“Spongy moth” is the new common name for Lymantria disparan invasive species of moth formerly known as the gypsy moth.
Scientists from the Entomological Society of America (ESA) have been working since last July to change the name of the species, as it is a pejorative term for the Roma people.
Moth moth refers to the sponge-like egg masses of the moth and comes from “spongy”, the common name used in France and French-speaking Canada.
“Lymantria dispar is a noxious pest in North American forests, and public awareness is key to slowing its spread. ‘Spongy moth’ gives entomologists and foresters a name for this species that reinforces an important feature of butterfly biology and moves away from the outdated term that was previously used,” said ESA President Jessica Ware. Ph.D. in a statement announcing the change.
“We are grateful to the diverse community of people and organizations who have been involved in this name change process and have also committed to adopting the ‘gypsy moth’.”
The Roma people originate from northern India. They were called “gypsies” because Europeans mistakenly thought they came from Egypt. The term has become offensive and is now considered a derogatory slur.
The spongy moth is an invasive insect native to Europe, Asia and North Africa. It was accidentally brought to the United States from Massachusetts in the mid-1800s and is now widespread in the northeastern United States and eastern Canada. Its eggs are easily carried on logs, vehicles, and outdoor equipment, and it can quickly defoliate trees and shrubs, causing hundreds of millions of dollars a year in damage and effort to prevent and control the spread. of the insect.
Change a name
ESA maintains the List of Common Names of Insects and Related Organisms, a database of over 2,000 names that is essential for insect researchers. The change is the first made under ESA’s Better Common Names project to address and modify problematic common names.
The new name for the moth was chosen from more than 200 suggestions reviewed by a group of approximately 50 scientists and professionals in the United States and Canada, as well as Roma scholars. Suggestions were gathered from entomologists, forestry professionals, conservation groups, Roma, and people working in federal agencies, state departments of agriculture and natural resources, and organizations. pest control and plant protection.
The organization collected more than 1,000 responses on seven names of finalists before deciding on the “squishy butterfly”.
“The ‘Spongy Moth’ is already starting to appear in media articles and other online resources, which we’re excited to see. But we know this name change won’t happen overnight,” said said Ware. “In particular in books or printed products, or regulations related to L.dispar, the gradual use of the new name may take some time. ESA will continue to provide support resources to organizations embracing this change.”
Common names vs scientific names
An organism can have dozens of common names, varying by region and language, and they can change over time, says Doug Yanega of the Department of Entomology and Museum of Entomology Research at the University of California, Riverside, explains Treehugger.
“With very few exceptions, no governing body controls or endorses them, and most of them were born a long time ago and cannot be traced back to who invented them,” says Yanega. “They often come from lay people, not scientists. There are no ranks, no hierarchies, no concern for evolutionary relationships, and no objective standards to define or enforce them.
Scientific names are a style of naming that is given to facilitate publication, to catalog and “organize” species, and to facilitate institutions and more referring to various species. Scientific names are also limited – each organism has only one. This eliminates the possibility of species confusion regardless of who is referring to an organism.
“Common names are very rarely ‘chosen’. Most of them are, and have been, longer than any of us have been alive. There’s a reason for most of them, and it’s usually obvious or historical (for example, ‘June green beetle’ is a green beetle that flies in June),” says Yanega. “The current case of gypsy moth/gypsy moth is exceptional, however, because while it is a common name, there is a body that governs the official common names of insect pests. These names ARE chosen and may be challenged or changed.
In the case of the moth, the argument was made that the old name was offensive and it was a compelling case, Yanega points out.
“It hasn’t happened very often before, but it’s expected to become more routine as people seek to promote more inclusive language. The principle is reasonable, although it only applies to that small percentage of organisms that actually have official common names – a concept that was unheard of 100 years ago.
Scientific names, however, are never open to review because someone finds them offensive. The only time people can object is during the peer review process, when the name is first proposed and before it is published. Once it’s been published, it can’t be changed, Yanega says.
“The main reason it is considered too late is because of stability and consistency; if a scientific name has been used in the scientific literature for, say, 100 years, and in thousands of papers, referring to a specific organism, then changing that name disconnects all that literature from that organism,” Yanega says.
There is a growing movement calling for the reform and decolonization of scientific names. A commentary article published in Communications Biology argued that the scientific names of plants and animals should be able to be changed, as many existing names honor terrible people, use racial slurs, or use Indigenous names incorrectly.