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noun, plural: heterotrophs

An organism that is unable to synthesize its own organic carbon-based compounds from inorganic sources, hence, feeds on organic matter produced by, or available in, other organisms.


Heterotrophs are the consumers in the food chain, particularly the herbivores, carnivores and omnivores. All animals, some fungi and most bacteria are heterotrophs. They are not capable of producing their own food. Therefore, they obtain their energy requirements by feeding on organic matter or another organism.

An organism is heterotroph if it obtains its carbon from organic compounds. If it obtains nitrogen from organic compounds but not energy, it is still considered an autotroph (such as carnivorous plants).

Organisms that obtain carbon from organic compounds may either be: photoheterotrophs or chemoheterotrophs.

Word origin: G. héteros: the other of two, other, different + G. trophos: feeder.
Related forms: heterotrophic (adjective), heterotrophically (adverb), heterotrophy (noun).

Compare: autotroph, phototroph.
See also: food chain.