Thursday, April 14, 2022

Knowing the Fig

The fig tree fruit is in fact a fake fruit. It is, in fact, an infructescence of considerable dimensions. In other words, the figs that commonly end up on our table are a flower. That was the good news. 

Did you know that figs can have dead insects in them?

What? You’re kidding! You’ll say. Wait, let’s go step by step. 

Figs have a unique feature. The fig flower, in fact, blooms internally and can therefore not be subjected to the classic process of pollination "from flower to flower" bee. They thus need a special process for pollination. They can not simply rely on the wind or the bees to spread their pollen, but to do so must be a specific creature: the Blastophaga Psenens (also called fig wasp). The fig cannot survive without its presence and at the same time the wasp cannot live without the fig tree, because it is there that its larva lies. 

It’s a relationship known as forced mutualism, even if it’s the insect that pays the price. The female wasp enters the male fig - which we do not eat - to lay eggs. The male fig is shaped so as to receive the eggs of the wasp, which when it enters loses wings and antennae and, not being able to get out, has no escape and dies inside. Become adults, the male wasps, which are born without wings, can fertilize the females and dig for them a tunnel to get them out of the fig tree and go to pollinate and lay their eggs elsewhere. Male wasps are born for the sole purpose of mating with female wasps (which technically are their "sisters").

It is the female offspring who make the journey to the outside world, carrying the pollen with them.

But if a female wasp accidentally enters a female fig - those we eat - inside it does not find room to reproduce and still dies inside the flower.

This does not mean that the fig contains a wasp carcass. You will never, in fact, bite into a fig tree and find yourself having to remove wings and legs from the upper arch armed with toothpicks. This is because the insect in question has long been transformed into proteins thanks to an enzyme.

It’s the fascinating mechanisms of Mother Nature that I’m sure have made some of you jump out of your seats. As for me, I will continue to eat them, because they are delicious.

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