Scientists drop ‘inappropriate and offensive’ names of moth and ant species

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Watch: Entomological Society of America removes common name from a moth and ant species because of derogatory meaning

Scientists are to stop using names “gypsy moth” and “gypsy ants” for two insect species after a review of “inappropriate or offensive” terms. 

The Entomological Society of America (ESA), which oversees the common names of bugs, announced the change as part of its effort to re-evaluate “problematic” terminology.

It is the first time it has changed a name because it is considered offensive. In the past it has only reassigned names that were not scientifically accurate.

“It’s an ethnic slur to begin with that’s been rejected by the Romani people a long time ago,’’ the society’s president, Michelle Smith said.

“Second, nobody wants to be associated with a harmful invasive pest.”

The ESA has removed “gypsy moth” and “gypsy ant” from their Common Names of Insects and Related Organisms List.

The group has called on the public to help suggest alternative names to the moth - which is invasive and destructive in the caterpillar stage - and the lesser-known ant. 

Experts have decided to change the name of gypsy moths (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Experts have decided to change the name of gypsy moths (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The ESA said it wanted input to help come up with a new name that does not “perpetuate negative ethnic or racial stereotypes”.

May Berenbaum, an entomologist from the University of Illinois and a past ESA president, said the moths likely got their name because as larvae they have hair with small air pockets that act like balloons allowing them to float for miles, wandering like the group of people they were named after.

She said another theory was that male adult moths have a tan colour seen as similar to the skin of Romani people.

“The purpose of common names is to make communication easier between scientists and the public audiences they serve,” Ms Smith said.

“By and large, ESA’s list of recognized insect common names succeeds in this regard, but names that are unwelcoming to marginalised communities run directly counter to that goal.”

Additional reporting by Associated Press

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