Ants are decomposers and consumers. As opportunistic eaters, they eat almost everything including live and decaying matter.
In this article, we’ll learn why ants are both decomposers and consumers as we discuss the following:
- What are decomposers?
- What are consumers?
- Why are ants decomposers and consumers?
We’ll also touch on whether ants are producers or scavengers.
What are Decomposers?
Decomposers are organisms that break down or decompose organic material. They include microscopic organisms, fungi, and detritivores like ants. 
Decomposers play a significant role in ecosystems. They recycle and make nutrients for producers which provide food for other organisms.
Furthermore, they prevent dead matter and waste from piling up. In doing so, they keep the environment clean and prevent the outbreak of disease.
What are Consumers?
Consumers refer to heterotrophs or organisms incapable of producing their own food. These organisms have to rely on and feed on other organisms for energy and nutrition. 
Examples of consumers include animals and certain heterotrophic bacteria and fungi.
In the food chain, consumers are categorized into three levels. These levels are as follows:
- Primary Consumers: Primary consumers are organisms that feed on producers. These consumers are herbivores and eat only algae or plant-based food. Examples include cows, deer, goats, koalas, crickets, and caterpillars.
- Secondary Consumers: Secondary consumers are organisms that feed on primary consumers. They can either be carnivores or omnivores. Examples include bears, birds, wolves, and ants.
- Tertiary Consumers: Tertiary consumers are those who eat secondary consumers. They’re carnivores that eat other carnivores. They include apex predators such as lions, orcas, and crocodiles.
It’s worth noting that these levels aren’t exclusive. An organism can participate in any of these levels depending on what they eat.
For example, we humans can be primary consumers when we eat vegetables. However, we can also be secondary consumers when we eat chicken or beef.
Why are Ants Decomposers and Consumers?
Now that we’ve defined decomposers and consumers, let’s now break down why ants classify as both.
Why are Ants Decomposers?
Ants are detritivores or decomposers because they consume or break down organic material. As opportunistic eaters, ants feed on the bodies of dead animals. You’ll often find them feasting on dead insects and sometimes small birds or reptiles. 
They also consume waste such as urine and feces. For example, some ants like sugar ants have been observed to mine urine for food. They’ve even been described to prefer urine over the very thing they’re named after.
Why are Ants Consumers?
Ants are consumers because they eat plants and animals. Fire ants, for example, eat other arthropods, reptiles, and even birds. Other ants also eat vegetables, fruits, seeds, and sweets like sap, honeydew, and nectar.
See this article to learn more about what ants eat.
What Type of Consumers are Ants?
Most ants are omnivorous and are secondary consumers. There are some ants, however, that are strictly herbivores. Turtle ants for example, only eat nectar and other resources from plant canopies. Therefore, some ants can also be primary consumers.
The Role of Ants in the Food Chain
In the food chain, ants function as both predator and prey.
- Ants as Predators: As predators, ants hunt and regulate the populations of other insects. In fact, they’re sometimes used as biological agents for pests.
- Ants as Prey: As prey, ants serve as food for many animals. Their high protein content makes them an especially nutritious food source for predators. They’re usually eaten by birds, lizards, and mammals. Even we humans partake of ants.
Are Ants Producers?
No, ants are not producers. They can’t produce their own food and instead rely on other organisms for survival.
This is because they don’t have the necessary organelles to perform photosynthesis. They can’t convert light energy from the sun into food.
See this article to learn more about why ants are not producers.
Are Ants Scavengers?
Scavengers are organisms that mostly feed on decaying matter. They usually eat rotting meat or plant material.
So by definition, ants can be considered scavengers.
That said, scavengers often refer to animals that eat large amounts of carcasses at once. These animals include vultures, raccoons, and coyotes.
Summary: Are Ants Decomposers or Consumers?
To summarize, ants are both decomposers and consumers.
They’re consumers because they eat plants and prey on other animals. They’re also decomposers because they’re detritivores. They eat dead rotting matter and organic waste.