bugging out

Rice University buzzes with discovery of new Houston-area insect

Houston, we have a new bug. Image courtesy of Rice University

One thing Houston isn’t lacking is bugs, but just our luck: a new species of insect has been discovered by biologists at Rice University.

Discovering a new life form entitles an entity to naming rights, thus this new insect — a nearly microscopic wasp — is dubbed Neuroterus (noo-ROH’-teh-rus) valhalla by Rice’s researchers. (If the “Valhalla” name rings a bell, that’s the legendary Rice pub.)

Graduate student Pedro Brandão-Dias, lead author of the paper on the species, first collected N. valhalla from the branches of a massive live oak tree near the campus bar in spring 2018. Years of research and study finally led to official discovery and naming this year.

Barely a millimeter long and spending 11 months of the year in a “crypt,” the valhalla wasp and other gall wasps, as they are known, trick their host tree into feeding and sheltering their young, Rice reports.

Fittingly, these wasps lay a biochemical cocktail along with their eggs (a Valhalla move, indeed). These 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, Rice research adds. “Once they emerge, they only live three or four days,” Brandão said of the tiny insects in a statement. “They don’t eat. Their only purpose is to mate and lay eggs.”

More research is needed to determine how the February 2021 freeze affected these insects, and if global climate change will affect them further.

For now, Houston now has a new bug, one with memorable nomenclature. “It would have been a missed opportunity to not call it something related to Rice or Valhalla,” said Brandão.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Building Houston

 
 

Here's how these Houston health care institutions ranked compared to the rest of the country. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

It’s a three-peat for Houston Methodist Hospital.

For the third in a row, Healthgrades has named Houston Methodist the best hospital in Texas and one of the 50 best hospitals in the country. It’s the only Texas hospital in the top 50. Houston Methodist, a 907-bed facility at the Texas Medical Center, earned the same recognition in 2020 and 2021.

Four other hospitals in the Houston area made Healthgrades’ list of the top 250 hospitals in the U.S.:

  • Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center
  • Houston Methodist Baytown Hospital
  • Houston Methodist Willowbrook Hospital
  • Memorial Hermann – Texas Medical Center

Four Houston hospitals also excelled in several of Healthgrades’ specialty categories:

  • Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center, No. 3 in the state for heart surgery.
  • Memorial Hermann – Texas Medical Center, No. 1 in the state for stroke care and No. 2 for coronary intervention.
  • Houston Methodist Hospital, No. 2 in the state for critical care and No. 2 for pulmonary care.
  • Texas Orthopedic Hospital, No. 1 in the state for joint replacement.

Healthgrades, an online platform for finding physicians, hospitals, and other health care providers, rates hospitals based on clinical outcomes such as rates for patient deaths and treatment complications. For this year’s list, Healthgrades evaluated clinical performance at nearly 4,500 hospitals.

“For almost 25 years, our mission has been to provide consumers with clear and accessible information to make more informed health care decisions,” Dr. Brad Bowman, chief medical officer and head of data science at Healthgrades, says in a news release.

The Healthgrades rankings “provide consumers with increased transparency regarding the care in their areas, and empowers them to make more confident care decisions for themselves and their families,” Bowman adds.

For Houston Methodist, kudos like those from Healthgrades are common. For instance, the hospital last year landed at No. 16 on U.S. News & World Report’s national honor roll for the best hospitals, up from No. 20 the previous year. It was the top-rated Texas hospital on the list.

“These national accolades are something to be proud of, but most important, our patients are benefiting from all of our hard work. Ultimately, they are the reason we need to be one of the best hospital systems in the country,” Dr. Marc Boom, president and CEO of Houston Methodist, said last year in a news release about the U.S. News award.

The Healthgrades honor is one of several pieces of good news for Houston Methodist this year.

The hospital recently unveiled plans for the 26-story Centennial Tower. Scheduled to open in 2027, the $1.4 billion tower will include a larger emergency department and hundreds of patient beds, among other features. The new tower will replace the Houston Main building and West Pavilion.

Shortly after that announcement, the Houston Methodist system said it had received an anonymous $50 million gift. It’s the second largest donation in the system’s 102-year history.

Joining Houston Methodist Hospital in Healthgrades’ national top 250 this year are:

  • Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – McKinney
  • Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Temple
  • Doctors Hospital at Renaissance in Edinburg
  • Hendrick Medical Center in Abilene
  • Medical City Arlington
  • Medical City McKinney
  • Methodist Hospital in San Antonio
  • St. David’s Medical Center in Austin
  • St. David’s South Austin Medical Center
  • William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital in Dallas

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