What are Decomposers?

Decomposers are nature’s “Cleanup Crew.”

They are organisms that feed on dead and decaying plant and animal material.

They range from microscopic to life forms that are visible to us.

Let’s dive in and learn more about these decomposers!

Types of Decomposers

Most decomposers break down dead material using chemical processes and absorb the nutrients. A special kind called “detritivores” eat and digest the dead material. 

Three types of decomposers:

  • Microscopic Decomposers – Bacteria
  • Fungi such as mushrooms, mold, and mildew
  • Detritivores such as earthworms, termites, millipedes

How Do Decomposers Help?

Decomposers break down organic material into essential elements, such as water, carbon dioxide, and other nutrients. This process is called decomposition. 

  • Plants use the water and carbon dioxide for photosynthesis.
  • Nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and calcium help plants grow. 
  • Decomposers recycle nutrients and keep the flow of energy going.

Fun Facts

Other insects can act as decomposers, too!

  • Carpenter Ants make their nests in dead wood, which quickens the decomposition process.
  • Marine worms like Christmas Tree Worms and Feather Duster Worms help clean up the ocean.
  • Sea animals like starfish, sea urchins, and sea cucumbers feed on decaying matter.
  • Dung beetles consume the waste of other animals and recycle the nutrients back into the soil.


Let’s quickly recap what we learned about decomposers:

  • What do decomposers feed on? Dead and decaying plants and animals
  • What are the three main types of decomposers? Bacteria, Fungi and Detritivores
  • What two essential elements are organic material broken down into? Water and Carbon Dioxide
  • Which three nutrients are added back to the soil by decomposition? Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Calcium
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