Difference between Detritivores and Decomposers

Difference between Detritivores and Decomposers

Detritivores and Decomposers are thought to be the same because they are living organisms that feed on the same diet. For one, the two living organisms are heterotrophic. But are they the same? The answer is NO. They have different characteristics and specifications, making them different from each other. So, how different are Detritivores from Decomposers?

Detritivores Vs. Decomposers

Decomposers are any living organisms that can break down rot or dead organisms. They are the reason for the decomposing procedures in dead organisms. They are heterotrophic as they utilize the dead organism as a substrate for their source of energy, nutrients, and carbon for their growth and development.

Conversely, Detritivores are a category from decomposers. They are also heterotrophic. Decomposers are divided into two, namely, Fungi and Detritivores. Most people know Fungi as decomposers that break down dead organisms. They are the first initiators of decomposition. They use enzymes to decompose dead organisms to convert them into simpler substances.

After the dead organism has to be converted to a simpler substance, it will further go through decomposition, where Detritivores break down large particles. The Detritivores play a massive part in the decomposition process. The organism is susceptible to decomposition, all thanks to Fungi, and hence the Detritivores would have no problem eating away vast chunks of the already decomposing dead organism.

These living organisms can tear down a carcass to simpler substances; then, the Detritivores would further simplify the detritus substance. The main distinguishing factor between the two is that most decomposers are in bacteria and fungi forms, whereas Detritivores are in worms, woodlice, dungflies, slugs, and millipedes forms.

Additionally, decomposers tear down organic material from decaying matter while Detritivores recycle decomposing matter. The two organisms depend on each other to exist.

What are Detritivores?

Detritivores are a type of decomposers that get their nutrition by feeding on detritus. Detritus, here are organic substances of dead decaying animals and plants. They use a feeding strategy that consists of consuming feces called coprophagy to get nutrition. They can also break down organic matter by orally digesting it to absorb nutrients.

The species that form Detritivores do not have bones. They include mollusks, earthworms, woodlice beetles, and butterflies mites. You can also find this organism in marine waters; some include lobsters, echinoderms like sea cucumbers and stars, crabs. The marine Detritivores have similar traits in the ecosystem as those that live in the terrestrial ones usually found on the sea bed.

The role of Detritivores is to decompose and decay materials. They function in the ecosystem to produce carbon, phosphorous, and nitrogen cycles. They mainly feed on producers, carnivores, and herbivores, a reason why they are almost found in every trophic level in the environment.

They contribute to the energy cycle of the environment. This is because they are eaten by secondary consumers, thereby giving them energy. They are also responsible for removing dead organisms that can cause diseases or infections.

What are Decomposers?

A decomposer is a type of organism that can break down a dead organism. The organisms embrace the role of decomposition of dead decaying matter, which is an essential phenomenon in the environment. They also recycle organic substances that may be in the ecosystem. The primary examples of decomposers are the fungi like bacteria and mushrooms.

The dead decaying matter has nutrients that these bacteria and fungi can use to grow and reproduce. The effect of this phenomenon is that the energy from the dead organism will be recycled back to the ecosystem. The bacteria and fungi consume the energy which they utilize for survival.

The process of decomposition is a long one and has various stages. If an organism dies, it will go through five stages of decomposition, namely fresh, bloat, active Decay, advanced Decay, and dry/ remains. The two essential processes necessary in the decomposition process are putrefaction and autolysis.

Autolysis is a procedure where the cellular enzymes of an organism tear down its cells and tissues. On the other hand, putrefaction is a process where the microbe reproduces and grows in the organism’s body. The five stages of decomposition are:

  • Fresh- it’s where the autolysis and putrefaction processes start. The minute an organism dies, there is no oxygen consumption, and there would be a buildup of carbon diode in the body of the organism.
  • Bloat-there is going to be a buildup in gases in the body of the organism due to the process of putrefaction. Then the organism will appear bloated.
  • Active Decay- the dead organism will start to reduce in mass and liquefaction, leading to disintegration. The organism will produce chemicals in the body that cause it to have a foul odor.
  • Advanced Decay- during this stage of decomposition, the most mass will have decomposed, but there would remain a pretty sizable amount. If the organism is on or in the soil, the surrounding environment will take its nutrients for plants.
  • Dry/Remains-here you will remain with bones and dry skin. You can find plants growing in areas where a dead organism is since the area has increased nutrients. The bones will only be left on the organism.

Difference between Detritivores and Decomposers

  • Decomposers are organisms that help to decompose dead matter, while Detritivores are a type of decomposers.
  • Decomposers must use chemical processes for decomposition while Detritivores do not.
  • Decomposers decompose organisms by secreting enzymes for decomposition, whereas Detritivores break organisms by oral digestion.
  • The primary role of decomposers is to tear down organic matter, whereas Detritivores eat away dead organisms to gain energy from them.
  • Most bacteria and fungi are decomposers, while boneless creatures are Detritivores like butterflies and worms.


Decomposers help to break dead organisms. They are of three types, namely scavengers, saprophytes, and Detritivores. Decomposition is essential in attaining eco-balance in the environment. The two organisms are somewhat confusing because they feed on dead matter and are heterotrophic; they, however, have distinguishing features that make them unique.

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