Welcome to Word of the Week! Stay tuned for a new word each Friday to amp up your nature vocabulary!
Detritivore [deh-TRIH-tah-vore](noun): An organism that obtains its nutrition by feeding on the organic matter of dead plants and animals. They may also feed on feces of other animals in a process known as coprophagy.
The word detritivore comes from two Latin words: detritus, meaning waste or debris, and vore, meaning to devour.
In nature, most detritivores are invertebrates such as beetles, flies, wood lice, millipedes, earthworms, and mollusks such as slugs and snails. Detritivores also exist in marine environments in the form of organisms such as sea stars and sea cucumbers, and most crustaceans such as crabs and lobsters.
In an ecosystem, detritivores and decomposers function in a similar niche as both types of organisms are a contributing factor in the breakdown of decaying material in an ecosystem. Thus, both are essential in most chemical cycles such as the Nitrogen and Phosphorous cycle. The primary difference however between a detritivore and a decomposer is the fact that decomposers such as fungi and bacteria do not feed through oral ingestion, but through extracellular.
In High Park we are fortunate to have a wide variety of detritivores who help keep the park’s biochemical processes in check. Creatures such as millipedes, wood lice, slugs, snails, and worms, are all perfectly at home chomping away on dead organic matter here in the park.
Next time you stop by, especially on a rainy day, make sure to keep a lookout in the soil or under logs to see our resident detritivores at work!
Fun Fact: Of the 19 resident earthworm species in Ontario, only two are actually native to the province. The other 17 were most likely carried over from Europe or Asia in the ballast of ships around 200 years ago.