HomePLANTS & ANIMALSScientists discover new insect species

Scientists discover new insect species

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Scientists have discovered insect Neuroterus Valhalla. It is a millimetre long. It spends 11 months of the year locked in a crypt.

The insect is the first insect species to be described alongside its fully sequenced genome. Rice University researchers have discovered it. They are preparing to see how the tiny, nonstinging wasps have been impacted by Houston’s historic February 2021 freeze.

The study has been published in Systematic Entomology. It has been discovered outside the Rice graduate student pub Valhalla. Scientists first collected N. valhalla from the branches of a massive live oak tree near the campus bar in spring 2018.

N. Valhalla tricks its host tree into feeding and sheltering their young. The wasps lay a biochemical cocktail with their eggs. The chemicals coax the tree to form a crypt around the egg.

There are 1,000 known species of gall wasps. Some of them emerge from spherical brown galls. Others form galls inside branches.

It took four years to describe the new species. N. Valhalla lays eggs two times a year, like many other gallers. Finding the egg took time. Scientists noticed N. valhalla on the big tree outside Valhalla. Scientists were collecting live oak flowers.

Scientists looked for another species of galler which was known to form galls on the flowers. Scientists tested DNA of the two species. Scientists took a closer look at their catch. They have noticed a few smaller insects with lighter coloured legs.

Artist’s illustration of the lifecycle of Neuroterus valhalla, a cynipid gall wasp that uses chemicals to induce live oak trees to grow protective crypts, or galls, around its eggs
Artist’s illustration of the lifecycle of Neuroterus valhalla, a cynipid gall wasp that uses chemicals to induce live oak trees to grow protective crypts, or galls, around its eggs. N. valhalla females (A and D2) lay twice per year in alternating generations at different locations on trees. One generation emerges in February or March, laying eggs in live oak flowers (B) and inducing galls (C1) where adults will emerge in 2-3 weeks. These lay eggs at branching stem nodes (E), inducing galls (F1) from which adults will emerge 11 months later. Ecologists discovered N. valhalla at Rice University, and have yet to find a male member of the species (center). Credit: Barbara Rossi

Scientists said alternating generations of gallers have often been mistaken for new species in the past. Scientists tested genomic combined with detailed observations. It was crucial to determine N. valhalla was a unique species. Scientists wanted to found out from where the insects went in their alternate generation.

Scientists sampled galls from a Florida live oak species. This is different from the Rice trees where N. valhalla was found. Scientists also noticed two distinct kinds of wasps were emerging from cryptic gall. They have done DNA testing and it showed the unknown wasps were the missing generation of N. valhalla.

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