Difference Between Autotrophic and heterotrophic organisms

Difference Between Autotrophic and heterotrophic organisms is that Autotrophic organisms are beings that can produce their own food using light (photosynthesis) or chemical energy (chemosynthesis), so they are known as producing beings. Heterotrophs cannot synthesize their own food and feed on other organisms, such as plants and animals, and are therefore known as consuming beings.

Difference Between Autotrophic and heterotrophic organisms

Autotrophic organisms Heterotrophic organisms
Definition Organisms capable of producing their own food through photosynthesis, or chemosynthesis. Organisms are unable to produce their own food from inorganic sources and depend on other organisms in the food chain.
Produce your own food Yes. Do not.
Level in the food chain Producer. Primary, secondary and tertiary consumers.
  • Photosynthetic;
  • Chemosynthetic
  • Carnivores;
  • Herbivores;
  • Omnivores;
  • Hematophagous;
  • Ichthyophages;
  • Cophaphages;
  • Ornithophages;
  • Insectivorous;
  • Scavengers;
  • Planctivorous
What do they eat They produce their own food through light or chemical energy. They eat other organisms (plants or animals) to get protein and energy.
Examples Plants, algae and some bacteria. Ox, rabbit (herbivores), humans, pig (omnivores), lion, alligator (carnivores).

Energy production of autotrophic organisms

Autotrophs produce their own energy through one of the following two methods:


Photosynthetic beings use the sun’s energy to convert water and carbon dioxide into glucose. Heterotrophs survive by feeding on other organisms in the food chain, such as plants or animals. Herbivorous beings are called primary consumers, for feeding directly on producers. Carnivores are secondary consumers, by feeding on herbivores.

Glucose supplies plant with energy and is used to make cellulose, which in turn is used to build cell walls. Example: plants, algae, phytoplankton, and some bacteria.

Carnivorous plants use photosynthesis to produce energy but rely on other organisms to obtain nutrients such as nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. Therefore, these plants are autotrophic, with heterotrophic complementation.


Chemosynthetic beings use the energy of chemical reactions to produce food. Chemical reactions are usually between hydrogen sulfide or methane with oxygen. Carbon dioxide is the main source of carbon for chemotrophs.

Some examples of chemosynthetic beings are bacteria found within active volcanoes, microorganisms found in hydrothermal sources, at the bottom of the sea or in hot water sources.

Obtaining energy by heterotrophic organisms

In addition to these two main types, heterotrophic organisms can also be classified as:

  • Omnivores: They feed on both meat and vegetables. Example: human beings, bears, pigs;
  • Hematophagous: They feed on the blood of other beings. Example: louse, the bed bug, mosquito;
  • Ornithophages: They feed on poultry meat. Example: peregrine falcon;
  • Ichiophages: They feed on fish. Examples: sea lion, osprey;
  • Coprophages: They feed on the feces of other animals. Example: Beetles and some species of flies;
  • Insectivores: They feed on insects. Example: toads;
  • Scavengers: They feed on organic waste, whether of plant or animal origin. Example: buzzard, hyena;
  • Planctivores: They feed on plankton. Example: Stripe.

Food chain

The food chain is the succession of energy transfer between living beings. Autotrophs do not depend on other organisms for food. They are the main producer and therefore remain in the first place in the food chain.

Heterotrophs that depend on autotrophs and other heterotrophs for energy are then placed in the food chain. Herbivores that feed on autotrophs are placed on the second trophic level, and carnivores and omnivores are placed on the following trophic levels.

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