Fig wasps are wasps of the family Agaonidae which pollinate figs or are otherwise associated with figs, a coevolutional relationship that has been developing for at least 80 million years.
The family as presently defined is polyphyletic, including several unrelated lineages whose similarities are based upon their shared association with figs; efforts are underway to resolve the matter, and remove a number of constituent groups to other families, particularly the Pteromalidae and Torymidae. Thus, the number of genera in the family is in flux. Probably only the Agaoninae should be regarded as belonging to the Agaonidae, whilst the Sycoecinae, Otitesellinae and Sycoryctinae should be included in the Pteromalidae. Placement of the Sycophaginae and Epichrysomallinae remains uncertain.
Among the Agaonidae, the female is a normal insect, while the males are mostly wingless. The males' only tasks are to mate with the females while still within the fig syconium and to chew a hole for the females to escape from the fig interior. This is the reverse of Strepsiptera and the bagworm, where the male is a normal insect and the female never leaves the host.
Most fig inflorescences contain three kinds of flowers: male, short female, and long female. Female fig wasps can reach the ovaries of short female flowers with their ovipositors, but not long female flowers. Thus the short flowers grow wasps, whereas the long flowers become seeds. In figs of this sort, the crunchy bits in the fruit contain both seeds and wasps. However, there are several commercial and ornamental varieties of fig that are self-fertile and do not require pollination; these varieties are not visited by fig wasps.
Pollinating fig wasps (Agaoninae) are specific to specific figs. The common fig Ficus carica is pollinated by Blastophaga psenes.
The life cycle of the fig wasp is closely intertwined with that of the fig tree it inhabits. The wasps that inhabit a particular tree can be loosely divided into two groups; pollinating and non-pollinating. The pollinating variety forms a mutually beneficial symbiosis with the tree, whereas the non-pollinating variety is parasitic. Both life cycles, however, are very similar.
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