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Nightmare on fig street

So… we found out how figs are pollinated and it’s a goddamn horror show. Each species of fig tree (of which there are hundreds) has a corresponding species of wasp. Yup. Every fig has its own pet wasp. And that’s just the beginning of this nightmare. 


First of all, figs aren’t really fruit, they’re inverted flowers - more specifically, a type of inflorescence. This basically means that the entire flower is packed inside a bulb on the stem, making pollination a tricky task. Enter the fig wasp.


Here’s how the party starts: A female wasp crawls inside the fig through a small opening at the base to lay her eggs. These wasps are small, but the opening in the fig is even smaller. So, as she pulls herself inside, her wings and antennae are torn off. No worries, she won’t need them again, because…


Once inside, she lays her eggs and dies. Then, the fig consumes her by releasing the chemical ficin to break down her body (wtf). The horror story continues…


When the babies hatch, the males head straight to the females to mate (incest much?). Then, they dig little tunnels to the surface of the fig so the females can escape. What happens to the males? They die, having never left the fig. The females emerge already fertilized, doused in pollen, and ready to lay their eggs in the next fig - wash, rinse, repeat. 


Here’s the cherry on top: There are two types of fig trees - monoecious and dioecious. Monoecious fig trees are the ones described above. Dioecious fig trees have male and female flowers on separate plants. The female-only figs are not conducive for laying wasp eggs, so, if a female crawls into the wrong fig, she dies pointlessly, wingless and alone. 


But don’t throw away all of your figs just yet, this horrid affair happens long before the 'fruit' ripens. Also, some commercially grown fig trees don’t require wasps for pollination, excusing them from the bloodshed. 


We get it, nature isn’t always hugs and puppies, but this is just gross.


Learn more:

A tale of loyalty and betrayal, starring figs and wasps

Fig wasps

Can figs exist without wasps?

Image by Jade Stephens

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