Change marks launch of ESA effort to review, revise problematic insect common names
Annapolis, MD; July 7, 2021—The Entomological Society of America has removed “gypsy moth” and “gypsy ant” as recognized common names for two insect species in its Common Names of Insects and Related Organisms List.
The changes are made in conjunction with the launch of a new ESA program to review and replace insect common names that may be inappropriate or offensive. Entomologists, scientists in related fields, and the public are invited to participate in identifying and proposing alternatives for insect common names that perpetuate negative ethnic or racial stereotypes.
"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," says ESA President Michelle S. Smith, BCE. "That's why we’re working to ensure all ESA-approved insect common names meet our standards for diversity, equity, and inclusion."
The Better Common Names Project seeks community input on ESA’s common names list and will direct the formation of working groups to develop and recommend new common names where needed. In March 2021, the ESA Governing Board approved new policies for acceptable insect common names, which bar names referencing ethnic or racial groups and names that might stoke fear; the policies also discourage geographic references, particularly for invasive species.
The existing common names for the moth Lymantria dispar and the ant Aphaenogaster araneoides were identified as containing a derogatory term for the Romani people. In June, the ESA Governing Board elected to remove the common names for both species from the ESA Common Names of Insects and Related Organisms List.
Native to Eurasia, Lymantria dispar is a serious pest of North American forests, with caterpillars that feed on more than 300 species of trees and shrubs. This year, parts of the northeastern U.S. and eastern Canada are seeing some of the largest outbreaks of L. dispar in decades. ESA will seek to convene a volunteer group to propose a new common name for L. dispar, which would then be made available for ESA member comment and subject to approval by the ESA Committee on Insect Common Names and the ESA Governing Board.
The ESA Common Names of Insects and Related Organisms List was created in the early 20th century and has grown to recognize common names for more than 2,300 insect and arthropod species. Only names that appear in the list may be used in articles published in ESA’s scientific journals or in presentations and posters at ESA conferences, and ESA adheres to the list in all of its other communications, including its website, social media, and public policy documents. ESA makes the common names list available as a public resource, and a variety of scientific organizations, extension professionals, and media outlets refer to it.
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ABOUT: ESA is the largest organization in the world serving the professional and scientific needs of entomologists and people in related disciplines. Founded in 1889, ESA today has more than 7,000 members affiliated with educational institutions, health agencies, private industry, and government. Headquartered in Annapolis, Maryland, the Society stands ready as a non-partisan scientific and educational resource for all insect-related topics. For more information, visit www.entsoc.org.