Association removes derogatory names from two insect species

Two species of insects change names. “Gypsy moth” and “gypsy ant” were removed as recognized common names from the Entomological Society of America’s List of Common Names for Insects and Related Organisms, as the use of “gypsy” perpetuates stereotypes ethnic and racial negative.

ESA’s recently launched Better Common Names project is seeking community input on the ESA Common Names List and will oversee the leadership of working groups to develop and recommend new common names. In March, the ESA board approved new policies for common names of acceptable insects, except for names that refer to ethnic or racial groups and those that might stir up fear. Policies also discourage geographic references, especially for invasive species.

“Our leadership has intended to make equity and inclusion a priority in our organization and in society in general.

ESA had heard from Roma people explaining how the common names of the butterfly Lymantria dispar and the ant Aphaenogaster araneoides affected their self-perception, both as children and adults, Lancette said. In June, the ESA Board of Directors decided to remove them from ESA’s list of common names.

“Not only is this an ethnic insult, but the Roma people have also faced eradication and discrimination,” Lancette said. “So to be correlated with an insect facing the same things is inappropriate. “

Other organizations are also looking at common names used to identify organisms. For example, the World Health Organization looks at geographic references for diseases like COVID-19 and uses the Greek alphabet for variants rather than geographic regions. “It’s recognizing that what we call things is important and can have a ripple effect on humans,” Lancette said. “It could be the source of racism or exclusion or xenophobia.”

Native to Eurasia, Lymantria dispar is a serious pest of North American forests, with caterpillars feeding on more than 300 species of trees and shrubs. This year, parts of the northeastern United States and eastern Canada are experiencing some of the largest outbreaks of L. dispar in decades.

As for the new common names, ESA’s volunteer working groups, which will include people engaged in insect research as well as forestry professionals, will work to find a new common name for the insect. L. dispar. It will be made available to ESA members for comment and then for approval by the ESA Insect Common Names Committee and its Board of Directors.

“Our hope is that this project will help create a more inclusive entomology and also a more inclusive society as a whole,” Lancette said. “Even on a small scale, every step forward is important. “

Lymantria dispar, one of the insect species whose name has recently changed. (Gail Hampshire / Flickr)