New research on an old, misidentified, fossil specimen reveals that the fig wasp has remained virtually unchanged for over 34 million years. In spite of dramatic climate shifts, and who knows what else, this millimeter long fig tree pollinator, and its fig tree companion, somehow managed to persist. While primitive primates somehow developed the human brain and consciousness in a geologically brief time window, the fig wasp managed to avoid evolutionary change over a much longer time period. It is yet another example of stasis in the biological world.
Fig wasps are so named because they have a complex and highly specific relationship with fig trees. There are about 800 species of fig trees, and each is pollinated by just one or two species of fig wasp which otherwise ignore the other fig trees species. That’s quite a feat that evolution pulled off—800 or so variations on a theme.
At one fig tree a wasp collects pollen and stores it in pockets on the underside of its body before flying to another fig tree (of the same species of course) where it pulls out the collected pollen and spreads it on the flower. It’s amazing what unguided mutations will do (no, natural selection doesn’t magically design intricate systems like this, it merely kills off the loser mutations).
And what’s also amazing is how, after implementing such dramatic and nuanced changes, evolution then comes to a screeching halt. It created species, and relationships between them, that fortuitously would not only survive climate shifts and tens of millions of years, but wouldn’t even call for any more change. That’s a good design.