Each of the over 900 different kinds of fig trees in the world is pollinated by its own specific kind of fig wasp. Fig tree flowers do not open to the outside world. Instead, the tiny flowers are located inside the hollow center of the growing fruit. In a complex process, the fig wasps develop within the fig (from eggs previously deposited by an adult female fig wasp), pollinate the flowers, and then exit from the fig, usually before it ripens and falls to the ground.

In the tree or on the ground the fig fruits are eaten by many animals, including birds, bats, monkeys, and animals living on the forest floor. These animals help scatter the fig seeds to other locations in the forest. Thus, while accomplishing its own reproduction, the fig tree also enables successful reproduction by the fig wasp, and provides food for many animals of the forest.

Fig wasp larvae somehow prevent the fig from ripening, thus increasing the likelihood of their survival (i.e. they mature to adult wasps and escape from the fig before it ripens and is eaten by some animal). But even inside the fig they are not totally safe! There is still another kind of wasp (the "fig wasp" parasitic wasp) that drills a small hole into the fig and deposits her egg near a developing fig wasp larva; the larva hatching from the egg survives by eating the fig wasp larva.