A tale of loyalty and betrayal

A tale of loyalty and betrayal, starring figs and wasps

Female fig wasps leave to reproduce (Credit: Tim Laman/naturepl.com)

Fig trees and fig wasps are partners in life, but sometimes the trees betray their closest allies

By Deepa Padmanaban

The succulent sweet fig is a nesting ground for thousands of tiny fig wasps.

The fig tree and fig wasp share a long and unique mutualistic association, one that benefits both equally. Figs depend on wasps to make their seeds and distribute their pollen. In turn, the fig tree acts as a womb where the fig wasps can reproduce.

This association has existed since the time of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago Over the millennia both members have adapted to the other: for instance, wasps and seeds take a similar amount of time to develop.

But this friendly alliance sometimes turns sour. In some cases, a fig tree will trick its fig wasp partner. The tree benefits, while the wasp dies. Read more.