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science

The wasp-eating fig

It’s hard enough being vegan, or just vegetarian. Now even figs are off limits?

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By Sabine Devins & Jakub Chrobok
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This wasp is responsible for pollinating fig flowers, and no one can stop her.

When a female fig wasp is pregnant and loaded with pollen, she seeks out a young male fig.

The fig’s flowers are inside the fruit, so the fig wasp searches for an entrance.

She finds a small opening in the bottom and crawls inside, losing her wings and antennae in the process.

Now she is ready to lay her eggs inside the fig flowers, while shedding the pollen she collected inside another fig where she hatched.

After laying her eggs and fertilizing the flower, the fig wasp dies. An enzyme called ficin breaks down her body into protein.

The male fig wasps hatch. First they fertilize the developing female fig wasp eggs.

Then, they burrow some holes inside the fig’s skin and return to the fleshy fig to die.

Once the fig flower develops pollen, the female fig wasps hatch, collect the pollen and use the tiny holes to escape the fig. Loaded with pollen, they fly off into the world to start the whole process again.

The figs we eat are commercially produced and do not rely on the fig wasp to reproduce. But you can never be certain…

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