Is It True That There Are Dead Wasps Inside of Figs?

Figs are one of humanity’s favorite fruits, dating back as far as the Romans and adorning modern cheese plates from Texas to Tasmania. But as with most good things that the Internet has to ruin, figs are more complex than meets the eye– or so is true of the process by which they are pollinated.

As the Huffington Post points out, figs are not fruit– they’re actually inverted flowers. As such, they require a specific kind of pollination that can only come from fig wasps– wasps that have to die inside the fruit in order for the fruit to mature, since figs cannot be pollinated by wind or normal bees.

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Horrified? Yes, we were too, when we first found out.

According to Science Focus, female figs (the ones we eat) are capable of digesting wasps whole. Whole!

Photo: Andreana Bitsis

As Luis Villazon summarizes:

“The female wasp crawls inside through a hole so narrow that she loses her wings in the process and becomes trapped. If the fig is a male, she lays her eggs inside. These hatch into larvae that burrow out, turn into wasps and fly off, carrying fig pollen with them. If the wasp climbs into a female fig [the kind we eat], she pollinates it, but cannot lay her eggs and just dies alone. Luckily for us, the female fig produces an enzyme that digests this wasp completely. The crunchy bits are seeds, not wasp parts.”

And yes, this happens every time a fig wasp flies into a female fig. EVERY TIME.

Stated another way, by Julie R. Thomson of the Huffington Post:

“If a fig wasp enters a female fig accidentally… there is no room in the interior for it to reproduce. And it cannot escape, because its wings and antennae have broken off. So the wasp dies inside, which is unfortunate but necessary because that’s how it delivers the pollen giving us the fruit we love.”

In conclusion: no, there are no wasp parts inside of your favorite figs… but there were, at one point. Lucky for us, figs digest all wasp parts long before they make it to our cheese plates.

This is why we can’t have nice things.

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