A common concern among humans is
whether we eat fig wasps when we consume figs. The short answer is yes
for dried figs and usually no for fresh figs. The fig species that is
eaten is the domesticated fig
Ficus carica, which has been in
cultivation for thousands of years. It occurs naturally in the
Mediterranean region, but is also cultivated in this area as well as in
various other parts of the world where there is a suitable climate, such
as California and South Africa.
Commercial cultivation of fresh figs for the consumer market
usually centres on parthenocarpic cultivars, i.e. varieties that have
been artificially selected for. These varieties do not need pollination to
produce fruit. Fig trees will normally abort their fig crop if the
figs are not pollinated as the figs are then an energy cost with no
benefit. Figs that are grown for
dry fig production are usually cultivars that need pollination
Female fig wasp pollinators enter the fig through
the ostiole (opening at the apex of the fig) to pollinate the
flowers and to lay their eggs down the style into the ovary of the
See lifecycle. However, Ficus carica is a functionally dioecious species,
which means that the male and female reproductive functions of the
separated between individual trees, with some trees being female and others male.
produce seeds in the figs and no wasps, whereas male trees produce
a few seeds but mostly wasps. The wasps then load up pollen before
dispersing from the fig they have bred in and hence perform the male
function for the species.
How does this happen?
If figs from female trees of varieties that do require pollination are used in fig
production the only possibility of eating wasps is if the foundress
females that entered the fig to pollinate the flowers did not manage
to exit the fig again. This does happen, but often the female wasps
will escape from the fig they entered.
The wasps do not breed in the fig and only seeds are produced performing
the female function for the species.
Wild figs are
also very nutritious and
eaten by many indigenous people. In these cases the fig wasps
that have not departed from the fig they bred in are consumed along with
the fig. Most of the fig wasps will have left the fig before it ripens
and becomes attractive to frugivores, but many species have wingless
males which die and remain within the fig cavity. There are also
nematode worms that are specific to fig wasps and a host of other fungal
organisms residing within the fig cavity of wild figs, but these don't
appear to have any negative effect on human health.
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