Figs hide a surprising secret! Find out which one!

Paula Goncalves Weather Portugal 6 mins
Fig
Figs are not fruits, but inverted flowers. Figs do not flower in the same way as apple or peach trees.

A fig is not just any fruit. In fact, it’s not even a fruit, it is an inflorescence, or simply an inverted flower. Figs do not flower in the same way as other fruit trees, such as almond or cherry trees. Figs have a very curious history. Besides not being a fruit, they need the “sacrifice” of an insect to reproduce, a pollinating wasp that dies inside the fig tree. When the insect enters a female fig, it loses its wings and dies inside without leaving eggs.

The mutual relationship between the fig and the “fig fly” is one of nature’s most fascinating. The two have such an intertwined existence that one cannot exist without the other. Where there are no fig midges, figs do not breed and vice versa. The reproductive cycle of these insects only takes place inside the figs. Over tens of millions of years of evolution, figs have been altered so much by interaction with these insects that today they are taken for fruit.

“In the wild we see a lot of competition, so the interaction between the fig and the fig wasp is amazing. The two move together to adapt to each other and try to survive. If the one dies, the other also disappears”. Darío Abel Palmieri, Department of Biology, University of São Paulo.

But figs are not fruits, they are shells that contain inside hundreds of small flowers that produce seeds internally, thanks to the work of pollination. These insects carry their genetic material and allow them to reproduce. On the other hand, they could not live without figs, because they deposit their larvae inside the fruits. This relationship is known as symbiosis or mutualism.

Pollination

In general, pollination of flowers is a consequence of foraging by animals. In this case, the relationship is a little more complex. The fig tree being the only substrate in which these insects lay their eggs, once inside, the descendants of the “founder” animal place the stinger under the stylet to lay the egg.

Meanwhile, the “founder” spreads the pollen he brought from the fig tree where he was born, fertilizes the female flowers and ensures the production of fruits and seeds and, therefore, the survival of the figs. Once pollination is complete, the fig begins to ripen and change color. Once mature, the female insects leave the fig on which they are raised and go in search of figs to pollinate.

Due to their short lifespan and long journey to find a tree, only a few midges can pollinate a fig tree. Females recognize a fig tree ready for pollination by the chemical signal emitted by the trees. To reach the flower, the insect must penetrate the pores of the fruit and reach its cavity.

These insects belong to the Agaonidae family. Although this relationship may seem disgusting, it is necessary for the survival of both species. Although this symbiotic relationship may seem rather disgusting and perhaps even disturbing, it must be remembered that it is necessary for the survival of both species and so that this cycle of the food chain does not stop.

A silent threat to pollinators

Without pollinators, most of the native and cultivated plants we eat would not survive. The number of pollinators is declining worldwide and this decline poses a threat to biodiversity, human health and nutrition. The main causes of this decline are the indiscriminate use of pesticides and herbicides, the existence of invasive species, the loss and fragmentation of natural habitats and environmental degradation.

According to an article published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, conservation units will not be able to contain this reduction. Places that once served the needs of pollinators are becoming uninhabitable as temperatures rise and rainfall becomes more unpredictable and erratic.

What most people don’t realize is that the disappearance of pollinators constitutes an economic loss for agriculture and forestry and leads to an imbalance of nature. The disappearance of pollinators leads to great losses in agriculture and also causes a great imbalance in the natural environment. Several studies have already shown the importance of the existence of a natural habitat within private properties to secure and even increase agricultural production. However, compliance with environmental legislation on the protection of native vegetation is a matter of food and water security, as most pollinators guarantee and increase our food production.

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