Otterman speaks... (2003-2007)
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Otterman speaks...

Cycling, macintosh, natural history and life in Singapore - Archives

List of Categories : travel * museum * cycling * Singapore Naturalist * science * kakis * mangroves * movies * mac and the internet * meow * NUS * life in Singapore * lit * world *

Wed 06 Jul 2005

The last stand of the male fig wasp

Category : Singapore Naturalist

It is known to our Pedal Ubin and Kent Ridge guides that the role of the male fig wasp includes fertilising the female and chewing an opening in the fig fruit to allow the fertilised female to emerge unscathed.

During a talk on fig-wasp interactions for a field biology course in Thailand, Rhett Harrison mentioned a third. Having opened up the fig wall, the male wasps sacrifice themselves by emerging and falling prey to ants prowling the exterior of the fruit. This "distraction" or "suicide run" into the jaws of the ants allows the females to escape the deadly fate that would otherwise await them when they emerged from the fig fruit.

This noble act (ignore the underlying selfish gene mechanism) negates two popular phrases we used to enjoy using - that all the male wasp does was to "have sex and die" and that "they never see the light of day"!

He showed us a photo of a newly-created fig opening, well surrounded by males. Some 350 female wasps may escape in just 90 seconds! Any longer and the ants would have overcome the males and get to the females, now that an opening into the fruit's interior exists.

There has been quite an explosion of research on fig-wasp interactions to study the mechanism of coevolution and that has unveiled fascinating storieds about their ecology. And dioecious figs had even more stories to reveal.

Having Rhett explain it all in the classroom and the CTFS Khao Ban Tat forest plot in southern Thailand was quite a luxury. Pretty good reward for coming out here in the midst of a mad schedule.

Posted at 2:41PM UTC by N. Sivasothi | permalink | , .