Bio-inspiration in soft robotics

Fig wasps and figs trees live in a mutualism ecosystem where the fig tree provides nourishment to wasp eggs and the wasps pollinate fig flowers. This is a mutually beneficial arrangement. The lifecycle of a fig wasp is illustrated below.

Life cycle of a fig wasp

So, female wasps pollinate the fig flowers by entering the fig with their pollen laden body. Parasitic wasps have co-evolved to get nourishment from the fig trees without pollinating the flowers. They do this by drilling into the fig from the outside with their long ovipositor.

From an engineering perspective, the ovipositor is a flexible, maneuverable hollow tube with sensing elements at the end. This mechanism has been studied by multiple researchers with recent findings experimentally studying the mechanisms of insertion. The tip of the ovipositor is enriched with zinc, presumably for hardening.

A parasitic wasp drilling into a fig. Photo credits: Lakshminath Kundanati.

This problem can have interesting direct applications in any number of in vivo experiments e.g. in neuroscience for non-destructive probing of brain cells.

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