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It’s almost impossible to imagine a world without chocolate. Yet cacao trees, which are the source of chocolate, are vulnerable.

The insects responsible for pollinating cacao’s tiny flowers are themselves also tiny, in order to access the flower’s reproductive structures. Biting midges from the Ceratopogonidae family and gall midges from the Cecidomyiidae family are among the most important known cacao pollinators worldwide, but they are struggling to get the job done.


DeWayne Shoemaker, professor and head of the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology, found that artificial or hand pollination—which can more than double yields—shows that cacao trees are capable of producing many more pods than they currently do.

Scientists think part of the problem might be that midges don’t depend solely upon cacao flowers for their life cycle. Because they can get sugar from other plant sources, they are likely passive rather than active pollinators of cacao. Scientists also wonder if they are up to the task of flying the significant distances between wild trees.

Shoemaker begged the question: Are there insects better designed for the job? And if so, where did they go? Read the full article on The Conversation.

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Lindsey Owen (865-974-6375,