Rice University biologists discover new insect species in Houston

Neuroterus valhalla is a newly described species of cynipid gall wasp discovered in the branches of a live oak tree near the Rice University graduate student pub Valhalla. (Photo by Miles Zhang/Smithsonian NMNH) (Miles Zhang/Smithsonian NMNH, Miles Zhang/Smithsonian NMNH)

Biologists have discovered a new insect species at Rice University.

According to a news release from the university, the newly discovered insect Neuroterus valhalla, named after the place of its discovery outside the Rice graduate student pub Valhalla, is barely a millimeter long and spends 11 months of the year locked in a crypt.

According to the release, N. valhalla was first collected from the branches of a massive live oak tree on the campus in spring 2018, and it is the first insect species to be described alongside its fully-sequenced genome.

“N. valhalla and other gall wasps trick their host tree into feeding and sheltering their young. The wasps lay a biochemical cocktail along with their eggs. The chemicals coax the tree to form a crypt, or gall, around the egg. The gall shelters the egg and feeds larvae that hatch from it,” the news release reads.

Rice University researchers are preparing to see how the newly-discovered species may have been impacted by Houston’s historic February 2021 freeze.

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