Parasitic wasps must bore into unripe fig fruit in order to lay their eggs -- eggs that then look for other larvae to attach themselves to. To do so -- scientists from Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore recently found out -- they employ a narrow drill tipped with zinc and outfitted with saw-like teeth on the end.
Although other insects have been known to employ similar techniques, this latest study is one of the first to offer such an in-depth look at the biological tools that enable it. And an accompanying video shows how the wasp uses its drill bit, or ovipositor -- bio-speak for "egg depositor."
Once the wasp deposits her eggs inside the fig, they mature and then infiltrate the larvae of other species.
"These kinds of structures seem to bore so efficiently -- that's what is really amazing about this system," lead researcher Namrata Gundiah said. Gundiah is a mechanical engineer at the institute in Bangalore, India.
The narrow, flexible ovipositor wouldn't be so efficient -- and much less able to penetrate unripe fig skin -- if it wasn't for it's saw-like teeth and the zinc, which acts as a hardening agent.
The Bangalore researchers used an electron microscope and an X-ray detector to detect or hone in on the presence of zinc on the drill tip.
"I'm trained in studying steel and other kinds of synthetic materials," Gundiah added, "but if you try and apply the same ideas to look at such biological systems, suddenly it opens up so many possibilities of understanding how nature works."