Ripe Ficus cucurbitina figs photographed by Chun Xing Wong of 1StopBorneo Wildlife.
This photo shows the sharp spines covering the surface of the fig. These spines are sharp enough to pierce flesh. Most figs dispersed by birds have a smooth outer surface so that they can be easily swallowed by bird dispersers. Birds have no teeth so most figs are swallowed whole but the spines on Ficus cucurbitina figs prevent this happening.
Chun Xing notes that hornbills are careful when eating Ficus cucurbitina.
” Hornbills keep on tossing and mashing the figs until the fruit flesh covers the spines, before safely swallowing them”.
It is most likely that the spines are to protect the figs from being swallowed by seed predator Green Pigeons which use grit in their gizzards to grind up the seeds.
These are the three basal bracts at the base of the fig. In the middle is the hollow where the fig was directly connected to a twig on the tree.
This is the ostiole or “mouth” of the fig at the far end. The ostiole is an access gate to allow fig wasps to enter the fig to pollinate the hundreds of tiny flowers inside the fig.
Note how the sunken ostiole is surrounded by a prominent rim. This is very similar to illustrations of the rare mystery fig known as Ficus bracteata. (see below). The type of Ficus bracteata was collected in Singapore in 1822 and there are only a few records from Borneo. All current evidence suggests that Ficus cucurbitina and Ficus bracteata are probably the same species.
An illustration from King (1887) of the type collection of Ficus bracteata from Singapore.