The tale of the fig and the fig wasp

Every fig has, at its centre, a secret; and that secret had six legs.

Fig - The Hall of EInar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

For figs to grow you need fig wasps to pollinate them. For fig wasps to grow you need figs to feed them. They need one another and the feeling is mutualism.

The queen fig wasps mate and then leave their fig to search for a new fig home to start a colony of their own. They take with them pollen which will pollinate their new fig. Once they lay their eggs they will die and be digested by their fig. Many vegetarians and vegans refuse to eat figs because at their heart is at least one dead wasp, dissolved and digested and part of the many fruits which form a single fig. Figs aren’t actually a fruit; they are a pseudo-fruit which had hundreds of flowers inside it.

Each mother fig wasp carries pollen from the flowers in her birth fig to the flowers in her death fig. Her daughters repeat the cycle. This mutual relationship between fig wasp and fig started between 70 and 90 million years ago, so the partners are well adapted to each other. There are 750 described species of fig and, when you take into account fig wasps, fig-parasitic wasps and possible cryptic parasites pretending to be other wasps, there are probably 10,000 different species of fig wasp. This probably means there are as many different species of fig wasp as there are birds.

That’s something to chew on.

Mmmm… delicious.

Fig Tree - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

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