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From death comes life - The fig and the fig wasp

Updated: Apr 12, 2020

I'm not sure what has brought it on but I have gone a little fig crazy recently, from fiddle fig trees to fig tattoos and now, the life cycle of the fig wasp and fig painted on to my nails, the latter a little less permanent!

My earliest memory of figs is my Dede brushing the ants off a freshly plucked fig from his tree, he would tear it in half, a half for him and a half for me and I would protest that figs were icky.

I now love figs, for the taste of the fruit, the feel of the thick green leaves and the dependant relationship between the fig and the fig wasps, a beautiful representation of death breathing new life.

Like all plants figs need to be pollinated. The fig contains a tiny flower which must be pollinated in order for its fruit to ripen, when it's ready for pollination it produces a strong scent which draws in a female wasp. All perfectly normal up to now, but this is where the story turns a little macabre. The wasp crawls into the tiny opening at the base of the fruit, a hole so small that her wings and antennae break off as she enters.

She lays her eggs inside the flowers, spreading pollen as she goes, this is essential to the fig as without it the fruit will not ripen. Flowers containing wasp eggs won't mature into figs so don’t worry, you aren't going to finding wasp babies in your fig. The female wasp then dies and her body is absorbed by the fig for nourishment.

But what about the babies? They turn into wormlike grubs at first, and then take on the features of an adult wasp. The males have dark heads and clear amber bodies, they don’t have wings because these guys are never going to leave the fig. Females are larger they have dark heads and dark bodies.

So right now, you're probably thinking these female wasps get a rough time. Their only job is to pollinate a fig and in the process they get parts of their body ripped off, well the male wasps don't get it much easier, as soon as the females reach maturity they mate with the male. The male wasps then create a hole in the fig that allows the female wasps to leave. In this process the males wasps die.

The female wasp then leaves the fig ready to enter the next fig which she will pollinate and the story starts over again.

There we have it, the cycle of the fig and the fig wasp, both needing each other for their mutual survival.

Also a huge thank you to both Gav and Jess for indulging me with my requests for them to create art for my body.

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