• The new species was discovered outside Valhalla campus pub at Rice University
  • It took researchers quite a long time to describe the new species
  • The discovery shows an example of "undescribed biodiversity" in urban centers, the researchers said

A team of researchers has discovered a new wasp species and named it Neoterus valhalla, after a campus pub at Rice University in Houston, Texas.

The N. valhalla was first spotted in 2018 when a group of biologists was collecting gall wasps from an oak tree outside the campus bar called Valhalla, Rice University noted in a news release. The researchers were gathering live oak flowers, known as catkins, to find another gall wasp species that's known to form galls on the flowers.

It was found via DNA tests that there were actually two species, and a closer look revealed that there were other smaller insects that had lighter-colored legs. They were just about a millimeter long.

"It would have been a missed opportunity to not call it something related to Rice or Valhalla," Pedro Brandão-Dias, study lead author and graduate student at Rice University, said in the university news release.

However, it took the researchers quite a long time to describe the new species because such gall wasps typically only lay eggs twice a year. When they emerge, they only live for about three or four days to mate and lay eggs without even eating, Brandão-Dias explained. As such, figuring out where it laid its eggs in alternating generations took quite a bit of time, Rice University noted.

"(T)he flowers are a one-time thing each year, and by the time they emerge, there are no more flowers for them to lay eggs on," Brandão-Dias said in the news release.

According to Scott Egan of Rice University, the study's corresponding author, different generations of "gallers" often get mistaken for new species. But eventually, even with many challenges including the pandemic, the researchers were able to determine that in alternating generations, the N. valhalla actually laid its eggs in stem nodes.

How exactly they time their emergence with the flowering, however, remains unclear. The researchers are also looking at how the species may have been affected by the February 2021 winter storm that caused record cold temperatures in Houston, thus delaying flowering in the area.

Another interesting thing about the N. valhalla is that it's the first insect species to be described with its fully sequenced genome, the university noted.

"The genome of N. valhalla is the smallest reported to date within the tribe Cynipini, providing an important comparative contrast to the otherwise large genome size of cynipids," the researchers wrote in their paper, which was published in Systematic Entomology.

Researchers said the discovery shows how "undescribed biodiversity" may still be present in "well-traveled" urban centers like Houston.

Rice University/Campus
Representative image. Pixabay