An Invasive Insect Gets a New Name: Spongy Moth | Smart News

An adult spongy moth
Susan Ellis,

the Lymantria dispar, an invasive moth that is causing significant damage to trees in the eastern United States, will henceforth be known as the ‘spongy moth’. Previously the insect’s common name, “spongy”, contained a racist term.

“Gypsy is considered a racial slur by many Roma,” said Magda Matache, a Roma scholar and director of the Roma Program at Harvard University. Vermont Public Radioit’s Jane Lindholm. “It carries a very painful story and it’s offensive.”

The Roma are the largest ethnic minority in Europe and for more than five centuries they were enslaved in Romania, according to Smithsonian Therese Machemer from the magazine. The Roma people have been “the target of slavery, genocide, forced sterilization and migration, economic and social exclusion and other manifestations of anti-Roma racism”, explains the Entomological Society of America (ESA) on its website, adding that discrimination and racism still exist today in Europe.

In 2021, the ESA officially stripped the butterfly of its name and created new rules for naming insects that “no longer allow references to ethnicities, races, or groups of people.” The society brought together a working group of 50 scientists and forest management professionals as well as Roma scholars to come up with a different common name for the moth.

The new name, “spongy moth”, refers to the insect’s light brown, fuzzy egg masses that look like sponges. It comes from the French common name for the Lymantria dispar—“squishy”, according to the ESA. Other countries like Germany and Turkey also refer to sponges in their common names for the moth.

“This is a very welcome and long overdue change – the result of a monumental effort by the largest professional society of entomologists in the world,” said Marten Edwards, professor of biology at Muhlenberg College. morning call is Molly Bilinksi. “It’s one of many problematic common names that need to be changed to something respectful, inclusive and descriptive.”

ESA has produced guidelines for museums, media, state agencies and other organizations on how to transition to the new name, setting March 2023 as the full transition date.

A spongy moth caterpillar on a leaf

The caterpillars of the gypsy moth are responsible for the defoliation of 700,000 acres per year in the United States.

Susan Ellis,

“While the use of an ethnic slur is reason enough to stop using a common name, the old common name was doubly inappropriate in that it tied together a group of people who were treated as pests and the targets of genocide with an invasive insect pest that remains the target of population control and eradication, all of which have combined to have dehumanizing effects for Roma,” the company writes on its website.

Spongy moths were introduced to the United States from Europe in the mid-19th century by an amateur entomologist, Léopold Trouvelot. Trouvelot was looking to breed a hardy silk-producing insect that was less susceptible to disease than the silkworm moth, according to the Smithsonian Institution. In the 1860s, several adult moths escaped from his Massachusetts home into the nearby woods.

Today, gypsy moth caterpillars defoliate about 700,000 acres a year in the eastern United States, costing millions of dollars a year in damage and prevention.

“Basically, like the very hungry caterpillar, they’re just forcing their way through deciduous forests,” ESA President Jessica Ware told VPR.

Organizations including the Virginia Department of Forestry have already updated their websites to reflect the new name change.

“I feel comforted,” Matache wrote to the New York Times‘ Sabrina Imbler in an email. “Roma have won an important victory today.”