Enrichment Education

Rice University researchers discover new wasp species

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

Story at a glance

  • Biologists at Rice University in Houston recently discovered a tiny new species of wasp.
  • The wasp was discovered by a Rice University researcher, originally from Brazil, outside of a graduate student pub called Valhalla.
  • The wasp is about a millimeter long and is does not sting.

Biologists in Texas recently discovered a new species of wasp that is just a millimeter long.  

The tiny nonstinging wasp, dubbed Neuroterus valhalla, is a species of cynipid gall wasp that was discovered by Rice University researchers on the branches of an oak tree near a graduate student pub called Valhalla.  

N. valhalla has the honor of being the first insect species to be introduced to the world alongside its fully sequenced genome, researchers said in a paper on the wasp published in the January issue of Systematic Entomology.  


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“It would have been a missed opportunity to not call it something related to Rice or Valhalla,” said graduate student Pedro Brandão-Dias, lead author of the paper, who first collected N. valhalla from the branches of a massive live oak tree near the campus pub in spring 2018. 

Rice University researchers are currently preparing to study how the small wasp may have been affected by Houston’s historic February 2021 freeze.  

N. valhalla and other gall wasps trick host trees into feeding and sheltering their young by laying a biochemical cocktail along with their eggs. The chemicals coax the tree to form a crypt, or gall, around the egg which then shelters and feeds the larvae when they hatch, according to a release. 

There are almost 1,000 known species of gall wasps. Some emerge from spherical brown galls that form on the underside of oak leaves, according to the releaseOthers form galls inside branches and others on the trees’ flowers, which is where Brandão first collected N. valhalla. 

“Once they emerge, they only live three or four days,” Brandão said of the tiny insects. “They don’t eat. Their only purpose is to mate and lay eggs.” 


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