Basically, figs have managed to turn wasps into part of their biology, and can be considered to be part-animal,…

Basically, figs have managed to turn wasps into part of their biology, and can be considered to be part-animal, part-plant. 

Originally shared by Yonatan Zunger

In the category of “really weird things I did not know:” apparently figs and certain wasps have co-evolved into a sort of single organism, with the wasps acting as highly mobile sex organs. It’s basically what happens if you take “insects pollinating flowers” to its logical conclusion.

Essentially, a female wasp shows up at a fig, pollen in tow and laden with egs, enters the fig, spreads the pollen around, lays her eggs, and dies. Some of the fig’s ovaries are now fertilized by pollen; they develop seeds. Others have wasp eggs; they form a shell around the eggs. Male wasps hatch first; they have no wings, but instead travel around the inside of the fig, fertilize the females (still in their eggs), cut escape hatches for them, and then die. Next the male flowers mature and produce pollen. Next, the female wasps hatch, already fertilized; they get covered in pollen, and fly out, in search of another fig. The wasps which die in the fig get digested by it and turned into more fig.

Which is to say, the wasp’s entire life cycle is basically loading up on the parts to make more wasps and more figs, and then finding a fig. 

There are a few variations on this, summarized in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fig_wasp . But basically, figs have managed to turn wasps into part of their biology, and can be considered to be part-animal, part-plant. Others instead would say that the figs are eating the wasps, which I suppose is also true, but that really understates the complexity of this relationship.

Apparently this is also enough for some people to consider figs not to be vegan. (cf http://www.organicauthority.com/health/figs-are-they-vegan.html , although to make it clear I am not endorsing any of the, well, anything on this site; it’s just an example of what arguments around the kosher vegan status of the fig look like)

Mostly, this gives me an urge for figs. 

Via @silentkpants on Twitter.

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13 Comments


  1. Mark Bennett co-evolution happens when each organism exerts selective pressures on the other, thereby affecting each other’s evolution. It is common among organisms that have close ecological links to one another, such host-parasite, mutualism (the fig-wasp example), or competition. It is not a different concept from conventional natural selection where inheritable traits are selected because they give an organism better advantage against a new environment. Think of the other organism as dominating this environment, and it makes sense.  

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  2. Absolutely fascinating. I had noted that our fig tree doesn’t bloom; well, it does, just inside of the immature fruit with the help of some clever wasps! I will keep an eye on our tree to see if I can see them entering and exiting figs.  Fully ripe figs are one of the most delicious fruits. Good thing unripe figs are not tasty as they are wasp incubators.

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