Time for another installment of Weird Creatures. I’m only going to be doing one per week now, I think, because of classes.
This is another group of species rather than just one, like the leafcutter ants. And like the leafcutter ants, they’re also insects: the fig wasp!
Fig wasps are wasp species in the Agaonidae family. There are almost eighty of them, and they can be roughly divided into two groups: symbiotic and parasitic.
The parasitic ones aren’t very interesting, but the symbiotic ones are. Let’s take a look at those.
Their life starts when they hatch as larvae, and eventually turn into tiny, tiny wasps inside the flowers their eggs were deposited in. They leave the flowers, and find themselves in a type of small cave. If they’re males, they often won’t have wings. If they’re female, they always do.
There are relatively a lot more males than females, as is often the case, and most males never get to mate. As soon as a female has mated, the male (and some males who won’t get to mate) start digging their way out of the cave, clearing the way for the female. While they’re doing that, the female goes around and fills up specialised pouches on her body with pollen.
They make their way out, and burst out into the world. The males die quickly, but the female flies off. If she looks back, she sees what she just came out of is a fig. What she has to do now is find another fig, preferably on another tree.
If the fig doesn’t have any other wasps in it yet, it’ll be soft enough for the female wasp to squeeze through one of the pores on the skin, though it’s still a tight enough squeeze that she’ll probably lose her wings in the process.
Once she’s in, though, she’ll generally find three types of flowers: male, short female, and long female.
The male flowers will hold pollen for the next generation of female wasps to carry. The long female flowers are too long for the wasp to deposit her eggs into, but she can still pollinate it with the pollen she carried from her home fig.
The short female flowers are the one she lays her eggs in. She’ll pollinate the flowers, but the larva growing in it will destroy the reproductive capabilities as far as the fig tree is concerned.
Once she has laid her eggs, she dies, and the cycle starts over.
If she has laid eggs in too many flowers (because she found a way to lay eggs in the long female flowers, perhaps), the fig will shrivel and fall off, making sure any wasp taking advantage of the fig tree’s generosity (since it provides both protection and nutrition for the wasp larvae) doesn’t reproduce, and the tree cuts its losses (since it takes energy to provide food for the wasps).
And so, the balance is preserved~
Each species of fig wasp is specific to a species of fig, and some fig trees don’t have wasps. Still, the crunchy bits in your figs are about as like to be wasps as they are seeds. Enjoy that.
And this isn’t the whole story, of course. The parasitic wasps are a different story entirely (they also lay eggs in figs, but they don’t pollinate them; they’re harmful to both the fig tree and the symbiotic fig wasps), and what happens to the fig after it’s been pollinated is kind of complicated.
There are some types of ant that wait near likely exits for female wasps on figs, too, so life as a fig wasp isn’t entirely safe inside a fig. The picture below shows that. Also handy because you can compare scale, to see just how small these wasps are.