Difference Between Decomposer and Detritivore

Decomposer vs Detritivore

Decomposer and Detritivore are living organisms in ecosystems. Our ecosystem is made up of all the living organisms along with non living things. This ecosystem thus includes all plants, animals, microorganisms, soils, rocks, minerals along with water and atmosphere. There are various ecosystems in the world which are made up of a community of living things along with non living things. There is great variation in the size of these ecosystems. From as small an ecosystem as a puddle of water to a large rain forest that may be larger than some countries of the world, there are countless ecosystems in the world. In a sense, the body of any animal in itself is an ecosystem as it is home to countless microorganisms. Decomposers and Detritivore are living organisms in many ecosystems. There are many similarities in features and functions of both these organisms but this article intends to highlight the difference between a Decomposer and a Detritivore to make readers aware of these organisms.


As the name implies, these are organisms that aid in decomposition of already dead or dying organisms. In the food chain, these organisms occupy a very lowly place after carnivores that eat other animals and omnivores that consume both plants and other organisms for food. But Decomposers play an important role in the food web and are integral to it. Bacteria and fungi are some examples of decomposers that feed on dead and decaying matter that is they get their energy from dead organisms apart from animal and plant waste products.


Detritivores perform the same function as that of decomposers. They feed on dead plant and animal matter, but perform an additional function which is to return essential nutrients back to the ecosystem in the process. Thus they become an important part of the ecosystem in which they live. They can live in soils as well as marine ecosystems. Some examples of Detritivores are worms, millipedes, sea stars, crabs and dung flies.

Difference between Decomposer and Detritivore

It is thus clear that both Detritivores and decomposers aid in decomposition of dead or decaying matter. Decomposition is a chemical reaction where a complex compound is broken down into simpler compounds. Detritivores help in producing essential nutrients. Worms are also called scavengers as they eat up skin of an apple leaving the inside of the fruit for other decomposers. Both decomposers and Detritivores get energy from decaying matter but while Detritivores actually eat organic matter, decomposers secrete enzymes to digest organic matter and then absorb resulting molecules.

The word Detritivore actually comes from the word detritus that refers to non living plant and animal remains, shed parts (skin, antlers) and wastes. Detritivores consume this detritus to derive energy. Decomposers are a special subset of Detritivores that break organic compounds into inorganic form and then absorbing what they need for nutrition.