The relationship between fig trees and their wasp pollinators is an obligate pollination mutualism, because the plant and its pollinator are totally dependent upon one another to complete reproduction. The fig fruit is actually a specially adapted inflorescence called a synconium, which conceals many tiny flowers.
Pollination begins when a female wasp, already covered with pollen from the fig in which she hatched and developed, flies to a new fig synconium and enters a tiny hole at one end. In the process, the wasp's fragile wings often break off. Inside the synconium, the female wasp crawls among the female flowers, of which there are two types - one with a short style into which her ovipositor fits, and one with longer styles, in which she cannot lay eggs. The wasp deposits an egg inside the ovary of each of several short-styled flowers; the long-styled flowers are fertilized by the wasp's pollen load as she climbs over them in her search for oviposition sites. Once she has laid her eggs, the wasp remains inside the synconium, where she eventually dies.
The wasp eggs develop within the flowers. As an adult, the male wasp will chew its way out of its own flower and will then create a hole in a female's flower from which she can escape. They mate and the female then moves toward the tiny opening at the end of the synconium. To reach the hole, she crawls over male flowers and becomes covered with pollen. The male wasp enlarges the opening, allowing the female to escape the synconium and to fly to another, ripening inflorescence to begin the process again. The male remains inside where he dies.
- Quick Guide: Figs and Fig Wasps, J. M. Cook and S. A. West, Current Biology, vol. 15, no. 24, December 2005
- Figs and fig wasps, S. van Noort and J. Y. Rasplus, Iziko Museums of Cape Town
- Book of Insect Records: Chapter 25 Greatest Host Specificity, G. H. Schneider, University of Florida, April 15, 1997
- Fig Fruit Facts, California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc.
- Fig Wasp (Hymenoptera: Chalcidoidea: Agaonidae, Pteromalidae, Eurytomidae and Ormyridae) and Ficus (Moraceae) Species Richness and Biogeography of Monts Doudou in Southwestern Gabon, Simon van Noort, California Academy of Sciences Memoir, vol. 28, 2004, pp. 217-233
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