Who doesn’t love chocolate? There are all types of sweet-treats that exist in the world, and different people prefer different kinds. But chocolate has to be number one on most people’s lists of guilty food pleasures. Many people do not realize that chocolate cannot exist without a group of insects known as midges. Chocolate starts out as seeds inside of pods that grow on cacao trees. And of course these cacao trees must be pollinated. Most people picture bees or butterflies as pollinators, but flies of various species also pollinate flowers. Midges resemble tiny flies, and a particular group of midges, aptly named chocolate midges, bring chocolate into the world by pollinating the flowers on cacao trees.
Cacao trees officially belong to the Theobroma cacao species of trees. These trees are found in Africa, South America, and Asia. The flowers that grow on these tropical trees can be found sprouting from the trunk and lower branches. These flowers are small and they face downward, which makes them inaccessible to more common pollinating insects. However, midges are no larger than pinheads, which makes them well adapted to pollinating small, hard to reach flowers. Chocolate midges mostly pollinate during dawn and dusk.
Although cacao trees grow naturally in rainforest habitats, most chocolate comes from cultivated cacao trees from plantations in less humid environments. Midges prefer to pollinate cacao trees that are located in their natural habitats, as only three out of every one hundred flowers that are grown on a plantation end up being pollinated.
Some environmentalists are worried about the survival of cacao trees since pests and diseases kill one third of cacao crops each year. Natural cacao tree habitats are sometimes plowed in order to plant large commercial crops. This results in the deaths of many midges as a result of habitat loss. Obviously this has the general population frightened as well, as there are plenty of chocolate addicts in the world. Luckily, in some regions of the world cacao cultivators are planting cacao trees near their natural rainforest habitats, which makes both people and midges happier.
Have you ever heard that the world’s chocolate supply is decreasing, but did not know why?
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