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Fig wasp diversity

(Life: Kingdom: Metazoa (animals); Phylum: Arthropoda; Class: Hexapoda; Order: Hymenoptera;  Superfamily: Chalcidoidea)











"Fig wasp" is a broad term applied to chalcid wasps (Chalcidoidea, Hymenoptera) that exclusively breed in figs, the enclosed inflorescence of fig trees (Ficus, Moraceae), but excludes those chalcids that are parasitoids of facultative utilizers (such as lepidopteran, coleopteran and dipteran larvae) of the fig niche. From a taxonomic perspective the term "fig wasp" encompasses representatives of five chalcid families (Agaonidae, Pteromalidae, Ormyridae, Eurytomidae and Torymidae) making up the assemblage of chalcidoid wasps associated with figs. All species in the family Agaonidae breed in figs, whereas only a relatively small proportion of the species in the families Pteromalidae, Ormyridae, Eurytomidae and Torymidae are associated with figs. 

Fig wasps were previously all united under the Agaonidae incorporating six distinct taxa at subfamily level (Epichrysomallinae, Otitesellinae, Sycoryctinae, Sycoecinae and Sycophaginae) (Bouček 1988). Subsequent morphological and molecular studies indicated that the Agaonidae as defined by Bouček was not monophyletic (Machado et al. 1996; Kerdelhué 1997; Rasplus et al. 1998). Recent molecular investigations of DNA sequences showed that the different groups of fig wasps are not closely related, suggesting that the fig niche has been colonised on a number of separate occasions by different wasp lineages over evolutionary time. The precise classificatory position of these groups of non-pollinators is currently under investigation through both morphological and molecular appraisals of their evolutionary relationships. The Sycoecinae, Otitesellinae and Sycoryctinae have been reassigned to the Pteromalidae, leaving only the pollinating fig wasps in the Agaonidae (Rasplus et al. 1998; Campbell et al. 2000). Agaonidae were further split into 3 subfamilies (Cruaud et al. 2010). Subsequently the Sycophaginae were shown to be a sister clade to the Agaonidae and are currently included in this family and the remaining group of non-pollinating fig wasps (Epichrysomallinae) is now also placed in the Pteromalidae (Heraty et al. 2013).

From an ecological perspective most fig wasp species are phytophagous and the remaining species are inquilines or parasitoids of these gallers. The phytophagous species gall the ovule to provide a food resource for larval development. The relationship of the pollinating fig wasps with their host fig tree is an obligate mutualism: the tree relies on the wasps for pollen dispersal and pollination, and in turn the wasps can only reproduce in the florets within the fig. 


Bouček, Z. (1988) Australasian Chalcidoidea (Hymenoptera). A biosystematic revision of genera of fourteen families with a reclassification of species. C.A.B. International, United Kingdom, 832 pp.

Campbell, B., Heraty, J., Rasplus, J. Y., Chan, K., Steffan-Campbell, J. & Babcock, C. (2000) Molecular systematics of the Chalcidoidea using 28S-rDNA. In: Austin A. D. & Dowton M. (Ed) The Hymenoptera: Evolution, Biodiversity and Biological Control, CSIRO Publishing, Canberra, pp. 59–73.

Cruaud, A., Jabbour-Zahab, R., Genson, G., Cruaud, C., Couloux, A., Kjellberg, F., van Noort, S. & Rasplus, J.Y. 2010. Laying the foundations for a new classification of Agaonidae (Hymenoptera: Chalcidoidea), a multilocus phylogenetic approach. Cladistics 26: 359-387.

Heraty, J. M., Burks, R. A., Cruaud, A., Gibson, G. A. P., Liljeblad, J., Munro, J., Rasplus, J.-Y., Delvare, G., Janšta, P., Gumovsky, A., Huber, J., Woolley, J. B., Krogmann, L., Heydon, S., Polaszek, A., Schmidt, S., Darling, D. C., Gates, M. W., Mottern, J., Murray, E., Dal Molin, A., Triapitsyn, S., Baur, H., Pinto, J. D., van Noort, S., George, J. and Yoder, M. 2013. A phylogenetic analysis of the megadiverse Chalcidoidea (Hymenoptera). Cladistics. doi: 10.1111/cla.12006

Rasplus J.Y., Kerdelhué, C., Le Clainche I. & Mondor, G. (1998) Molecular phylogeny of fig waps (Hymenoptera). Agaonidae are not monophyletic. Compte Rendu de l’Académie des Sciences de Paris, 321, 517–527.


Photographs and illustrations © Simon van Noort (Iziko Museums of South Africa) or Jean-Yves Rasplus (INRA).

Web authors Simon van Noort (Iziko South African Museum)

and Jean-Yves Rasplus (INRA, France)


Citation: van Noort, S. & Rasplus, JY. 2017. Figweb: figs and fig wasps of the world. URL: www.figweb.org(Accessed on <day-month-year>).

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