The invasive insect commonly known as gypsy moth, or LDD moth, is getting a new name.
Last Wednesday, the Entomological Society of America (ESA), an organization that oversees the common names of more than 2,300 insects, announced that it would be removing the names gypsy moth and gypsy ant due to their use of the ethnic slur for the Romani people.
This change is part of the ESA’s Better Common Names Project, which uses public and scientific input to review problematic names, ensuring that they don’t perpetuate harm against people of various ethnicities and races, or that the name of an invasive species doesn’t inappropriately refer to a geographic culture or location.
“The purpose of common names is to make communication easier between scientists and the public audiences they serve. By and large, ESA’s list of recognized insect common names succeeds in this regard, but names that are unwelcoming to marginalized communities run directly counter to that goal,” said ESA President Michelle S. Smith, in a press release. “That’s why we’re working to ensure all ESA-approved insect common names meet our standards for diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
According to the government of Canada’s website, the moth first received its common name because of its ability to travel by attaching itself to various objects. This is one of the ways the moth—an invasive species to Canada—first arrived in the country.
In 1991, the Asian species of the moth appeared in Vancouver after attaching itself to Soviet freighters.
The European species of the moth arrived even earlier. It’s believed to have been brought to North America in 1869 by a French Naturalist who was trying to start a silk industry by breeding the moth with the North American silkworm. A few of the moths escaped and settled in Northeastern U.S. and Eastern Canada.
The moth is a serious threat to Canadian forests as during its larval stage, it eats voraciously. One of its caterpillars can eat an average of one square metre of leaves, causing the trees to weaken and die.
As for the moth and ant’s new names, that has yet to be determined. The ESA will convene a volunteer group to propose a new common name for the insects. These names will then be made available for ESA member comment and will be subject to approval by the ESA committee on Insect Common Names and the ESA governing board.
In the meantime, the ESA recommends using the insects’ scientific names: Lymantria dispar or L. dispar for the moth and Aphaenogaster araneoides for the ant.
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