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Chocolate Midges

Two cacao fruits on ground covered with cacao leaves
bridex/Getty Images/iStockphoto
Cocoa or cacao fruits on ground covered with cocoa leaves

If you spend any amount of time outdoors, chances are you’ve encountered biting midges, also known as No-See-Ums …those tiny flies that can really be a nuisance.

But if you are like me (having a bit of a sweet tooth), after hearing this you may be a little more tolerant of these pesky little insects.

Without midges, there would be no chocolate!

Cacao trees are small, tropical trees that are native to Central and South America. Having been cultivated for more than 3,000 years, today, cacao trees are also grown in the tropical regions of Africa and Asia.

Unlike the kinds of flowers we are used to seeing, the flowers of the Cacao are really small and grow directly from the trunk and lower branches of the tree. After pollination they produce large seeds – shaped like a half-sized football – from which chocolate is made.

But as with any fruit, the key to success is pollination.

Aside from being really small, the petals of cacao flowers curve into a tiny hood that cover’s the stamen (the male, pollen-making part of the flower). This configuration of the petals basically makes it impossible for something the size of a honey bee to get the job done.

This is where our No-See-Um friends save the day. About the size of a pinhead, the aptly named chocolate midge can easily enter the flower’s hood to get the important job of pollination done.

And an important job it is. With the global market for chocolate estimated at over $130 billion dollars in 2019, whether you’re on the consumer or supplier end of the chocolate trade, we all owe a debt of gratitude to these tiny flies.

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