A parasitic wasp that lays its eggs by boring into unripe figs has its very own metallic power tool always on hand.
According to a study published Wednesday in The Journal of Experimental Biology, the aptly named parasitic fig wasp, whose scientific name is Apocryta westwoodi grandi, has a zinc-tipped drill it uses to pierce the woody exterior of unripe figs.
Scientists used scanning electron microscopy, a form of imaging that uses a beam of electrons to scan a sample, to study the wasp’s metallic drill.
“If you look at this structure, it’s so beautiful in the sense that it’s hard but maneuverable, which is a tough challenge for a drilling tool,” Namrata Gundiah, a mechanical engineer at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, India, and lead author of the study, told National Geographic. “These kinds of structures seem to bore so efficiently—that’s what is really amazing about this system.”
Although scientists have documented other wasp species with similar adaptations, the fig wasps drill-like appendage, called an ovipositor, is a cut above the rest thanks to its zinc tip with teeth-like indentations. Researchers say the zinc tip increases the hardness of the drill and limits any wear and tear.
Researchers measured the hardness of the “teeth” at the end of the wasp’s drill and found it was “almost as hard as the acrylic cement used for dental implants,” Gundiah said.
The parasitic fig wasp lays its eggs inside fruit where the newly hatched wasps can feed on the larvae of other insects growing inside the figs.
The wasp’s ovipositor measures 7 mm to 8 mm (0.28 inch to 0.31 inch) in length and is thinner than a human hair.
Watch a video, courtesy of Gundiah and her colleague Laksminath Kundanati and uploaded to YouTube, of the parasitic fig wasp in action: