A newly discovered miniature trap-jaw ant from the evergreen tropical forests of Ecuador has been named in recognition of gender diversity.
The insect bears the Latin name Strumigenys ayersthey, making it possibly the only species in the world to have a scientific name with the suffix -they, in a nod to gender diversity.
There are hundreds of other ants which are named in honour of people, but end with -ae after females and -i after males.
American singer-songwriter Michael Stipe, of alternative rock band R.E.M., joined Douglas Booher of Yale University in America in the writing of the etymology section for the article.
In this part of the publication, they honour their mutual friend, activist and artist Jeremy Ayers and explain the origin of the name.
They say: “In contrast to the traditional naming practices that identify individuals as one of two distinct genders, we have chosen a non-Latinised portmanteau honouring the artist Jeremy Ayers and representing people that do not identify with conventional binary gender assignments – Strumigenys ayersthey.
“The ‘they’ recognises non-binary gender identifiers in order to reflect recent evolution in English pronoun use – ‘they, them, their’ – and address a more inclusive and expansive understanding of gender identification.”
Dr Booher said: “Such a beautiful and rare animal was just the species to celebrate both biological and human diversity.
“Small changes in language have had a large impact on culture. Language is dynamic and so should be the change in naming species – a basic language of science”.
Current practice on how to name animal species after people only differentiates between male and female personal names, offering respectively the ending -ae for a woman or -i for a man.
The researchers suggest the -they suffix can be used for singular honorific names of non-binary identifiers.
The insect was first found by Philipp Hoenle of the Technical University of Darmstadt, Germany, during a co-operative investigation of the Reserva Rio Canande in 2018.
The reserve belongs to the NGO Jocotoco, and preserves a small part of the highly threatened biodiversity hotspots called the Choco.
Mr Hoenle reached out to taxonomic expert Dr Booher who responded to say this species was unlike any other of the 850 or more species belonging to its genus.
The team described the previously unknown species and its trap-jaw morphology in a paper published in the journal ZooKeys.
Strumigenys ayersthey can be distinguished by its predominantly smooth and shining cuticle surface and long trap-jaw mandibles.
The researchers have not been able to obtain more specimens of the species, which suggests it is rare.