Thursday, September 03, 2015

Figs & Fig Wasps

One of the most interesting stories in biology is the relationship between figs and tiny, almost microscopic, fig wasps. I have addressed this topic before, about 3 1/2 years ago, but it is worth repeating. The story is told in Chapter 10 ("A Garden Inclosed") of Richard Dawkins' 1996 book, Climbing Mount Improbable.

Dawkins, an articulate science writer, introduces this final chapter by writing that he is "finally ready to return to the most difficult and complicated of all my stories." I have read that chapter several times (it is absolutely fascinating). I always think I've understood it, but then realize I don't really, because I become thoroughly confused trying to explain it to anyone else!

Although I have no doubt that Professor Dawkins understands figs & fig wasps, and that he has explained the relationship accurately, I began to wonder if Ocracoke Island figs are actually pollinated by fig wasps. Fig trees on Ocracoke seem always to start as cuttings (or branches that bend down and root). I've never known of a fig tree to sprout from a seed.

So I did a little research and discovered this: "[Figs that have been fertilized] are more likely [to come] from Turkey or other locations in the Middle East. This is because the fig wasp, which is needed for fertilization, is native to these countries, and will have, more than likely, fertilized the figs you purchase." (

Upon further reading I learned that, unlike figs that require pollination by the fig wasp,...Common figs do not need pollination; they have all female flowers, and the "fruit" develops through parthenocarpic means (production of fruit without fertilization of ovules). This includes the varieties of figs commonly grown on Ocracoke, e.g. Brown Turkey and Celeste. (see and enjoy Dr. Dawkins' chapter on figs and fig wasps, but don't hesitate to enjoy Ocracoke fig products. They won't contain wasp larvae!

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of whale and porpoise fishing on  the Outer Banks. You can read the story here:


  1. Creationsings8:34 AM

    What a beautiful example of God's perfect design in creation! I love to see examples of creation all around us. He's a nice article about this amazing fig wasps creation:

  2. Anonymous9:47 AM

    So when is the first annual Ocracoke Fig Festival? It seems to me that the popularity of this fruit is worthy of an event. It would extend the tourism dollars flowing into the OBX The Fig and Fiddle Festival you can thank me now or thank me later. Reality check #2.

    1. You missed it! Ocracoke's 2nd Annual Fig Festival was on August 14. Here is a URL with more information: