Detritivores: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:02 What Are Detritivores?
  • 1:16 Examples
  • 3:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has taught high school and college biology and has a master's degree in cancer biology.

This lesson will cover information about detritivores including a few examples. Learn about the important role detritivores play in our world, and take a quiz at the end to test your knowledge.

What Are Detritivores?

You may have heard of carnivores, herbivores, or even omnivores. But what in the world are detritivores?! Considering the terms that you already know, you likely are thinking that it has something to do with an organism that gets its energy from eating something. So far, you are right!

Similarly to how carnivores eat meat and herbivores eat herbs or plants, detritivores eat detritus. Detritus refers to organic waste matter. Let's pause and think about something for a minute.

Take a moment, and think about all the times in your life that you have seen dead animals, dead plants, and feces on the ground. This occurred more times than you can probably even recall. You would think that our world would be full of these dead organisms and fecal matter. Luckily for us, we are not overrun with dead organisms and feces. Could you imagine the smell and view if every dead organism you ever saw were still around?

We can thank the detritivores for helping to get rid of the dead organic matter. They actually feed on the dead organic matter and feces to get their energy. This is very advantageous to us and other organisms. Let's look at some examples of detritivores and how they help keep our world cleaner.


Earthworms are detritivores that help make soil fertile.
Picture of earthworms

Earthworms are among the most numerous and common of the detritivores. They eat the dead organic matter along with the dirt and rocks surrounding the dead matter. By the time they finish digesting their food, not only have they helped to reduce the amount of waste, but they also make the soil more ideal for plant growth.

Earthworms provide a win-win for all organisms. There are some gardeners that will purposely get earthworms just to make the soil more fertile for plant growth. The plants have more of the nutrients that they need in the soil once earthworms breakdown the organic matter.

Dung flies are helpful in making fertile soil by digesting fecal matter.
Picture of dung flies feeding on feces

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