Insects shed ‘gypsy’ from their names

Female Lymanttria dispar moths cling alongside their eggs to a tree in Guelph, Ontario. Credit: Ryan Hodnett

The Entomological Society of America no longer recognizes “gypsy moth” and “gypsy ant” as common names for the two insect species, saying the names contain a derogatory term for the Romani people. The changes come as the society launches a Better Common Names Project. New ESA policies bar names that reference ethnic or racial groups or that might stoke fear. The policies also discourage geographic references, particularly for invasive species. 

“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.”

The ESA plans to convene a volunteer group to rename the moth, Lymanttria dispar, an invasive insect that is experiencing one of its largest outbreak North American forests in decades.

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