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Insect Experts Want To Rename ‘Gypsy’ Moths Over Fears Term Is Offensive
Gypsy moth. Female with egg mass, Lymantria dispar. One female can produce an egg mass of 400 eggs. Michigan. Forest tree pests. - stock photo Ed Reschke via Getty Images
Ed Reschke via Getty Images

The Entomological Society of America, a not-for-profit scientific society, is looking to change the name of “gypsy moths,” noting that the term is offensive to certain people.

As The Associated Press reported, “The group this week announced that for the first time it changed a common name of an insect because it was offensive. In the past they’ve only reassigned names that weren’t scientifically accurate.”

According to the Entomological Society of America’s (ESA) website, the group is also trying to coordinate such name reassignment with members of the public with a new program. The site stated, “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,” said 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.”

“It’s an ethnic slur to begin with that’s been rejected by the Romani people a long time ago,” Smith said, per the AP. “Second, nobody wants to be associated with a harmful invasive pest.”

The group added that the common names that exist for the moth Lymantria dispar and the ant Aphaenogaster araneoides were found to include “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.”

“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,” it added.

The website explained The Better Common Names Project, which looks for input from members of the community on the 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,” it added. 

Gypsy moths are reportedly thought to have been given the name “gypsy” due to their ability to stay in the air for long periods of time, almost wandering from place to place. As the AP reported, “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, [University of Illinois entomologist May Berenbaum] said. Another theory is that male adult moths have a tan color that could be similar to Romani people.”

There have been other organizations that have moved to change names in order to be less offensive after being called out by “woke” groups of society.

One of the most well-known examples is Quaker Oats when it changed the iconic Aunt Jemima pancake mix to Pearl Milling Company. Other companies appear to have followed its lead and opted out of using names for products that are no longer culturally acceptable.

As The Daily Wire reported earlier this year, “Shortly after Quaker announced that it would be changing the name of Aunt Jemima, the company Dreyer’s said it would be renaming its famous Eskimo Pie to something less ‘derogatory.’ In October of last year, the company revealed the new name to be Edy’s Pie. Dreyer denounced the ‘Eskimo Pie’ name as ‘derogatory’ while vowing to change it in the name of ‘racial equality.’”

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