Written by Thomas Godwin
Updated: May 1, 2023
Image Credit © Rattiya Thongdumhyu/


Saprophagous organisms are any organisms that feed on (obtain the necessary nutrients for survival) dead or otherwise decaying matter. There are a small number of saprophagous invertebrates but it mostly applies to various fungi, bacteria, and water molds.

The word “saprophagous” is a derivative of the Greek word, “sapros,” which means “rotten” or “putrid.” Saprophagous is an umbrella term and below the umbrella are several specific types of organisms that consume “detritus,” the term for the decaying matter they eat.

Different Types of Saprophagous Organisms

There are a variety of organisms and animals that eat dead materials across a wide range of types. As aforementioned, they are labeled as a certain type of eater while falling under the saprophagous definition.


These saprophagous organisms feed on dead or decaying organic matter (Detritus). The type of matter these organisms feed on becomes all the more important when you realize that the defining word for what these organisms eat determines where they fall beneath the umbrella term, “saprophagous.”

These organisms are heterotrophic and the term “detritus” applies to either animal or plant matter. Detritivores are typically invertebrates and the few saprophagous organisms that aren’t themselves fungi or bacteria. Crabs, sea cucumbers, starfish, lobster, mites, beetles, butterflies, flies, and slugs are prime examples of detritivorous organisms.


Some fungivores are saprophagous, in that they eat the decaying organic matter from fungi, spreading the spores along the way. This is often how fungi reproduce, which is convenient both for the fungi and for the consumer.


Another fungi-feeding type of organism, these types typically feed on the residues that fungi leave behind. It’s often confused with fungivorous because both are essentially the same, with mycetophagous making up a very specific type.


Another type of fungivores, mycophagous organisms feed on molds, such as the type that grows in between the tiles in a humid bathroom.


These saprophagous organisms feed on the dead tissue of deceased animals. These are the more traditional types of saprophagous types and it’s why vultures, hyenas, crows, and other animals that feed on the dead often fall under the saprophagous term.


These types feed on the excrement left behind by living animals. It’s not the same thing as the Scatophagus, which is a type of ray-finned fish that lives in Indo-Pacific waters.

Saprophagous Pronunciation

Saprophagous is pronounced: “sa-proph-a-gous”

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About the Author

Thomas is a freelance writer with an affinity for the great outdoors and Doberman Pinschers. When he's not sitting behind the computer, pounding out stories on black bears and reindeer, he's spending time with his family, two Dobermans (Ares and Athena), and a Ragdoll cat named Heimdal. He also tends his Appleyard Ducks and a variety of overly curious and occasionally vexatious chickens.