Episode 316 – Fig Wasp: Fig, Fig House

“…and today we’re talking about a fig’s friend for real. But more on that later.”

Foxes have holes, birds have nests, and wasps have figs? Figs have been a staple of the human diet for thousands of years, but we share that culinary attraction with an unlikely friend: a wasp. The appropriately named fig wasp spends most of her time finding fruiting figs for fraternal fraternizing. But even a seemingly charmed life on the fruit-based housing market comes with a certain level of disturbing barbarity when wasps get involved in Life, Death, and Taxonomy. 

Description of the Fig Wasp

  • Tiny black wasps with shiny carapaces
  • Males don’t have wings but females have transparent wings
  • They have two antennae
  • Look like large-ish ants

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words Measure Up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. We don’t have a new Measure Up intro!

Janet Van Dyne (The Wasp) 2:45


  • 2 millimeters (0.079 in)
  • How many fig wasps go into the distance traveled in the apostle Paul’s missionary journeys?
  • Hint: Paul went on three missionary journeys and was also taken to Rome where he continued to write letters. He traveled on foot and by ship around the Mediterranean, visiting Cyprus, Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, Perga, Athens, Ephesus, and Derba, among others.
  • 8,020,253,160 wasps. It is estimated that Paul traveled a combined 10,000 miles.

Flight Distance

  • Females will fly up to 6 miles in search of a place to lay eggs
  • How many of the longest recorded chicken flights go into the flight of the fig wasp?
  • Hint: Despite the lessons we learned in Chicken Run, chickens can actually fly, but not very well. They are ground birds at heart, but they are more upwardly mobile than a penguin.
  • 105 chicken flights. The longest recorded chicken flight was 300 feet.

Fast Facts about the Fig Wasp

  • Range: Wherever figs grow. Southern Europe and the Mediterranean.
  • Behavior: Only live for about a week at most

Major Fact: Fig Friend

Figs are a unique plant in that its flowers are on the inside of its fruit. But if the figs are on the inside, how do they get pollinated? 

There is a small opening inside of each fig, but it’s so small that very few things can get inside. However, small female fig wasps are able to slip into the hole, but it’s such a tight fit that they lose their wings and antennae in the process.

This opening is called the ostiole, which leads to the internal cavity where the flowers are. As they navigate the fig’s interior, they deposit their eggs within some of the flowers. Meanwhile, they also collect pollen, pollinating the fig in the process.

The females lay eggs inside the fig’s flowers and then die, providing nutrients to the fruit.

The eggs laid by the female wasps develop into larvae within the fig’s ovaries, creating structures known as galls. These galls serve as protective environments for the wasp larvae to grow and eventually transform into adults. In this phase, the fig provides nourishment and shelter for the wasp offspring.

Emergence and Mating

Once the wasp larvae mature, male and female wasps emerge from the fig. Males emerge first and fertilize the females before they even hatch. The males then help enlarge the ostiole or bore new tunnels through the fig, creating an opening for the females to exit. Some male wasps may break through the outer layer of the fig to feel the sunlight on their exoskeleton for a brief moment before dying. The females, now carrying fertilized eggs and pollen from their birth fig, venture out to find a new fig to lay their eggs, continuing the cycle. In some cases, males exit the fig just before the females to throw themselves at predators that are waiting outside, giving the females a chance to escape. 

Symbiosis and Specificity

The fig wasp benefits from this relationship by having a suitable environment for reproduction and a source of nourishment for its larvae. On the other hand, the fig tree gains a reliable and efficient pollinator that ensures the production of seeds, contributing to its genetic diversity and overall survival.

Each species of fig has its corresponding species of fig wasp, showcasing a high degree of specificity in this mutualistic relationship. Somehow ostiole is made to only allow specific fig wasp species into it. This specificity has developed through coevolution, where both the fig and the fig wasp have adapted to each other’s needs over time.

Do You Eat Wasps in Your Figs?

I’m happy to report that you probably only eat fig wasps when you eat wild figs. You may know that figs are mentioned many times in the Bible. They have been grown and eaten by humans for thousands of years:

“They found an Egyptian in the open country and brought him to David. And they gave him bread and he ate. They gave him water to drink, and they gave him a piece of a cake of figs and two clusters of raisins. And when he had eaten, his spirit revived, for he had not eaten bread or drunk water for three days and three nights.” -1 Samuel 30:11-12

That means the figs we eat are domesticated, which means they depend on humans for survival and proliferation. They no longer depend on pollinators like wasps. If you eat figs that are not the species called the common fig, there is a small chance you might eat a wasp. But those species have separate male and female trees. Wasps can only successfully lay eggs and reproduce fruit in male trees, and we typically only eat fruit from female trees. Still, if a wasp accidentally wanders into a female fruit, she might die in there and then you get a little extra protein. 

Ending: So hatch out of your cocoon, settle into a nice juicy fig, and have the gall to find your true home like a fig wasp here in LDT.