form of consequences.

Predators like coyotes are part of nature’s middle-men. They are not the top dog like their cousin, the apex predator, the wolf and they have a greater overall impact and range than their smaller relation the fox. Both the coyote and the fox though are examples of Mesocarnivores. That means that they are mid-sized carnivores who supplement some of their diets with something other than meat. Coyotes have been not only blamed for causing livestock losses but in some areas, they have even taken a bite out of farmer’s profits by gorging themselves on fruits such as cantaloupes!

Mesocarnivores are important because they are very adaptive and can survive in situations where larger apex predators might have trouble surviving because of the loss of a prey species. When wolves were absent from the western United States, coyotes had the chance to be top dog. Now that the wolves are back, coyotes are for the most part behaving as they did for centuries before. In Europe where there are no coyotes, in areas where wolves are being eliminated, the mesocarnivores the Golden Jackal is expanding and filling the vacated niche.

So the bottom line is that in a natural system everything has a place, the challenge for man is figuring out how everything fits together and how to make things work out. Man is an apex predator not because of our power or speed, but because of our brains, so it is important we always think before we act.

The Food Chain

What and how animals eat is all connected. For example, to survive and grow, hawks eat small birds. In turn, many small birds eat seeds. Seeds come from plants, such as sunflowers, which make their own food using sunlight. So, in a way, the sunflower, the songbird and the hawk are all connected to each other by food. They form a kind of chain, which starts with the sun. This is called a food chain.
Every living thing, or organism, forms part of a food chain. Each food chain starts with energy from the sun. The next step is always a plant. Plants produce food from the sun’s energy, so they are called producers. All the steps after that are animals. Animals consume food by eating plants or other animals, so they are called consumers.

Different habitats and ecosystems provide many possible food chains that make up a food web.
Materials: 4 different colors of construction paper, magazines, scissors, tape, ruler

  1. Using the magazines, cut out photos or drawings of animals that create a food chain.
  2. Cut the construction paper into the following sizes:
    w 9” x 6.5 “
    w 7” x 7”
    w 5” x 7.5”
    w 3” x 8.5”
  3. Roll the paper into a tube shape and tape together the edges. Your tubes should fit together.
  4. Tape photos of the animals in the food chain to the tubes, producers on the shortest tube and apex predators to the tallest tube. Stack the tubes to illustrate your food chain.

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